Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media


Selection from Cites & Insights 5, Number 9: July/August 2005


Trends & Quick Takes

When 60 Becomes Six Million

“Podcasting hits the mainstream.” That’s the headline on a little corner item in the May 24, 2005 PC Magazine. It’s not easy to read the tiny, sans serif, yellow-on-orange type, but the key statement is “more than 22 million Americans own iPods or MP3 players, and 29 percent of them have downloaded podcasts.” That’s accompanied by these assertions, in much larger type: “U.S. Adult Digital Music Player Owners Who Have Downloaded Podcasts: 18- to 28-year olds: 50%. 29+-year olds: 20%.”

Multiply 22 million by 29% and you get 6.28 million Americans who have listened to podcasts on portable players. Admittedly, 6.28 million is just over 2% of the American population, but “mainstream” means different things at different times. The source for these numbers is the Pew Internet Project.

But then there’s the really small type—I’m not sure whether the line is five point type like this: five point type or four point type like this: four point type, but it’s small. Here’s what that type says (in addition to identifying the source): “Based on 2,201 interviews and 208 player owners.”

Apparently some reports have quarreled with Pew’s definition of podcasting. I’m not going to do that. I’m going to restate the big numbers in more realistic terms:

“We interviewed 60 people who have downloaded podcasts: 31 people age 18 to 28, 29 people 29 and older.” Sixty people.

I didn’t go back to the Pew site except to note a comment that sort of admits that maybe the sample size for these claims just could be, perhaps, a mite on the small size to claim overwhelming confidence in the numbers. “Totally meaningless” would be one good statistical interpretation, but that might be harsh. Doing the algebra, I come up with 146 interviewees 29 and older with portable players (yielding 29 podcatchers) and 62 younger interviewees (yielding 31 podcatchers).

Maybe six million is mainstream. Maybe 60 can be projected to six million. Maybe not.

Big Brother Inc.

That’s the title of a “science fact” essay by Laura M. Kelley in the May 2005 Analog Science Fiction and Fact. I like Analog. I like the science essays as well as the typically-“hard” science fiction: The writers don’t talk down to readers and offer interesting perspectives. I was ready to like this commentary on data mining and likely excesses of government actions to mine commercial databases in the name of anti-terrorism.

Then I hit this sentence: “These days, we have to recite our social security numbers to nearly any merchant or service provider we have a monetary transaction with.” Later, “It is difficult to drive on a major highway without seeing at least one neon message suspended over the road urging motorists to ‘Report Suspicious Activity.’”

Between those two, I completely lost track of Kelley’s argument.

Do you “recite your social security number” to merchants and service providers? I certainly don’t. Other than employers, banks, the IRS, and credit card companies, I never provide my social security number. Nor, in my experience, do merchants and service providers ask for it.

As for her second flat statement: Maybe in Washington, D.C., there really are neon messages urging us to “Report Suspicious Activity.” But out here on the Left Coast, things must be a bit more laidback. I have never, ever encountered such a “neon message”—or even a less flashy highway sign with that message.

When you’re writing an argumentative piece, the first rule should be to get your facts right. Kelley fails on that count. That undermines her argumentation.

Promotional DVDs

Let’s say you need to promote your business—at ALA, to give one example. You have a story to tell and you want people to remember you. There are always tchotchkes—imprinted cloth or canvas bags, or maybe pens or rulers or light-up pins or…

Those don’t tell your story, but maybe they make an impression. Since you’re spending a lot on that booth and the people to keep it running, what’s a few thousand more for a giveaway? (Looking at a few promotional-product websites, I see prices of $1.50 each for an order of 1000 or more for the most basic imprinted canvas bag, twice as much for a nice bag.)

Or maybe, given your complex story, you’d like to tell people about it at their leisure. Say on a DVD, which could have two hours of multimedia explanation. People are still intrigued by DVDs: Good chance they’ll take it home and give it a spin.

I understood why travel companies offer DVD as an alternative to VHS when sending out visual brochures: Cheaper to reproduce, higher quality, cheaper to mail. I wasn’t surprised when one specialty cruise company included a DVD with their printed brochure.

I still assumed DVDs involved a substantial reproduction cost, at least in reasonable quantities (say, 1,000 to 10,000 copies). I was wrong.

Disc Makers isn’t a fly-by-night “lowest price” outfit; they’ve been around for a while. Here’s their price for DVD-5s (that is, standard single-layer, single-sided DVDs) with three-color on-disc printing and full-color jackets with high-gloss UV coatings: $1,290 for 1,000, $2,080 for $2,000, $4,900 for 5,000, $7,900 for 10,000.

In other words, less than a buck per disc for 5,000 or more—for discs with full-color labels in full-color sleeves.

Sure, you still have to prepare the content for the DVD—but that’s getting easier all the time. If you have the skills to take good video, the tools to edit and prepare a DVD master are cheap.

So if you see more DVD giveaways at ALA and elsewhere, and see more bundled with specialty magazines, don’t be surprised. Here, take one: They’re cheap. They won’t weigh down your luggage. You’ll get the full story—at your leisure. And maybe even be entertained in the process.

[Postnote: I wrote this before ALA. I didn’t notice many DVD giveaways at ALA—but I also didn’t spend a lot of time in the exhibits. I suspect it’s a growing trend, but I could be wrong.]

OpenURL 1.0 Minimized

Eric Hellman of Openly Inc. wrote an “Idiot’s guide to OpenURL 1.0”—which offers the smallest amount of information you need to make correct NISO OpenURL links (for journals and journal articles). You’ll find the document—all two pages of it—at www.openly.com/1cate/ig.html. You don’t even need to know everything that’s on those two pages, but it’s a good start at demystifying OpenURL construction.

Quicker Takes and Mini-Perspectives

Ø    Bill Machrone of PC Magazine believes, like most PC Magazine readers, that once you’ve purchased a piece of music, you should be able to play it on any device you own. That poses a problem with some downloaded music. In his May 24, 2005 column (“Hey, it’s your music”), he discusses the remedy that works most often, if your downloaded music can legally be burned to CD: Burn the downloaded music to CD in audio CD form, then import the CD form back into your favorite music manager (directly or ripped to MP3 or whatever). You lose tagging in the process, to be sure, and the decompression:recompression cycle may involve some loss in audio quality. The column also discusses other solutions.

Ø    I rarely even think of commenting on “Will’s world” in American Libraries. Readers must love it; Manley goes on (and on and…). But “Cleansing our language” in the May 2005 issue was a shocker, with Manley pontificating on the “decay of public communication” and the mandate of librarians “to preserve, protect, and encourage quality literature, which comes from cultures with an elevated sense of public dialogue.” Okay—but his primary example of offensive language seems to be “sucks,” which he calls “one of those borderline expressions that most people today wouldn’t characterize as an obscenity. That’s how low we’ve sunk.” Huh? “Suck” is only an obscenity if you have a remarkably dirty mind. It’s not a “swear word” either. Slang, yes, but assuming that all slang is either swearing or obscene is, to put it bluntly, stupid and offensive. That’s my general impression of Manley’s column as well.

Ø    “Rhapsody: Free music for all”—that’s one of the lines on the cover of PC Magazine 24:10. Quite a claim—and, as the full-page review of Rhapsody 3.0 clarifies (slightly), PC has a new definition for “free”—“$14.95 per month.” What that buys you, at $5 per month more than regular Rhapsody’s streaming-music service, is the ability to download tracks that can be moved to certain specific portable players. As long as you keep subscribing to Rhapsody to Go and connect the portable to your desktop once a month to prove it, you’re good. It’s an interesting idea—but calling it a “free music offer” seems curious.

Ø    Last issue, I noted an indication that the two high-definition DVD formats might get together. To date, the only evidence I have consists of an April 21, 2005 Wired News item that said Sony and Toshiba were in negotiations to resolve their formats, and a Media Life item offering much the same information. Nothing in almost three months since then. Does this suggest a failed trial balloon?

Ø    The Journal of Electronic Publishing published some valuable articles through late 2002. Then came the announcement that it was moving from the University of Michigan to Columbia University Press. And then…nothing. Now there’s an announcement from the University of Michigan University Library that JEP will return in January 2006, back where it began. After a three-year absence, it may be tough for JEP to regain its stature, but I’ll certainly welcome it back.

Ø    Charles W. Bailey, Jr. posted “A look back at sixteen years as an internet electronic publisher” at DigitalKoans on June 29, 2005. (www.escholarlypub.com/digitalkoans/) It’s exactly 16 years, in this case: the PACS-L mailing list began on June 29, 1989. I was there. Bailey has been a force in this field ever since. Worth a read.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 5, Number 9, Whole Issue 65, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at RLG.

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