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

Selection from Cites & Insights 7, Number 1: January 2007

Trends & Quick Takes

The True Face of Piracy

“Inside DVD piracy” by Rob Medich in the November 2006 Sound & Vision tells an interesting story—how “cammers” videotape new movies at preview showings and pass the goods along to illicit manufacturers, distributors and dealers. The FBI arrested more than a dozen people in what the article calls an “international crime ring” and possibly the biggest DVD piracy operation around.

Supposedly, this operation has “deprived the movie studios of an estimated $5.8 billion in revenues over the years.” That’s a tricky claim (would people buying the third-rate pirate DVDs from guys in front of theatres really pay $20 or $10 a ticket to see the legit movie?), but let’s assume it’s correct (noting that it’s not $5.8 billion per year, but still a nice chunk of change). The claim is that this one group of pirates accounts for 80% of the piracy.

I believe commercial pirates should be prosecuted. I thought the law against using (or possessing) camcorders in movie theaters was perfectly reasonable. What’s great here, though, is one specific figure, given the absolute paranoia of MPAA about copy protection, DRM, and peer-to-peer copying:

According to the Motion Picture Association of America, roughly 97% of movie pirating starts with theater cammers, who make about $400,000 a year from their efforts. [Emphasis added.]

In other words, even leaving out other sources of commercial piracy, casual “piracy” is not a big deal: maybe $175 million “over the years” for an industry that grosses better than $30 billion a year between theaters and DVD sales. If “over the years” means six years, that’s less than one-tenth of one percent.

Public Library Use

The November 2006 American Libraries includes figures from the annual Index of American Public Library Circulation. According to that study, adult circulation grew by 1.8% between 2004 and 2005 and juvenile circulation was flat—but expenditures grew by 5.1%.

A caveat: These figures are based on a stratified sampling of larger public libraries (serving 25,000 or more), this year including 283 libraries. It completely ignores the huge range of smaller libraries and should be considered indicative, not conclusive.

Thomas J. Hennen, Jr. offers the 2006 version of his public library ratings in the same issue. These ratings attempt to be reasonably comprehensive. The “2006 version” is primarily calendar 2003 numbers, and includes just over 9,000 libraries. Those libraries show a circulation increase of 2.3% over the previous year, topping two billion circulations (up from about 1.6 billion a decade earlier). Operating expenditures were up 4.2%, and circulation per capita was up 1.2%, breaking seven items per capita.

The two studies use different time periods and different populations, so it’s a little hard to make comparisons. In any case, public libraries continue to serve the public well on a massive scale and at a reasonable price, even if that price does go up.

The Future Past

Harry McCracken’s “Techlog” in the November 2006 PC World is a charming look back at some technological predictions the magazine has made over the last 23 years. They were on the money about the computer mouse—in 1983! But they were also enthusiastic about Windows 1.0 and thought it would emerge in April 1984 (it came out in November 1984, but the first useful Windows was years later). They predicted IBM’s PCjr “will revolutionize the way we live and learn”—and printed the 1987 prediction of a display-company honcho that “within 15 years, LCD monitors will be common and may reach 1000 lines of resolution.” So far so good. “He also says they’ll be monochrome.” Seen many high-def monochrome LCD displays lately (or ever)?

In 1998, PC World guessed executives might dump laptops in favor of Windows CE-based PDA-like mininotebooks. In 1999, they touted the Device Bay standard for hotswapping PC components—and in 2002 they anticipated that the new version of Windows (then called Longhorn, now Vista) would ship in late 2004 or 2005. Overall, their track record was pretty decent as forecasts go.

Everybody Talkin’ Bout Heaven Ain’t Goin’ There

That was the lyric that went through my mind as I read Heidi Dawley’s November 7, 2006 article at Media Life, “With web TV, more glimmer than gold.” The tease: “Lots of talk of people watching TV online.” The substance: “For all the talk it turns out a small share of web users are actually doing it, watching television online. And while that may change over time, it will still be a ways off.” The article reports on a recent Consumer Internet Barometer study, finding that about 10% of internet users had watched TV on the internet in the third quarter—and most of that was news. “Perhaps more significant, that viewing was in addition to regular TV watching, not at its expense.”

That helps explain why networks are putting lots of their stuff on the internet. We were surprised by the quality when we watched a missed episode of one network show on my 19" Sony LCD: If anything, it seemed higher quality than our first-rate 32" Sony XBR TV—maybe because our cable system does a mediocre job with broadcast signals. The networks are cooperating because they’re finding this is incremental traffic, not replacement traffic.

None of this has much to do with YouTube and its ilk. Do you watch YouTube videos in preference to (say) Men in Trees or Bones or Studio 60 or whatever shows you like? More likely, the internet video is bits and pieces of extra fun, a time-waster that doesn’t reduce your broadcast-TV time.

Multitasking Continued

I find it interesting that more and more people are recognizing (and studies continue to demonstrate) that multitasking is, to use my phrase, “a great way to do several things badly.” Not that it matters much to people who always multitask—but they’re not really paying attention anyway. Two more data points…

Ø    Mary Ellen Bates writes “Emails and IMs and feeds—oh, my!” in the November 2006 EContent, talking about the “deluge of information that comes at us each and every day.” While it’s not the focus of the column, I was taken with this statement: “No, I do not believe it is possible to read email effectively while also talking on the phone and IMing a friend on the side. Each activity gets one-third of the attention it deserves; our brains can’t truly multitask.” If I would disagree with anything here, it’s the fraction: In practice, context switching uses enough attention that each activity is probably getting at most one-fourth of the attention it deserves.

Ø    Barbara Fister writes “Paying attention” on ACRLog (October 28, 2006), noting a Business Week article in which someone says the advertising in MySpace “can be so subtle that kids don’t distinguish it from content.” Fister rightly worries about this blurring of the lines. “In a similar way, TV stations which identify their programs as ‘news’ are in fact offering documentary and even ‘infotainment,’ while staunchly clinging to the ‘news’ designator. This is, of course, one of the tasks of information fluency librarians: to alert folks to the ways the lines are blurred.” But Fister also suspects one culprit: “I think this blurring is an offshoot of ‘continuous partial attention”… While multitasking can be useful, there is still value in the ability to focus on one task, and educators have a role in conveying that message.” It gets worse: “A group of students told me that the one thing they’d find most challenging about the voluntary simplicity movement was not giving up things. It was spending time alone to think, relax, and get to know themselves and their values.” Marc Meola commented, wondering how libraries can create environments that “promote focusing on one task” and notes, “even the corporate world realizes that multitasking doesn’t work, and that ‘what now passes for multitasking used to be called not paying attention’ [quoting a Wall Street Journal article].”

Quicker Takes

In the most recent (and final) PC Progress, C&I November 2006, I grumped about a PC World digital camera roundup that gave the highest rating to a camera with the worst image quality among the top 10. I wasn’t the only one appalled by that; a letter in the November issue suggests, “[M]ost people would agree that the most important job of any camera is to produce a high-quality image.” There’s an editorial response: “We acknowledge that our camera ratings may need reweighting. We are doing a regularly scheduled review of our ratings and believe readers will like the changes that should result.” It’s a start.

Ø    Seth Finkelstein writes about “search engine optimization and the commodification of social relationships” at Infothought (October 20, 2006). He’s discussing the uproar over blogging-for-bucks schemes and noting that such schemes are as much about search engine optimization as about good publicity. The people paying for posts don’t care if you post mean things about their product, as long as the post results in higher search engine rankings. He wonders about the whole issue of commercializing social relationships—e.g., A-list blogs that are really commercial magazines in blog form, paid writers and all. And he offers a variation on the old “would you have sex for a million dollars?” joke. Briefly, company asks blogger: “Would you write about me in return for an advisory board membership?” Blogger says yes. Company: “Would you write about me for ten bucks?” Blogger: “What kind of a flack do you think I am?” Company: “We’ve established that. Now we’re just arguing over price.” (Sorry if I mangled the joke, Seth—but you make excellent points here.)

Ø    Mark Lindner struck a nerve with “habitually probing generalist” at Off the mark (October 20, 2006—a good day for quicker takes!). He’s reading assigned articles for an LIS course, including an article by C.L. Palmer, “Structures and strategies of interdisciplinary science.” Palmer discusses the research practices of such scientists, identifying four primary research modes, one of which is “generalist.” Briefly, generalists use individualistic approaches, tend to work alone, habitually probe (often in unfamiliar domains), build their own knowledge bases through learning and asking broad questions, and strive for synthesis. We don’t all spend all our time in one mode—but boy, do I recognize my own frequently-solitary habits in that description. If Lindner offers his “habitually probing generalist” shirts for sale, I might buy one—and I never buy message shirts.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 7, Number 1, Whole Issue 85, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at OCLC.

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