Axel Bruns maps the Australian blogosphere

A close up of the Australian blogopshere map generated by Axel Bruns.

Axel Bruns has extracted some 2.6 million hyperlinks and come up with some very pretty data mapping the Australian blogosphere for the first time:

what we’re already seeing in the network is a relatively large cluster of sites on the left of the graph, made up of sites (MSM as well as blogs) that deal predominantly with news and politics. In addition to domestic and international news sites, various Australian political blogs (such as Larvatus ProdeoClub TroppoJohn QuigginPeter MartinCatallaxy Files, and the suite of Crikey blogs) appear as prominent nodes in the network (on both the indegree and eigenvector centrality counts). Many smaller – that is, less prominent – blogs cluster around them, but receive comparatively fewer inlinks. There’s even likely to be some further subdivision within this overall cluster, but I wouldn’t want to speculate too much on this point until we’ve had a chance to further clean our data.

You can see the full post here and download the full-size, gorgeous mapping images here.

The Australia Council’s funding policies: bigger is better

Over at his blog, Marcus Westbury has done some careful analysis of the way the Australia Council slices up its funding pie.

It’s confirmation of a long-running trend towards the preferential funding of large performin arts organisations over … well … everything else:

The Australia Council's 2009-10 funding, by artform category. Large performing arts organisations are favoured over the other artforms supported by the Australia Council. Source: Marcus Westbury, using Australia Council data

As Marcus writes:

As you can see there is still massive discrepancy between the amounts of money that go into the major performing arts and how much goes intoeverything else combined.

My favourite little factoid: Opera Australia last year received more funding from the Australia Council than all the applicants for all 6 of the Australia Council’s major artform boards combined.  Opera Australia alone received $18.3 million. By contrast the Australia Council’s entire competitive funds for literature ($4.2m), music ($3.6m), theatre ($2.5m), dance ($1.8m) visual arts ($4.8m) and inter-arts or cross artform projects ($0.8m) combined totaled just $17.6 million. That’s one opera company receiving more than seven hundred and eighty one separate projects, organisations and individuals competitively funded across all those forms.

And the new media funding that is apparently all the rage if you believe the scare campaigns? Opera Australia’s budget could power the the “inter-arts” office for the next 23 years — there’s a pretty good chance new media will be heritage itself by then. Even if you add in the $386,000 from the positive but spread-rather-thinly “Arts in the digital era strategy” that figure reduces to about 16 years.

Two important new research reports from the Australia Council

With the excitement of Australia’s hung Parliament and everything I have been giving cultural policy matters a back seat for my writing on Australian politics itself.

Indeed, the election campaign has also obscured the release of two important research reports from the Australia Council on the state of artists’ incomes and career prospects in Australia.

On August 17th – in other words, during the last week of the election campaign – the Australia Council released the new reports, which it claims “offer a comprehensive picture of the working lives of Australian artists.”

The first, Do You Really Expct to Get Paid? is the latest in the long-running artists’ income survey conducted by eminent Macquarie University cultural economist David Throsby.  This is an important and extremely rich research research project, as it has been running for nearly three decades across five separate surveys.  The latest installment is particularly rewarding, offering fascinating insights and precious hard data on issues like artists’ basic demography, income levels, working hours, employment patterns, professional challenges and use of new technology. It’s a treasure trove of sociological information which I’ll be exploring here in more detail over the next few weeks.

Stuart Cunningham and Peter Higgs’ What’s Your Other Job?: A census analysis of artists’ employment in Australia is a very thorough and interesting dissection of available Australian Census data. But it inadvertantly shows up of one of the biggest policy  problems posed by the Australia Council by the methodological definitions it employs. Presumably at the request of the Australia Council itself, census definitions  used are not those the ABS uses in it Employment in Culture series, but rather a subset of those classifications that deal only with the artforms currently funded by the Australia Council: Chiefly literature, music, visual arts and crafts, theatre and dance, “cross-artform” arts, and design.

The relevant definitions are carefully explicated – but what it is significant is who is missing. If I read the definitions correctly,  whole swathes of the cultural sector are missing. There are no film-makers, no animators, no game designers or developers, no broadcasters or book or magazine publishers, no librarians or archivists, no journalists and no bloggers – nor any of the related professions that might be snobbishly considerd “non-artistic” but in fact are vital to the production and performance of the arts – jobs like sound recorders and producers, festival promoters, museum curators and film and TV producers.

In fact, the film and television sector appears to have been excluded altogether – a strange and arbitrary decision which appears to have more to do with existing policy ambit of the Australia Council than the relevance or cogency of this definition to the broader debate. After all, what is it exactly makes design more “artistic” than cinematography?

None of which is to criticise Cunningham and Higgs’ report, which still has some really interesting things to tell us – data I’m going to explore over the course of the next week or so.

Links – 11th May

1) Google Editions analysis: Robert McGarvey thinks that Google Editions “is rewriting all the rules of book buying“. Also worth a look is Megellan Media’s blog by Bryan O’Leary.

2) Independent games developer Jarrad “Farbs” Woods was recently named by Game Developer magazine as one of the 50 most important contributors to the current state of the games industry. Here, an interview.

3) The second-largest video rental chain in the US plans to liquidate. Could Blockbuster be next?

4) Despite downloading, recorded music sales are in fact rising in 13 territories. One US indie label is still making a profit selling CDs.

Illegal downloading in Australia

A snapshot of illegal downloading in Australia. Source: CoreData/news.com.au

CoreData and news.com.au have teamed up to survey more than 7,000 Australian consumers about their illegal downloading habits.

While we don’t know the full methodology, the survey is one of the largest and certainly the most current snapshot of consumer behaviour in this field.

And, for those of us who have been following the technology-related troubles of the cultural industries since Shawn Fanning invented Napster, the results should not surprise:

Most people who illegally download movies, music and TV shows would pay for them if there was a cheap and legal service as convenient as file-sharing tools like BitTorrent.

[…]

The survey canvassed the attitudes of more than 7000 people who admitted to streaming or downloading media from illegitimate sources in the past 12 months.

It found accessibility was as much or more of a motivator than money for those who illegally download media using services like BitTorrent.

More respondents said they turned to illegal downloads because they were convenient than because they were free, when it came to all three types of media covered by the survey — TV shows, movies and music.

And more than two-thirds said they would pay for downloads from a legitimate service that was just as convenient if it existed.

The hypothetical legitimate service was described as giving users access to TV shows, movies and music they wanted, when they wanted them, without ads or copy protection.

This survey is more evidence, if any more were needed, that the key barrier to a paid content future remains industrial competition and the strategic errors of big cultural businesses, rather than the rampant illegality of ordinary consumers.

Of course, some will protest that consumers are simply lying in such a survey.  But a more convincing explanation is that the cultural industries are yet to give consumers exactly what they want, and that this explains the slow uptake in digital content payments. It’s also another example of the problem of rivalry and excludability in the content industries: compare the prices Australian consumers say they are prepared to pay for downloaded movies (approximately $2 dollars) to the average admission price of a cinema ticket here (as high has $17 for a first-release movie). You don’t need an MBA to see the revenue gap there.

Can studios and record labels make money on prices like these? Of course they can, especially if new business models are created. But that’s not what Big Content will tell you. They’ll use data like this to lobby for more stringent industry protections, in the form of draconian copyright legislation and other anti-competitive regulations.

The EU’s new Green Paper on the cultural and creative industries

The boffins at the European Union have released a new Green Paper on the “cultural and creative industires”. Entitled Unlocking the potential of cultural and creative industries, the paper is an important clue as to the future development of cultural policy in Europe.

While I won’t summarise the entire paper here, it’s certainly worthwhile reading for the cultural policy w0nk. For instance, the paper estimates that the creative and cultural industries make up something like 2.6% of Euro-zone GDP. It also thinks  that digitalisation is the biggest ongoing trend in the sector, and that small-to-medium enterprises are vital to its health and growth:

Even in sectors where major international companies play a leading role, small and micro-enterprises play a crucial role in creativity and innovation. They are typically the risk takers and early adopters and play decisive roles when it comes to scouting for new talents, developing new trends and designing new aesthetics.
A diverse range of entrepreneurs and the free movement of their services is a prerequisite for a culturally diverse offer to consumers. This is possible only if fair access to the market is guaranteed. Creating and maintaining the level playing field which ensures that there are no unjustified barriers to entry will require combined efforts in different policy fields, especially competition policy.
There’s plenty more in the Green Paper; various industry and media reactions can be found here, here and here.

The sociology of political blogs: the left and right blogospheres

Previous studies of the blogosphere have used link analysis to suggest a symmetrical relationship between twinned left and right blogospheres. Yochai Benkler's new research overturns this theory, suggesting left-leaning blogs feature more in-depth analysis, use more complex platforms, and raise more money. Source: Berkman Centre for Internet and Society

By way of the invaluable Eszter Hargittai comes news of Yochai Benkler’s latest research on the blogosphere.

Eszter writes:

Yochai Benkler, Aaron Shaw and Victoria Stodden of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society have just released “A Tale of Two Blogospheres: Discursive Practices on the Left and Right” showing some significant differences in types of blog platforms used (with different affordances), co-authorships and levels of participation among blogs of different political persuasions. Here is one example of specific findings (based on analyses of 155 top political blogs):

Over 40% of blogs on the left adopt platforms with enhanced user participation features. Only about 13% of blogs on the right do so. While there is substantial overlap, and comments of some level of visibility are used in the vast majority of blogs on both sides of the political divide, the left adopts enabling technologies that make user-generated diaries and blogs more central to the site to a significantly greater degree than does the right. (p. 22.)

In an interview with The Nation, Benkler explains a little about his research. The interview is full of insights, such as this one:

What we have seen is a model where things that used to be available only to thousands of people are now probably available to hundreds of thousands of people–maybe low millions. That is to say, let’s imagine for a moment that something like one percent of the US voting population, about 2 million people, have relatively easy access to a platform that makes them visible to thousands or tens of thousands of other people. That’s clearly new, in that you never had something like this in a mass media environment. It’s also clearly far from “everyone a pamphleteer, and everyone a town crier.”

And this one:

… this is the first time we’re getting a more detailed look at the technology of options and patterns of use–the first time we’re seeing there’s a difference between the left and right blogospheres, in terms of technologies adopted and the shape of the discourse, as it were, between left and right. I’d say most of the discussions of the blogosphere in politics, up until now, have claimed to observe a symmetry and talked about the blogosphere as one phenomenon in its relationships to political discourse. What we found is that the story is more complex–as it almost always is.

It is important to emphasize there is a lot of overlap between the two sides. But, it does look like the right wing of the blogosphere developed into a stronger emphasis on individual bloggers with very short stories and links–to other places and particularly to mainstream media. And to the extent that we saw larger-scale discourse inside a group of people talking to each other, it was more of a phenomenon on the left wing of the blogosphere.

I think our study questions the idea that there is somehow a technologically determined effect in political blogging. So different institutional settings and mediascape settings adopted things differently. I think the right–when you think of the blogospshere emerging in 2002 and 2003–the right had control over all branches of government; it had Fox News as an outlet; it had churches for organization; it was plausible to adopt a practice or blogosphere that largely reflects and amplifies that media and discourse space.

I think the left was out of government. Clearly, the churches were not an organizing space, and unions did not have the same kind of scope and reach and civic associations; there was no mirror image to Fox News. The effort to create alternative to talk radio was quite weak, there was a small number of magazines–like The Nation, like The Prospect–but nothing like the mediascape on the right. And then the blogosphere comes along and creates a new alternative.

You can see the full paper as a PDF here.

Spotify and Lady GaGa

Lady GaGa leaves her London hotel, March 2010. Image: Rolling Stone

I don’t think I’m alone in the world in expressing my sincere admiration for the sheer artistic commitment of Stefani Germanotta, better known to her millions of fans as Lady GaGa.

While an in-depth critical dissection of the songwriting, performance and (perhaps most notably) entrepreneurial talents of contemporary music’s hottest new star are outside the scope of this blog, I will probably post something about this fascinating artist from a musicological perspective down the track. (Just one thing that intrigues me: GaGa’s Italian-American ethnicity and the clear inspiration she seems to have taken from another Italian-American, Madonna).

But GaGa’s relationship to the changing economics of the music industry certainly is a topic of this blog. And that’s been much in the news lately, with the revelation that Spotify, the hit new streaming wesbite based in Sweden, paid GaGa only US$167 for more than 1 million downloads.

The news quickly spread around global media, as horrified musicians and collection agencies mobilised to fight the latest threat to artistic livelihoods. Sam Leith has weighed in at The Guardian, as have a number of other commentators.

So, is this more evidence of the internet destroying recorded music as we know it? Well … no, actually, as Steve Lawson points out:

[The original report about the Spotify royalty] does mention that she’s had 20 million paid downloads. 20 MILLION paid downloads. (that warrants a Dr Evil pinky-in-the-corner-of-the-mouth pose).

Yup, that’s not the headline, that her digital strategy that includes Spotify has lead to her selling 20 MILLION downloads – in an age when any of those 20 million sales could’ve been grabbed from a file sharing service or copied from a friend (I’m taking a wild guess that Lady Gaga fans run in packs – she doesn’t strike me as the kind of artist that appeals to the friendless reclusive goth kid with the idiosyncratic taste).

Lawson concludes that even if Spotify only functions as a streaming radio service, the artists are still winning.

In fact, Spotify has since responded to the criticism by saying that the $167 figure was only a small part of GaGa’s royalty earnings. According to Paul brown of Spotify, quoted in Billboard,

“This figure is over 15 months out of date and relates to a short period of time, just after Spotify had launched back in late 2008 and is not an accurate or current reflection of the total royalties paid out to an artist and composer like Lady Gaga. It also only relates to royalties due from STIM (the Swedish collecting society) in respect of plays in Sweden ONLY and none of the other markets.”

On the other hand, there is no doubt that the revenue streams once available to artists from music sales are far less than they hay-days of the 1980s and 90s, as Peter Kafka points out in this post:

Remember when people used to predict that digital music sales would make up for the disappearing CD? That’s officially over now: Last quarter, for the first time ever, the number of digital songs sold in the U.S. declined.

More on Spotify: Information Is Beautiful has a typically impressive post about this very point, and the Guardian’s Charles Arthur has an excellent post breaking down the known information underlying Spotify’s business model.

When cultural policy is “bullshit”

Former UK culture minster Chris Smith, who freely admitted using dubious cultural statistics in order to argue for more money for his portfolio. Source: The Times.

My friend Jana Perkovic recently alerted me to one of the most bracing recent contributions o the field of cultural policy, by the University of Warwick’s Eleonora Belfiore.

Belfiore researches at the Centre for Cultural Policy Studies at Warwick and is a frequent and respected contributor to the field. She’s also more than a little fed up with the spin and window-dressing that passes for “cultural policy” in Britain. Hence, her recent paper in the International Journal of Cultural Policy is entitled “On bullshit in cultural policy practice and research: notes from the British case.”

Belfiore’s central point is that the policy documents of New Labour are deeply misleading, based on a research project that is at best flawed, and at worst yielding data that directly contradicts the claims made for it. “The article aims to show that many of the key actors in the cultural policy debate indeed display the ‘indifference to how things really are’ and the cultivation of vested interests,” she writes.

In some ways, Belfiore’s paper is similar to Andrew Pinnock‘s recent work attacking rent-seeking in cultural policy-making and questioning the incongruity between extant cultural policy and the evidence (or lack thereof)  underlying it.  Her essay draws on US philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt’s book On Bullshit, but then applies his teachings to the contemporary field. As Belfiore observes, “since the very beginning of politicians’ renewed interest for the social impacts of the arts, the question of evidence has been a delicate one.” She also cites a speech by former DCMS Secreatry Chris Smith, in which he freely admits that:

that when I was Secretary of State, going into what always seemed like a battle with the Treasury, I would try and touch the buttons that would work. I would talk about the educational value of what was being done. I would be passionate about artists working in schools. I would refer to the economic value that can be generated from creative and cultural activity. I would count the added numbers who would flock into a free museum. If it helped to get more funds flowing into the arts, the argument was worth deploying.

Belfiore concludes by observing that bullshit is not just the province of politicians. She argues that much research in the field is in fact tainted by the unexamined assumptions of cultural policy researchers about the positive value of th arts and culture: “one of the problems with large portions of research that has so far been carried out into the social impacts of the arts is its being marred by a profound confusion between genuine research and research for the sake of advocacy.”

This is an important essay with wide implications and resonances in the Australian context, especially for much of the Australia Council’s research.

Trouble in SBS-land

Dateline's Sophie McNeill won a Walkley for Young Australian Journalist of the Year in 2008. Above: McNeill with Asher Moses, Michael Atkin and Andrew Quilty. Source: Walkley Foundation.

Life is getting bleaker for the staff of Australian public broadcaster SBS, according to a confidential poll of staff.

As New Matilda’s David Ingram reports, the confidential survey reveals widespread staff dissatisfaction:

The survey measuring employee engagement found fewer than half the 614 staff polled thought SBS performed well in managing performance, promotion, innovation and communication. In some work areas, satisfaction was less than a quarter on individual issues.

As Ien Ang, Gay Hawkins and Lamia Daboussy noted in their 2009 book on the broadcaster, The SBS Story, the network’s mandate for multicultural and foreign language programming has also spurred diversity in programming and quality journalism through shows such as Dateline. But since current boss Shaun Brown was recruited to the broadcaster from a commercial TV background in New Zealand in 2003, there have been many who believe the network has lost its way.