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Jamendo: Lessons for the Publishing Industry

I realize this is off-topic, but I have been working on a series of articles about Jamendo, a free and legal French music site that distributes over 29,000 creative commons albums. Over the last 3 years I have listened to 2200+ of the Jamendo’s 29,000 free music albums and chosen the best of the best for my article 11 Incredible Music Albums you can download for free.

The Jamendo concept is very interesting (I wrote about it for Teleread a few years ago). In many ways Jamendo has been doing a lot of things right from an audience point of view and from the standpoint of promoting individual artists; they just haven’t had as much success finding a sustainable business model for themselves,   Below are some insights gained by watching a musical community grow and asking about lessons learned which apply to literary communities. .

  • Because all  material on Jamendo is creative commons, it is possible for Jamendo to turn user-created online playlists into downloadable zips of all the mp3s on the playlist. Only Creative Commons makes that possible, and that is ubercool. (You can download the downloadable playlist of best songs I created specifically for the article).
  • Even though it’s not an overwhelming number, Jamendo has a good number of donations made by listeners to musicians they like.  Your donations are visible to the public, so in addition to showing support for the artist, it is also a great way for listeners to learn about what musicians other listeners are  enthusiastic about.
  • Jamendo started out by putting the albums on p2p sites, but that turned out not to be very popular (I’m guessing because bit torrent clients are still a little geeky to most people). Instead, what they did was using advertising-supported downloads. You’d have to wait 5-10 seconds and view an ad, and then the download link would be visible. (That’s somewhat similar to how Rapidshare handles its free downloads).
  • The hardest thing about Jamendo is navigating through the massive amounts of music albums – most of which are crap. Quite a lot of albums – some very good — are completely ignored. That is very similar to the state of ebooks (creative commons or otherwise).  The tools for browsing/navigating them in the interface always seem to lag behind the ever-accumulating archive of contributions. It’s a lot easier to listen & review a music album than to read a book, but no blog or website has really kept up with the massive amount of free music downloads.
  • Jamendo is a legendary community among creative commons musicians, but it is still unknown in several geographic  regions and even among people who consider themselves music fans. Take the album  Tryad’s Listen , which is one of the  best known albums in Jamendo’s community;  it is still virtually unknown in other communities. That should be instructive. Reputations matter within a  single community – not across different communities.
  • Collaboration is very more relevant to music (or video) than to literature. Several of these musicians sampled heavily from other musicians on Jamendo and ccmixter; it was hard to know who originated what. For authors, this rarely is an issue. Even with the copyright/derivative work craziness, it’s still relatively easy for writers to avoid excessive entanglements (fan fiction is a different story though).  Sure, maybe another person may do some editing or contributing a graphic;  but for the most part, authors work alone.
  • Obviously any “Best of” list is arbitrary and subjective. But I had a hard time distinguishing in my own mind between the 1st tier of Favorites and the 2nd tier. Both were great in their own way. I tend to feel the same way about any Best list (be it books, music, film). At the top it’s relatively hard to distinguish between the excellent and the  better-than-excellent. In this age of literary abundance, we tend to give undue importance to minor quality differences between books and are willing to pay for it. That isn’t healthy (and it isn’t helped by a NY-centric publishing industry).
  • Musicians can get away with giving their mp3s for free because they can make money from concerts. The analogy does not really hold for authors. The ebook is really the only thing an author can make money from (aside from writing workshops perhaps – and even that market is limited).
  • On jamendo the amount of productivity varies widely. One classical musician released 100+ albums of piano improvisations; another acoustic singer released one well-regarded album. We all recognize that certain artistic works require more of an artist’s time and effort, but that does not necessarily make the  the reader’s enjoyment for them any greater.  How do you estimate the value of an 85 page book of sonnets against Anna Karenina? Both works took a considerable amount of craft and time to produce.
  • Generally speaking, I am finding a lot more experimentation in Jamendo’s musical community than in the literary world. My rough guess is that about 30-40% of Jamendo’s music falls under the category of experimental, whereas of the new literary works I  come across (print or ebook), I see only a tiny percentage trying radical experiments in narrative (stream-of-consciousness, discontinuities in  narratives, metafiction, etc).  For contrast, I think that film and video is still wildly inventive with form and technique.
  • In contrast to authors, musicians still haven’t warmed up to blogs or running a site for their band. A huge percentage of musicians on Jamendo still don’t have a personal site put up (even though blogging software is ubiquitous and easy). A slightly larger percentage of musicians use myspace or facebook. My general impression is that musicians are “too busy to blog.”  Writers are just the opposite. You almost have to pull them away from their blog so they can write fiction.
  • Although there are different music genres, people are more lenient about listening to things outside their preferred genre. I dislike heavy metal music, but last week I listened to a heavy metal album which was actually something I liked. Such genre hopping is less likely to happen in literature. Chances are I’m not going to be reading any mystery novels anytime soon. Also, I noticed that musical genres are less segmented by age. In fiction publishing, people under 20 read a certain kind of fiction; people between 20-40 read a different kind, and people 60 and above read another certain kind. Sure, when I am 60 I can still read H.C. Andersen, but I’m unlikely to read a lot of books in that genre. But in music,   age preferences aren’t as clear cut. (In fact, “retro music” is always cool).

I for one would hate to see Jamendo go away. But actually there are many music communities out there (and  many seemed back by well-heeled commercial interests).  Is it always the fate of a free distribution network to fail? I recently talked to an editor at a very well-known online literary ezine. The ezine had (in my mind) distinguished itself already, but it was still having major problems attracting an audience (and we are not even talking about making money).  I was dumbfounded. This ezine was doing almost everything right (short of advertising on CNN). Are noncommercial distribution projects just doomed labors of love?

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Herretoej 1/23/2010, 6:31 pm

    I had some time in jamendo, well I think its not that bad yet not that perfect, just an average user friendly! music finds its way through good or bad, its a universal language!

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