Business Time! Last.fm and its sale to CBS.

 
  • Business Time! Last.fm and its sale to CBS.

    CBS understands the Last.fm vision, the importance we place on putting the listener in charge, the vibrant and vocal community, the obsession with music stats, and our determination to offer every song ever recorded.

    OK, last.fm is sold. And it happened despite fact that no one asked us, the listeners, our opinion-even though we are supposed to be in charge. i am more than a little annoyed by the reduction of the listeners into "music stats obsessed" nerds and the occlusion of what is really being sold here.

    Then how should we respond to this sale? My initial response is a loss of desire to scrobble. I just don't want to scrobble anymore the music that I listen to. I don't want to do so, because I don't want my listening habits to be recorded and aggregated and used as an input to a marketing oriented statistical data-base pertaining to the listener preferences of last.fm listeners by the multi-national capitalist corporation. I don't want my listening activity and the social links that I have established over the year and a half that I have been scrobbling on last.fm to be appropriated, captured, and used for generating surpluses for multi-national capitalism. This journal entry is an attempt at establishing some frames of interpretation in understanding the economics and the politics of this sale.

    1. let us begin by establishing what is being sold. sure, the folks at last.fm headquarters have developed a series of nifty softwares and refined the website significantly (in part with the help of the scrobbles themselves) over the period it has functioned. but cbs would have never purchased last.fm if it was not for the music community that has been scrobbling and creating a public sphere within which they can engage in a system of sharing, learning, disseminating, commenting, and experimenting. in other words, the software is one thing, the network and the sociality that have developed and accumulated over the last two years is another thing.

    2. In the "Privacy" document-which can accessed from the link at the bottom of the page-the following ominous paragraph can be found:
    We reserve the right to sell or license pseudonymous listening data for commercial use, however we will never sell your personal data that can be traced back to a specific user. We may, for example, license our weekly charts for commercial use. This would not compromise any personal information.
    Thank you, last.fm. They are, of course, not selling our personal information. But that's never been the point anyways. Because they are interested in selling the charts and the aggregated preference maps of the listening community. This is a very important piece of information for the contemporary marketing technologies that rely more and more on niche-marketing where the commodities are sold by linking them metonymically ("if you liked this, you will also like this") with each other. In this sense, what is being sold is the promise of a continual flow of knowledge pertaining to the listening habits of the listening community.

    3. in other words, the $280 million is essentially a money paid to last.fm software developers because they were successful in harvesting the listening practices of the music community and in constructing an aggregated preference mapping of this public to be sold to interested parties. in other words, the $280 is a GIFT from last.fm community to the last.fm headquarters. yet, it is a gift that the community was not aware of. in a sense, it is a gift that the last.fm stole from the scrobblers. such forms of gifting are usually named differently: exploitation.

    4. of course, other paths could have been taken. last.fm could have used this excellent software to poll the scrobblers and created an awesome participative mechanism. then we could have decided together, democratically, whether this was the best way forward and whether it was worth selling out. consider, for instance, the case of national public radio (npr) in the states. they are not publicly funded (or underfunded) and need money for development, so what do they do? they ask donations from their listeners and get sponsorships. they do not sell the company. you could have initiated a subscription/support campaign to tap into 15 million scrobblers out there. you may have been surprised by the amount that you would generate: if each scrobbler would give $20, you would have raised $300 million and continue to be independent. Note that, not everyone has to give that much. I, for one, would and can easily give $50 per annum sustainer fee if I was sure that last.fm was an independently run system.

    5. this is obviously larger than last.fm and CBS and it is yet another moment in which capitalism captures/territorializes non-capitalism. it is yet another instance in which something that emerged on the internet as an independent enterprise-assuming that this was the case—being captured by a multi-national corporation. of course, i could be wrong in assuming that last.fm was an independently run, self-governed cooperative. maybe it was always already a small capitalist firm run by a few owners who also happened to be developers with a number of salaried developers who don't have much to say or control but are happy with their little capitalist enterprise. if this was the case, then the transition is from small capitalism to big capitalism and not from non-capitalism to capitalism.

    6. so what is to be done? well, again, i've lost my appetite. if i will remain on last.fm, it will be simply because I value the social links that I have already established on last.fm too much to lose them. but i definitely will not renew my subscription. and the moment a new and independently run platform emerges, i will migrate there (hopefully with my friends). of course, these are individual solutions. what we really need to do is to create and build sustainable platforms where the listeners and developers are in charge together!

    Stefan GlänzerBuck 65Blood Of A Young Wolfrichest man in babylonThe Richest Man in BabylonNPRCBS

    ymm.2008.
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