Ed Christman (@edchristman) of Billboard reports that Whole Foods, the national supermarket chain, and Target (pronounced Tar-Jay) are experimenting with that gateway drug of hipsterdom: vinyl.
With vinyl growing into a steady, profitable niche business and showing no signs of slowing, other merchants beyond core music stores are taking a chance on the format. In Los Angeles, the Whole Foods chain is experimenting with vinyl inventory in five of its 340 locations, and Target-the fourth-largest music retailer in the United States, with an estimated $500 million in music revenue in 2012-will test the waters as well, placing 80 stock-keeping units in a limited number of stores.
The piece starts off with a scene at the Whole Foods on West Third and Fairfax in LA, which is where I was first surprised to find a DJ manning the record section a couple of weeks back. Then I found myself at Amoeba Records, looking at record players.
It is too late for me. Save yourselves.
Creative Commons Image: Thomas Heylen/Flickr
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Emily Siner for NPR’s All Tech Considered:
A school district in Southern California has hired a private firm to comb through the cyber lives of its 14,000 middle- and high-school students, looking for signs of trouble.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the Glendale Unified School District is spending $40,000 to have the firm monitor social media use among the district’s students. School officials want to know if the kids are posting suicidal thoughts, obscenities or comments intended to bully fellow students.
Read the rest at All Tech Considered.
Madonna has a new, 17-minute short film coming out. While that might have been huge news in, say, 1996 it is little more than a blip in the blogosphere here in 2013.
Except that it is being released via BitTorrent. Not as a matter of piracy, but as the official distribution system. Madonna has teamed up with BitTorrent and digital mega-publisher VICE to launch the “Art for Freedom” project, which the short film is a part of.
This is the biggest release yet to use BitTorrent’s new BitTorrent Bundles system. BitTorrent, for those who are unfamiliar with the service, are all but synonymous with digital piracy. So what is Madonna and VICE doing working with them?
Those who watched Napster, the granduncle of all peer-to-peer file sharing services, go legit will recognize this move.
BitTorrent Bundles is a storefront for BitTorrent-powered digital releases–books, films, audiobooks, etc.–the terms of which are set by the artist who created the content. “Play what you want. Pay what you want,” is the motto.
The program has been in alpha for a few months now, and BitTorrent has been recruiting select creatives to populate the storefront. Right now you can find music from artists like Kaskade and L5. The audiobook version of Tim Ferris’ “4-Hour Chef” is there as well.
The long term plan here is to create a full-fledged storefront that any creative can use. That’s still in the future, but next week BitTorrent plans to make a big step forward for their new platform.
On September 24th, we’ll release the project’s next stage. BitTorrent Bundle for publishers is an Alpha platform that makes direct-to-fan distribution simple. There are 170 million BitTorrent fans. But today, creating a torrent requires a level of technical ability. Our goal is to automate the process for creators – to help artists around the world find and connect with new audiences. Here’s how it works.
The Direct-to-Fan model is the Next Big Thing. BitTorrent has the advantage of being trusted by consumers who love getting content for free. Will those same consumers be willing to ante up some support for the artists whose work they enjoy?
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What if our devices could see the world the way we do, in 3D? What possibilities would that unlock?
That’s the question that drives the development of the Structure Sensor, a device from San Francisco design firm Occipital that is currently raising funds on Kickstarter.
With the Structure Sensor attached to your mobile device, you can walk around the world and instantly capture it in a digital form. This means you can capture 3D maps of indoor spaces and have every measurement in your pocket. You can instantly capture 3D models of objects and people for import into CAD and for 3D printing. You can play mind blowing augmented reality games where the real world is your game world.
In the video you can see that Occipital has paired the Sensor with the Oculus Rift VR rig, solving the “I can’t see my hands” problem that comes up with the device.
Via Bruce Sterling’s Beyond The Beyond
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This little tidbit is interesting on two fronts: the idea itself and how it is attempting to come into the world.
The idea is Phonebloks, a design for a modular phone system by designerDave Hakkens. The cell phones would be made up of individual components that could be swapped out like Legos in order to be customizable. It is also intended to create less waste, but that’s a hard thing to asses without actual use case studies.
What makes this doubly interesting is that Hakkens is not, at least at this moment, attempting to raise money. Instead he’s trying to get attention by usingThunderclap, a social media amplification tool. Thunderclap allows supporters to donate their social media profile to a cause, and then that cause can trigger a cascade of messages, which has the potential to get the topic trending.
The Phonebloks plan is to launch a message on October 29th. The project’s page makes the claim that 239 million people have already registered for the Thunderclap. The goal: get the attention of companies who would pursue the idea.
I have no idea if this will work–and I mean that on both the phone and messaging fronts–but it is going to be worth watching.
Tomorrow is the big day. The day that the tech press waits for every year: the announcement of a new iPhone. Some come to praise, others to bury Apple. Everyone–at least secretly–hoping that there will be a surprise at the end of Tim Cook’s hour long talk in front of some of the most privileged technophiles in the world.
The tech press is afflicted with a “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality. The meaning of their jobs, and by extension their lives, tied up in a never ending quest for the perfect gadget. For the past few years this has meant breathless coverage of the smartphone market.
As an iPhone owner I’m often tempted by the “newest-latest-best” phones from the Google and Microsoft camps. I play with them at the local Best Buy and think about jumping ship for a minute. Until I remember: I’m locked in.
Not in the store, physically, and not even in a phone contract. I’m overdue for an upgrade, the “home” button is on the fritz, and I can abandon ship for a new handset at any time without financial penalty. After five years of iPhone ownership the grass often winds up looking greener on the other side.
To do so, however, means that I’d be sacrificing all the money I’ve put into buying apps for the iPhone over the years. This is probably running into the hundreds of dollars when you add up all the games, productivity apps, magazine subscriptions, and on and on that I’ve sunk on measured advice and whim alike.
That doesn’t even account for the entire ecosystem that ties the mobile apps to desktops, tablets and web services. Leave for Android or Windows Phone and I can kiss all those pieces of software goodbye, and start building up a new collection from scratch.
This is an option someone with a boatload of disposable income can make, and if you read the tech press it can feel like pretty much all of its reporters qualify. There’s a bit of an illusion there: what can appear like limitless wealth is actually loaner phones and expense accounts. What’s missing from the discussion on so many tech focused sites are the perspectives of those who are not able to afford the endless upgrade game.
In the middle-class economy hard choices have to be made. You’d think this was a point of view that would be easy for tech bloggers to keep in mind, as it is highly unlikely that they are all pulling down big bucks on a blogger’s piece rate.
If you need to see how focused the myopia can get look no further than the reaction to the Nintendo 2DS handheld game system this past month.
Perhaps the most telling line in all the coverage was from this Dean Takahashi piece at VentureBeat:
Mitch Lasky, general partner at Benchmark Capital and a longtime video game industry follower, said, “To quote my six year old daughter, barely looking up from her iPad: ‘What’s a Nintendo?’”
Now that’s not on Takahashi, but it illustrates the larger tech-world disconnect with those of modest means. An attitude that trickles down into the blogger world. In an earlier age, just owning a Nintendo was a mark of privilege. The cheapest iPad mini will set you back $329, a full $200 more than the 2DS. I’m glad Lasky’s kid has an iPad, but beyond the mellow parks and sunny vales of Silicon Valley, not everyone can afford to put a piece of luxury tech into the hands of a first-grader.
However, the tech and gaming press doesn’t seem to make the connection. Instead of a sober discussion about a striped-down version of the game maker’s 3DS device, one that was clearly targeted at budget-conscious parents, we got a storm of entitled whining about how this new device wasn’t for the hardcore gamers of the world.
The talk of Nintendo’s irrelevance hit an all time high, all because the company had the gall to make some marketshare gains. (To be fair: there was some reasonable discussion. Wired’s Chris Kolher has the best take.)
It was made for the same reason that Apple is expected to announce a low-cost, plastic iPhone tomorrow: to get another generation hooked on the company’s products. To have them learn an interaction language that will then make others seem backwards by comparison.
That’s the other side of lock-in.
The time I spend in Best Buy with other kinds of phones is often filled with a low level of confusion. The design metaphors that are baked into Android and Windows Phone devices are similar to Apple products, but just different enough that they feel like distinct dialects. We’re all “speaking” touchscreen, some of us just have a little twang. With time I’m sure I’d get used to it, that’s an advantage of having the technophile gene. Yet the gene also comes with an extra dollop of impatience, and another reason to resign myself to being a quasi-willing captive of Cupertino.
So how does all this color tomorrow?
Like everyone else, I’m hoping for something unexpectedly gee-whiz to be unveiled. It is, after all, the device I’m likely going to live with for the next three or four years if history is any guide. Something that goes beyond the auto manufacture mindset of putting a little more power under the hood and changing the styling. Something, to borrow a term, different.
A bit of the most famous music video of all time–Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”–in Lego form. By director Annette Jung.
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If analyst Robert S. Peck ofSunTrust Robinson Humphrey is right, Google could have a $3.3 billion dollar business with the wearable Google GLass device by 2017.
Liz Ganns at All Things D has the breakdown:
Even with zero profit margin, Google should be able to make money from Glass via additional searches, better targeting from increased data collection and revenue share from app sales.
A version of this story aired on APM’s Marketplace Morning Report.
In some public schools around the country, it’s not uncommon for the same textbook, sometimes with outdated material, to stay in classrooms for six or seven years. That’s partly because a handful of big textbook providers has controlled what can be a cumbersome procurement process.
But now that more schools are wired, and a generation of teachers is going online to download tools that help them teach, old models are being upended.
Take the online learning platform Edmodo. It’s the brainchild of two founders who got their start as systems administrators in public schools who were tasked with blocking sites like Facebook and Twitter, that were deemed unsafe for school environments. But as a result, said Edmodo VP of Sales and Adoption Michelle Best, “What happens too often is that a teacher is basically on a lonely island in their classroom. They don’t have a safe means of collaborating and sharing content, ideas, building lessons together.”
That’s what Edmodo’s built for. In fact, it looks a lot like Facebook, and teachers can use it in some of the same ways: sharing links, posting files, filtering various feeds, creating groups for messaging.
Edmodo has racked up 22 million users. In the Chesterfield Public Schools in Virginia, about a third of the teachers were already using Edmodo before the district decided to give its blessing, providing administrative support. Executive Director of Technology Adam Seldow says if a tool’s gone viral among teachers, it’s more compelling for a district to take a chance on it. “We can almost immediately have the whole district up and running with a pretty robust tool that does the basic things that a teacher needs to teach, and a student needs to learn,” he said. “And as importantly, a lot of these tools are free. We can now put the money toward excellent digital content, which is really where the bread and butter really is for teachers.”
That’s where the bread and butter is for startups like Edmodo, too — becoming a distribution channel for educational content. The paid apps in Edmodo’s online store are a big part of its revenue model. And the revenue potential has attracted investors like Jon Sakoda, a partner at New Enterprise Associates, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm. A trillion dollars of annual “spend,” and $20 billion in K-12 instructional material alone. But Sakoda said until a few years ago, the ed tech market was unproven ground for investors, because it was so expensive for startups to get their wares into public schools.
“In the old days, you used to have to go school to school and convince school administrators, and teachers, and parents, that your new online tool that was more effective than the physical textbook that was being used. Today, because of the Internet, a lot of companies can offer that content for free, and schools can try it, before they buy it,” Sakoda explained.
Companies get to see how various aspects of their product performs with hundreds of thousands of students long before having to charge for it. “You’re also able to prove with data that your content is more effective than other methods they may have tried,” he said.
It’s only in the last five years or so that startups have been able to compete with established publishing companies like McGraw Hill and Houghton Mifflin.
There is risk for school districts in all this disruption, though. Administrators are wary of spending a lot of time and effort training teachers on one tool, and then having to switch to a new one if a startup folds. But if educational technology companies can prove schools can trust them to reliably serve tens of thousands of students, they might just give Big Education a run for its money.
Today’s must-read is the AllThingsD post about direct-to-fan video sale service VHX’s new round of investment:
Funding to build out that platform comes from a new $3.2 million round led by Union Square Ventures, along with money from new investors like William Morris Endeavor; previous investors Ventures, Lowercase Capital and Alexis Ohanian are back, too.
That’s fine on it’s own, but the real meat is in the down-the-line analysis that suggests that the bloom may be off the rose for big names selling direct to fans, and how VHX doesn’t view that as a problem.
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