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Recycled Friday: Is £2.5 billion really spent on press releases in the UK?

I was inspired by the following comment from @adcontrarian in his latest blog post:

Because I am a lazy bastard and the thought of writing five posts a week is a constant source of terror, I have decided to introduce a new policy around here. From now on, on Fridays,  I’m going to recycle old posts that I like and that are still relevant. Today is our first Recycled Friday.

What a great idea. Having nearly 600 posts over 7 years gives me a good back catalogue to plunder.

Without further ado, here is a post I wrote five years ago – has much changed? You be the judge.


New survey conducted by Benchmark Research on behalf of Glide Technologies has thrown up some interesting, if not entirely unsurprising, results about the PR industry in the UK today.

The full report is here:

Glide PR survey

However, the one item that caught my eye was the calculation that  £2.5bn is spent on press releases in the UK. This based on the survey finding that 39pc of PR professionals time is spent on creating, distributing, and following up on press releases – and the estimated total size of the UK PR industry at £6.5bn. Couple that with only 32% of releases received by the media being of genuine interest, then I calculate that means £1.7bn is being wasted on irrelevant press releases.

Although I’d take this calculation with a pinch of salt, it would be fair to say that an awful lot of money is still being spent (and wasted) on the humble press release.

The survey also highlighted a clear discrepancy between journalists desire to be contacted by email and PRs who still overwhelmingly use the phone.

I know the reasons for both sides views. Journalists have been jaundiced by too many wasteful phone calls along the lines of “did you get my press release”, or are you attending exhibition X (see Phil Muncaster of IT Week vent his spleen re: the pre-InfoSec deluge of calls asking him whether he was going – Muncaster InfoSec rant )

On the other side, PRs often feel that they will get more “attention” by actually talking to the journalist. Though of course that still means you need a good enough story to give them.

My take on the survey as a whole is that is shows the same old values still apply to PR in terms of media relations – journalists will give the time of day to a trusted source – but even that doesn’t guarantee they will use a story. Perhaps some of that wasted £1.7bn could be spent on training PR professionals to get better at becoming trusted information sources.

Other findings below:

81% of Journalists on a desert island opt for laptop over a phone

Email remains the most popular delivery format for journalists. Fax, post, newswire, PDA and SMS all decline. RSS and IM emerge.

76% of journalists more likely to use press communication with photos etc.

89% of journalists will visit an organisation’s website most of the time when writing about them

Journalist Complaints

Poor use of email (e.g. sending large attachments) accounts for the two greatest online deterrents to journalists

Only 32% of releases received by the media are of genuine interest

73% of journalists think an organisation is ‘not media friendly’ if its online press information is poor. 60% think they’re ‘lazy’, 50% that they’re ‘incompetent’.

Research conducted by Benchmark Research.

digital pr marketing Music online pr tech pr Technology PR Web/Tech

How U2 producer Brian Eno solves the paradox of choice (lessons for online PR)

A recent Daily Telegraph interview with legendary music producer Brian Eno contained an instructive quote about dealing with too many choices:

“In modern recording one of the biggest problems is that you’re in a world of endless possibilities. So I try to close down possibilities early on. I limit choices. I confine people to a small area of manoeuvre. There’s a reason that guitar players invariably produce more interesting music than synthesizer players: you can go through the options on a guitar in about a minute, after that you have to start making aesthetic and stylistic decisions. This computer can contain a thousand synths, each with a thousand sounds. I try to provide constraints for people.”

Whereas in the past these recording choices would only have been available to a small number of well funded bands, the problem is now one faced by anyone who has played around with Apple’s Garageband software.  It is all too easy to get sidetracked into tinkering with different instrument settings and effects (how about trying a bit more phasing on that clavier?). Before you know it, hours have passed, and you haven’t actually recorded anything meaningful.

In many ways, a similar problem faces marketing and PR clients. The range of possible choice in terms of the composition of the marketing mix grows by the day. A mind blowing selection of agencies, tools and offerings that serve to make your brain fuse. Experimenting with Twitter and Facebook is similar to agonising over Pinch or Flutter Harmonics – and the million and one permutations of digital effects.

Brian Eno thus seems to belong to the same “Less is More” camp as Clay “filter failure” Shirky, Barry “Paradox of Choice” Schwartz and Richard “80/20” Koch.  You have to set up some boundaries and constraints up front to prevent getting sucked into an endless cycle of fruitless tinkering.

Music Web/Tech

Is the end nigh for Pandora and Internet radio?

Depressing news via Alan Patrick at the Broadstuff blog that pioneer Internet music discovery service Pandora may be on the verge of folding.

As Alan says, “it’s a real pity if this happens.”

Sadly, the odds for Pandora’s survival don’t look good. And judging by the comments of founder Tim Westergren in the Washington Post, he sounds (understandably) like a man who really hasn’t got the energy to continue the fight. The double whammy of being forced to retrench the service back to the US and Canada only and trying to reach an acceptable compromise on royalties has taken its toll.

In fact, the future of the entire US web radio industry looks pretty dire. The hiking of web radio royalty rates stretches back over a year – and the wrangling continues. Unfortunately for Pandora and their peers, the RIAA backed Soundexchange can afford to drag this out as long as they want – with the apparent end goal of driving Web radio into the grave.

Then again, I find it hard to believe that Pandora will be allowed to die completely. Perhaps one of the established record companies will now step in and offer to take Pandora off its VCs hands for a knock down price? Perhaps CBS may buy it and corner the market in music discovery. (As I wrote last year for One magazine,’s decision to work more closely with the majors seems to have paid off).

Pandora (and LastFM) have been two of the most genuinely ground breaking Internet services of the last 5 years. To see one of them go to the wall – and lose the value of the Music Genome Project – seems to be a staggeringly stupid waste of time, effort and intellectual capital. Even if Pandora in its current incarnation goes under, I can’t believe someone somewhere won’t attempt to resurrect it – even if it is under the wing of one of the traditional record businesses that (in)directly appear to be contributing to its demise.


Happy birthday CD – the format that killed the music industry

The BBC runs a piece today about the 25th anniversary of the CD, saying "it remains the dominant format in spite of the growth in digital downloads."

How much longer it remains dominant is a moot point. Robert Sandall has written a very good article in the latest issue of Prospect magazine about the economics of the music industry – and it is plain to see why the business is in such a blue funk.

For example: "Although Britons still buy more CDs per head than anyone else—2.7 in
2006—the market for recorded music is in rapid decline. In the first
quarter of 2007, the market for the top-selling 200 CDs in Britain
shrank by 20 per cent compared to the same period in 2006. In the US,
CD sales in 2007 are down by 15 per cent, in France 25 per cent, in
Canada 35 per cent. The German market, once the largest in Europe, is
now no bigger than that of the Netherlands."

Sandall argues persuasively  that the CD actually contained the seeds of its own downfall – and that some in the industry were well aware of this when it was first introduced.

"One of the few industry moguls to raise his voice against the digital
format in its early days was the late Maurice Oberstein, an American
who was latterly head of the Polygram UK (later Universal) label. "Do
you realise we are giving away our master tapes here?" he asked at an
industry event. At the time, everybody was too busy counting the cash
to listen. But as the advent of recordable CDs kickstarted a black
economy in counterfeits in the 1990s, Oberstein was proved right."

In short, the numbers just don’t add up for the recording industry.

"Far better to download songs; at the iTunes music store, tracks retail
for 99 cents in America and 79p here. In Britain, at the end of the
1990s, CD singles sold for £4. Of that, the artist received about 50p,
while the record company took as much as £1. Under the new web-style
arrangement, the artist is lucky to get 10p, and the company might
gross 30p.

This destruction of the value of individual recordings explains why,
even if we were to carry on buying recorded music in the quantity we
did at the end of the last century, the prospects for suppliers would
still be bleak. However high the record companies worldwide pile their
audio products in future, the only way they will be able to sell them
is cheap. In Britain, the 10 per cent of singles still sold on CD now
retail for just £1.49.

Record company insiders are aghast at the demise of what was, for the
last two decades of the 20th century, their golden goose. And some of
them know that they were partly responsible for killing it.

The unexpected punchline in Sandall’s piece is that live music is seeing a resurgence:

"A rediscovery, or a renewed appreciation, of the communal source of
music-making—and listening— must lie near the root of this upending of
the music business. As personal stereos and MP3 players have grown in
popularity, so has an appreciation that music isn’t just something that
goes on between your ears. The guitarist of the American hardcore band
Anthrax expressed this rather neatly: "Our album is the menu," he
explained. "The concert is the meal."

In his book e-Topia, William Mitchell relates the increasing value of
shared experience to the isolating nature of electronic or online
virtual worlds. "In conducting our daily transactions, we will find
ourselves constantly considering the benefits of the different grades
of presence that are now available to us, and weighing these against
the costs," he writes. Being in the same place at the same time as a
live performance, music fans appear to have decided, is the rarest and
most precious presence of all.

So – happy 25th birthday, CD. However, perhaps you won’t be getting as many music biz execs attending the party as you might once have.


Anywhere FM – iTunes Playlist radio

Another day, another social music tool.

Anywhere FM allows you to upload your own iTunes library online – so you can listen to your own music library anywhere via a broadband connection. It also has a very slick iTunes-esque interface. And the novel social music twist is that you can listen to other people’s music libraries – or rather, you can stream their playlists as a personal radio station. Like, you get a "compatibility" rating to see how you compare with your fellow Anywhere FM listener’s tastes.

As others have pointed out, it enters a crowded market, competing with the likes of MP3 Locker – but it is free. And the social music angle is quite interesting.

It is early days for the service – though as of this evening, there have been 350,000 songs uploaded. And the music selections it provides are good.

Would be good if they added the ability to scroble to though.


Pandora, and Facebook in 3 way mash up

I’ve written before about PandoraFM which allows you to "scrobble" your Pandora tracks to your profile. Now there is a new Facebook app, What I’m Listening To, which displays your current playlist on your Facebook profile. So now your Pandora music "audit trail" is displayed on Facebook via

I’m not so much interested by the fact that my questionable musical tastes can now be shared on Facebook so much as this is another example of the useful inter-meshing of data and applications that seems to be so much easier to achieve these days.

Interesting musical times indeed.


LastFM sold to CBS for £140m

As reported here by the BBC.

An inevitable move I guess – LastFM has clearly been courted by numerous media companies for some time. There have been the odd cries of "sell out" from some LastFM users – but most seem to be giving this a cautious welcome – on the basis that CBS merely provide added resources rather than meddling with a very successful formula.

Others have asked whether £140m is a little on the low side, considering LastFM’s 15 million user base (works out around just over £9 per user). Let’s hope LastFM can continue to keep up the good work so far.

Oh, and spot the deliberate error in the Beeb story – namely, "And last year, search engine Google paid $165bn (£82bn) for video site YouTube."

Er, I don’t think so.


Apple and EMI announce deal on DRM-free music

Apple has announced a deal with EM! that presumably is the beginning of the end for DRM. Steve Jobs quoted elsewhere as saying he expects over half of the total iTunes catalog to be DRM free by the end of the year.

From May, you’ll be able to get high quality tracks (256K encoding) from EMI artists for $1.29 ie a 30c premium to existing DRM enabled tracks – also, if you’ve already bought EMI songs already, you can upgrade them for 30c. Apple plan to sell DRM and non-DRM tracks side by side. Will be interesting to see what the UK pricing will look like.

However, the one artist conspicuous by their absence from the EMI deal is the Beatles. Or will the hatchet be buried sooner than we think?


Why I like LastFM – 3 cheers for Sp33cylad

Now and again, LastFM introduces you to a band or artist you would never, ever have come across by any other means – I’ve very much enjoyed the track Friends Reunited from Sp33cylad – get thee to here for a free download of the track.


PandoraFM – great example of useful Web 2.0 mash up

I’m a big fan of the big two music discovery services – Pandora and LastFM. I like each one for different reasons – Pandora serves music to you based on the way its in-house musos categorise each track. LastFM works on analysing what music you play and tag. I’ve tended to favour Pandora until recently, mainly because of its tight integration with my Squeezebox. However, although I’m probably way behind the curve, I made 2 excellent discoveries over the weekend which has much improved my music listening experience.

First up was PandoraFM. Clearly I was not alone in wanting some way of getting Pandora to "talk" to LastFM – ie to have my music selections on Pandora "scrobbled" by LastFM. So hats off to Gabek Kangas for his great little Web 2.0 mash up – by logging into PandoraFM, all my selections are logged by LastFM – you can also use all the usual LastFM functions such as tagging, "loving" and "banning". Very neat, very clever.
And a great example of the speed with which such solutions can now be developed by anyone who has the  motivation and patience to meet a need. I gather Pandora actually opened up the API to him in order to make it work more efficiently – another good example of open-minded behaviour.

Next, I wondered whether it might be possible to play my LastFM stations via my Squeezebox – and guess what, you can!  Step forward James Craig who has written a v. nice SlimServer plug-in that does just that. Again, because the SlimServer software is built on open source, it means a whole raft of new enhancements can be built by people like James and shared with the world.  The plug-in list for Squeezebox seems to grow by the day. I now can’t live without the AlienBBC plug-in which allows you to play all of the BBC’s archived audio content via your hi-fi. Bit like time-shifting for radio.

Perhaps some bright person could develop a LastFM style site for press releases – ie journalists could "scroble" which releases they read and then create a profile which would accurately reflect their interests and tastes?

PS For anyone interested, my LastFM profile is here and Pandora profile here.