Tuesday, December 12, 2006

iTunes Store Buyers Few & Far Between

While not necessarily surprising, it is an eye opener in many ways. Much as I like the convenience of buying on iTunes, the limitations of the files - how many devices they can go on, how many times they can be burned, the fact that there is rarely downloadable packaging included - certainly deter me from making it my primary source for buying music. That, and I have a great record store (Grimey's New & Pre-Loved Music) 5 minutes away.

Forrester: iTunes Store Buyers Few & Far Between

Apple created a paid download market, and the iTunes Store remains a bellwether for the sector. But according to a recent Forrester Research report, the number of iTunes buyers is actually quite low. The study, released this week, found that just 3 percent of households in the United States have made a purchase from the store. Those buyers spent an average of $35 a year, according to the report, and about $3 per session. The report also pointed to low per-iPod paid download levels, a sore spot for labels. "Since the introduction of the iTunes Music Store, Apple has been steadily selling just 20 iTunes tracks for each iPod sold, suggesting that even at $0.99, most consumers still aren't sold on the value of digital music," the report asserted.

The finding, culled from 2,700 iTunes credit and debit card purchases, is hardly surprising. For Apple, the iTunes Store itself is mostly a sideshow, at least financially. Meanwhile, heavy-selling iPods are the real financial breadwinners, powering billions in revenue gains for Apple. And most iPod buyers stuff their devices with thousands of tracks pulled from CDs or downloaded from P2P networks. For labels, that raises some serious issues about the long-term revenue potential of the paid download market, especially as iPod sales continue to gain. Since its debut in May of 2003, the iTunes Store has powered rapid year-over-year increases, though week-to-week gains have been mostly flat this year. Apple has sold a cumulative 1.5 billion downloads since its debut.

Monday, December 11, 2006

What kind of Christmas?

I appreciate my (generally) weekly blast from leading church historian Martin E. Marty that points out varying bits of culture & religion. Today's letter had soem things that I found particularly poignant in this holiday season and the blustering of wars on christmas, etc... (yes. as a thinking, reasoning person of faith, I trust big-box retailers to be my barometer of how seriously the holiday is in jeaopardy ... sheesh!).

Of particular interest was the quote he pulled: "Those who strive to defend religion with force make a deity appear weak."

Anyway, Marty is the scholar,a nd I wil let his words hold forth from here.

Against Coercion
-- Martin E. Marty

Two events this season led me to go back to the Sightings archive, to a column dated October 29, 2001 ("Listening to Lactantius"). Giving evidence of our passion always to be current, we cited Lactantius from the years 302 and 303, because what he wrote then spoke so directly to current affairs. Incident one here is the flap over new Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who brought the Qur'an along when he took the oath of office. Some howled that this was outrageous in this Christian country. While the use of the Bible at oath-taking time has always been voluntary, never coerced, using any other book, it was said, blasphemes against the God of America and demeans the tradition of godly Americans.

Incident two won't end until December 26, when partisans will begin to gear up for next year's "December Wars," when devotion to Christian Christmas gets upstaged by verbal war-makers. One side wants Jesus-Christmas to be privileged and officially sanctioned in the "public square." The other wants a Jesus-free public square. While tempted to wish a plague on both their houses, I choose to tilt, by reference to Lactantius, for a theological angle and one side.

The public can fight over whether there is or is not enough Jesus-Christmas in the department stores, the malls, the corridors. A half hour in such places should move one to pity the clerks who have usually sappy versions of Jesus-Christmas songs bombarding their ears all day, depriving them and their customers of any chance to experience awe and wonder. Some in the public, and many in the opinion-world, however, want Jesus-Christmas to be privileged in the official public space and in the times that belong to the whole public. If we do not "coerce" the Jesus-presence, it is asked, how can American tradition survive? Is not all this a shunning of God?

Enter Lactantius, anticipator of James Madison, 1,400 years in the offing. Both of them, wrote Robert Louis Wilken, had a "religious understanding of religious freedom." Wilken also quoted the Vatican II bishops who preached "that the response of people to God in faith should be voluntary .... In matters of religion every manner of coercion on the part of men should be excluded." And then Lactantius -- the "first Western thinker to adumbrate a theory of religious freedom rooted not in notions about toleration but in the nature of religious belief."

Those who wanted Congressman Ellison to be a hypocrite, or to deprive him of his scripture, usually profess to seek sincerity in religion and attachment to sacred books, even if his was the "wrong one." It's not mine. And coercing people to be obeisant to a god in whom they do not believe would, in Lactantius's terms, be "inimical to the nature of religion." The man of 302-303 asked, "Why should a god love a person who does not feel love in return?" Scholar Elizabeth DePalma Digeser cites Lactantius: "Those who strive to defend religion with force make a deity appear weak." And anyone who lacks the requisite inner conviction is "useless to God."

Those who have confidence in a "strong God," one who loves to be loved freely and not by coercion, no matter how light and how slight the weight of its force, will let Mr. Ellison vow as he chooses and will not impose Jesus on others.

Elizabeth DePalma Digeser, The Making of a Christian Empire: Lactantius and Rome (Cornell, 2000); Robert Louis Wilken, "In Defense of Constantine," First Things (April 2001), http://www.leaderu.com/ftissues/ft0104/articles/wilken.html.

Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Worlds collide...

The understatement of the year. I discovered this picture of Mike Watt (The Minutemen, Firehose, etc.), a punk rock legend, with none other than Kely Clarkson. (!?!) Apparently the producer on her new record is an old friend and asked him to play bass on a bunch of tracks. My head is still spinning,but I have to say that instead of damaging any vestiges of "indie cred" I used to hold sacred, the whole thing makes me like both of them more.

Now go buy The Minutemen's "Three Way Tie For Last". D. Boon - R.I.P.

Friday, December 01, 2006

This is why I love Beck

Not content to do a standard performance, he's collaborating with creative people and turning a rote tv appearance into something people (like me) want to pass along. I know that this is part of his show as well, and it's just too cool. A little imagination and practice and you go from decent to memorable.