Tuesday, September 28, 2010

New Economic Order - Labor

Almost two years ago I wrote of what can be described as a New Economic Order. I basically said that the differences between the first world and the third world are closing and that although we in the U.S. may not start living like squatters and beggars any time soon, many  characteristics of the less developed world are (shall we say) "developing" here in the U.S.

I read an essay today about changes in the labor market and labor force here in North America (and indeed throughout the industrialized world). It basically said that over the past 30 years or so we have seen an increase in high-skill, high pay jobs as well as low-skill, low pay jobs while those in the middle have been disappearing. The essay, a scholarly piece produced by one of the Washington think tanks, goes on to describe high-skill, medium-skill and low-skill jobs but basically the latter is limited to personal care (janitorial, restaurant work) security and motor vehicle operator type jobs.

This disappearance is due to a number of factors but the essay stated that for the most part it was caused by both the globalization (and therefore increased competition in) labor markets and the automation of many tasks. Add into that the cost of purchasing health insurance in the U.S. workplace and the choice between foreign labor and domestic is made for just about anyone contemplating business expansion in the near term.

It was interesting that the report's author stated that those jobs that have not been offshored or automated out of existence, fall into two skill categories: abstract and manual. Abstract requires analysis, judgement, language skills and tact. Manual are simply jobs that are routine but yet cannot be done by machine (yet).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Technology and Other Media Consumption

An earlier posting illustrated what could happen to sporting event broadcasts and the impact on Joe Six-pack. I basically argued that interactive media or the Internet, or whatever television becomes could allow the viewer to customize his angle or view of the game through a specific camera among the many that are in place at the arena. Or maybe the viewer could select to display certain game or historical statistics instead of the score or time remaining in the game. S/he could even change the font size or screen location of this information.

Well, I think the technology is in place to do similar things with other content that has been broadcast conventionally on television and radio. Of course, it all depends on the establishment of trust and adoption of a system commonly called, "micro-payments." This is a method whereby a viewer and purchase something online or otherwise through an interactive device in much the same way that we purchase books or other merchandise through Amazon or eBay. Except that in this case, the commodity is priced lower than anything most of us have purchased online previously.

If it were possible to pay 50 or 75 cents, perhaps several times a day without any onerous transaction fee, then a person could request almost any television programming from its owner (United Artist or ABC/Disney or Sony Pictures, etc.) who would in turn be earning at least a little bit on content that otherwise would be idle inventory.

Services like Pandora, and others which have come and gone like Seeqpod and Imeem have attempted something along those lines. While it is now possible to buy songs individually without being forced to buy the entire CD, a system of music distribution could have followed an on-demand model that goes something like this: If I'm having a party at my house, I could pre-select 30-40 songs from a list offered by a digital jukebox. I could pay maybe $20 (thus keeping it below the sale price of each song if purchased separately) and have the music for my party taken care of. Or perhaps I could purchase a 30-song credit from the digital juke-box and select the music as I go along or allow my guests to.

It maybe too late for this kind of service since the "rental" price for music would have to be well below the sale price, which appears to be about $1 per song, these days. Else there may not be much interest. And of course, the music rights owners would need some assurance that end-users couldn't simply make illegal copies of the music as it streams across their computers' hardware.

Of course, $1 per song may be affordable, but buying simple MP3 files and loading up your hard disk is not the same thing as creating a home juke box. The songs, artists, albums and other data have to be searchable and browsable, and it would be nice to include links to skip to another or to just move around the collection easily without relying on the simple files/folder browser. That navigation and search would take some programming effort but is probably a service that some people would be willing to pay for.

Many (but presumably not nearly all) movies, television and music exist in digital form but unfortunately are not being exploited as they could be (or could have been) by media companies. At the right price, this idle inventory could be generating a previously unrealized income for the copyrights holders. Someday it will be.