Steely Dan Cassettes, iPads, and YouTube, Oh My!

We have a great habit of speaking from the heart on this blog, and it’s actually quite freeing. There’s no pressure to create lists of new media tips to drive traffic or to mention the latest trends – Robbin wants us to digest the world around us and write honestly about what we see. And when we do look around, we tend to see things through a more elemental, people-first lens, not a cutting-edge-change lens.

This week, though, I ran across several news items that caught my attention and were fun to think about.

First, the last vehicle to include a traditional cassette deck was a Lexus produced in 2010, meaning (purportedly) that in 2011, there won’t be any new cars produced with tape players (1). I think my dad’s Steely Dan cassettes just started to feel their age, even though they’re not that old.

Second, the hopeful promise of a new platform for publishers, the iPad, didn’t keep steam after generating promising numbers out of the gate. As I’ve mentioned in recent posts, the changes happening are volatile, and adjustment isn’t easy. A few stats gathered by the smart folks over at North (2):

  • Wired’s iPad version sold 100,000 copies last summer, but as winter approached, numbers were down 78%
  • Vanity Fair started with sales of over 10,000 copies in late summer, but didn’t escape winter’s cold either, recording almost a 20% drop in November – less than 1% of print circulation

Other publishers are placing bets on a more promising spring as evidenced by the recent release of The Daily, the first “tablet-native national news brand built from the ground up to publish original content exclusively for the iPad.” (3)

Third, online fame is taking a test-run offline through The Digitour (4), a 6-week, nation wide tour featuring musicians made famous through YouTube.

(1) – You can read the New York Times article about cassette players, or the death thereof, here. Thanks to Kyle Bylin and Hypebot for great coverage of music happenings.

(2) – North has several great articles about the iPad. Here is the piece that I mentioned above.

(3) – You can find the CrunchBase profile of The Daily here.

(4) – And here is The Digitour’s website.

  • Morgan Lyons

    Interesting thoughts, but the phrase “dad’s Steely Dan cassettes” makes me feel really old.

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  • W

    Interesting. The reason for the Wired decline is that no one wants to pay $5 for a digital issue when they can subscribe to an entire year in print for only $10. Exacerbated by the fact that subscribers are unable to access their issues on the iPad, without getting charged again. Instead you have to go through the website where most of the content is freely available.

    The Daily sounded and looked promising, but it will likely suffer similar declines for two reasons. 1) the app is buggy and crashes constantly and 2) there is no way to customize the content. You are forced to wade through trivial information in search of valuable content.

    It’s obvious that people are starving for a digital content delivery platform as evidenced by somewhat strong opening numbers. Until the magazine publishers figure out how to provide reliable, customizable, and valuable digital content, they’re doomed to fail.

  • Eric Dodds

    Morgan – Thanks for the thoughts. I’ve listened to a lot of Steely Dan on tape…it’s great music.

    W – Great thoughts on the publishing issues. It’s been interesting to see publications try out different pricing / access models, and none of the big players seems to have put together a sustainably profitable model. I would be very interested to see user studies (hopefully they exist) from testing phases of publication apps – it seems as though blatant flaws would be discovered. Then again, they were first to the line with a national news brand / app, and it’s easy for me to say what I might have done differently from the sidelines. That said, if the valuable content isn’t easily consumable, it doesn’t matter what the platform is, the publisher will struggle.

    Thanks for sharing!


  • Thomas Moradpour

    I’m most compelled here by W and Eric’s thoughts on publishing.

    When I first got my iPad (on day one), I immediately jumped at the opportunity to rediscover newspapers and magazines in a great new convenient format. I soon gave up. Sure, pricing was an issue, but most importantly, I realized the content was not that interesting and relevant for me. At the end of the day, publishers can focus all they want on fancy user interfaces/experiences like The Daily, or fight with Apple to get better subscription options… but if the content isn’t relevant, it will fail.

    As for me, I get my news mostly through blogs and Twitter these days – and I’m much happier for it. Sources I trust to filter the junk out deliver only the pieces I’m interested in in my stream, not a pre-packaged generic bundle.


  • Eric Dodds


    Thanks for weighing in. I love having the perspective of a ‘disenchanted user.’ You bring up a fascinating point about news consumption habits – the number of people who stay up to date in the same way that you do is growing, and the affect on the news industry is apparent. There is an underlying discussion about major shifts in journalism that’s probably for another time, but your comments suggest that understanding the art of curation, or micro-curation for individuals, will increasingly become a necessity for publishers who will remain viable.

    Thanks for sharing!