Geodata suppliers – lessons from the music industry..

I got myself in trouble on a number of occasions with my old boss when I drew the obvious comparisons between the Geodata industry and the Music Industry, and how Geodata providers needed to move with the times..

It is therefore interesting to see that a least one music industry boss is recognising the mistakes of the past/present… to quote Edgar Bronfman of Warner Music..

“We used to fool ourselves…We used to think our content was perfect just exactly as it was. We expected our business would remain blissfully unaffected even as the world of interactivity, constant connection and file sharing was exploding. And of course we were wrong. How were we wrong? By standing still or moving at a glacial pace, we inadvertently went to war with consumers by denying them what they wanted and could otherwise find and as a result of course, consumers won.”

Remember this is not always about making information free, it is about making it accessible..

There is a lesson there for leadership of a number of .gov.uk organisations don’t you think ?

Written and submitted from Starbucks, Horseferry Road, using my three 3G modem.

22 comments

  1. Daniel

    There were friends in the industry way back when the Napster debate blew up (just before they got shut-down) — and in one of my typical abrasive ways of putting things, I believe I came up with the mantra, “If they’re worried about the direction of the industry based on file sharing, then they should take a long look at their BMW’s and immediately realize that there’s a way to turn that into an Aston Martin.”

    A couple years later, we saw iTunes, which was essentially the same approach I was beating into people’s heads — the same pay-per-tune model. Well, so at the end of the day though, we know who missed out and who didn’t then. And the Artist is still getting relatively screwed in the deal — which is why it’s a no-brainer that they’re setting up their own methods of distribution. (Refer to: NIN, Saul Williams, Radiohead)

    The major problem in the industry isn’t with what mistakes can be learned — it’s in realizing they’re not fair in practice. I guess though, it’s no different than any corporation in existence that doesn’t pay its employees well — only in the music industry, if you sign a contract, expect that all the debt comes right back on you as an artist — and expect to be on the road for the next couple years trying to make-up for that debt through merchansizing and shows. It’s a scam way of business and artists are reacting accordingly — and because they’re basically sick of being second-rate in the food-chain when it’s their creativity that’s on the line and generates product.

    Anyway… Man, Ed. I’ve been in quite the little ranting mood lately, yeah? Sorry about that.

  2. dmac

    I wonder how many could be mapping @ the newcastle event without the constraints of HR work recording HU counts etc.
    Next there will be tales of folk turning up @ an DC event wearing a OSM T shirt.. or has it already happened 😉
    Some really interesting thinking going on as to what constitutes geodata and to what and how it is referenced

  3. Ed

    Daniel,

    No keep going I think there is a new career waiting for you in Talk Radio !!

    Seriously though I think you make an excellent point, technology has developed to the point that the old content distribution models are no longer relevant, everybody recognises this apart from those running the old distribution models..

  4. Ed

    @dmac

    Good point, in Open Source software development, many contributions to projects come from developers paid to do so my their employers..

    There is no reason why it should be any different with Open Source Geodata, and then the OS then could be paying the guys and girls in Data Collection to work some of their time on OSM.

    That would of course be a different OS to the one today, but with vision who knows ?

  5. Daniel

    Talk Radio! I like that, only I eventually get myself involved in some whacky, huge project, and then you don’t hear from me until I crawl-up out of my little hole.

  6. Duncan Garratt

    I had a meeting with Get Mapping PLC three weeks ago with the MD and some of his team, nice guys but when it came to innovation and widening their channels distribution they had their heads buried in the sand. Its very sad a good British company with a potentially bright future beholden to traditional views that are fast reaching their sell by date. Their share price says it all!

  7. Duncan Garratt

    All I will say on that matter is that a business that is reliant on a single product and a few large customers for its survival is not the best of business models in my view.

    The market for wholesale map data in the UK is mature unless prices fall, so opportunities for these data providers to grow are extremely limited without diversification. There are opportunities but this requires a very innovative approach that will increase channels of distribution and therefore revenues.

    Ed’s points about going to war with consumers are absolutely right as without them there is no business. The lesson applies not only to. gov.uk, but also to some private companies. Why is this important? Well when you are recommending map data suppliers to a client you look for assurance for the life of the system you intend to write. Unfortunately map data is not just another consumer item that you purchase and throw away, updates etc are an all-important part of the system. Relying on free open source data or data from companies with a poor covenant is a recipe for disaster when writing premium bespoke GIS systems.

    With consumer pressure being built by Google and Microsoft with regard to the perceived financial value of mapping data, sooner or later something will have to give. We are entering a phase where small independent map data supplier’s in order to survive will have to pile it high and sell it cheap. The days when map data could be sold at premium and in some cases obscene prices are fast disappearing.

    Some of the GIS data suppliers here in the UK are only just starting to wake up to fact that the market is changing. All to often here in the UK we are good at inventions but when it comes to capitalising on what we have invented time and again it is a sorry story. The best example is the programmable computer!

    With the downturn in the World economy starting to happen you will see organisations the World over looking to make savings and efficiency gains. Certainly here in the UK, GIS data providers will not be immune and GIS projects will come under closer scrutiny with regard to justifying the business case. The lean and the fit will survive and those that fail to innovate will either go to the wall or be taken over at a bargain price.

    As yet I have never seen a farmer or food producer dictate prices to a major supermarket, in every case the opposite is true. In GIS terms the same business model applies now that two of the Worlds giants are entering the GIS market place.

  8. Daniel

    I think your points are appreciated, I’m just not sure I would have approached the point by pointing a finger at a particular company you had a meeting with in relation to the topic, and then pointing out their share price.

    In relation to data — believe me, I’m one out there sitting on a 15m world natural-color dataset. I’d love to have a datahousing component that would allow me to make it available on an extremely low-cost, royalty-free basis. But, 1) it currently costs too much to house that much data and distribute it for a little guy like me, 2) by making my data-product royalty-free, I’d potentially create quite the negative stir in the industry, probably losing a heck of a lot of friends in the process.

    Is it possible? You’re darn tootin’ it’s possible. But data won’t come cheap as long as there’s not a way to house the data at no initial cost to the producer, outside of a hosting-plan strategy for data — that allows smaller entities to turn their products out to anyone and everyone. I’d love to do that, but, I’d be stepping on some toes in the process. And I’m a pretty sensitive guy, and I might feel a little bad if I did that. Or, something.

    Then again the pricing disparity exists because of a significant factor — 1) data is free as the expenses of the projects are paid for by grants and gov funding. 2) The projects are priced high in the market, because those companies have high overhead on the projects. Little guys like me? Little to no overhead — just time and energy, and experience to make some pretty cool stuff.

  9. Duncan Garratt

    Hi Daniel

    It is possible on the assumption that you are free from copyright or licensing constraints. The most important point is who will use the data and what is a realistic and fair price. Giving the data away for free will down grade its value and perceived worth. The Navteq pricing model for tracked items regarding mapping costs I think is an excellent pricing model with a low entry price point that allows prototypes and small systems to be developed and with royalties rising as a system scales up i.e. the more assets that are tracked. What is significant is that you have full map coverage of a country i.e. the complete dataset regardless of the number of items being tracked.

    I think it would be a great shame if your map data had value yet remained unpublished. I have an idea here that may be a solution to your problem and others like you. Feel free to contact me.

  10. Daniel

    Duncan, Thank you for your offer, though I can see immediately by your thinking that data worth outways the inherent value of the point-to-point distribution model and the reasons for allocated placement of value that adjusts according to higher principles. Or something like that. Data-products are only as valueable as their use, in my perspective.

    Thus, until such a distribution model, as I envision, is apparent (and which I believe will eventually manifest) — I will continue to stand down gracefully as the world zooms on at breakneck speeds.

    Thank you though, really.

  11. Ed

    Tony,

    Agreed lets move this debate on..

    Neo-geography – I think we can hold Andrew Turner responsible, you may not like the term – but there is something there to describe.

    Paleo-geography – that’s me, as a natural balance to neo

  12. Tony Battle

    Neo vs Paleo.
    I’ve been thinking on this alot recently. Fuelled in part by an excellent review of the recent AGI gig in London in most recent Journal of Institute of Civil Engineering Surveyors. Lots of talk on Neo vs Paleo.
    I had opportunity last week to vocalise these thoughts whilst participating in a panel dicussion (value of GIS) at the ESRI ePUG in Norway. A member of the audience asked a question on the Google effect and the rise of Neo.
    I may have let rip: I don’t like the terms Neo and Paleo Geography. They kind of imply that there is a distinct differentiation between those involved in API’s, mash-ups and all things bright and shiny; and those lesser souls who have been working the scene prior to the 2nd coming. Or as the ICES article laid it out: paleo being the area where basic data is handled and neo being where infomation is generated. Get’s under my skin. What if you span both worlds? Similary can’t stand the term Geomatics. Bah!

    What would be really interesting though…if we could get the great minds of GI in one room for a brainthrashing on this subject. Rhind, Raper, Dykes et al. Maybe get national geographic to do a live debate. Is this concept not worthy of 3 pens, a mug and Google parking place?

  13. Duncan Garratt

    Hi Tony

    It’s an interesting point you make and must be worth at least three mugs, as for the parking in central London near Google’s offices well you are talking real money there. How many master map tiles could you buy from OS for that kind of money? Not the entire data set of the UK that’s for sure, if you are in the private sector!

    As for the second coming I see this much as an extension or evolution to existing GI methods and technologies and not as a replacement or for camps to develop into “a them and us situation”. Those that may be set in their ways are right to be concerned, the Paleo lot. How many of them have true map making skills and can make maps without the aid of a computer, or GPS or other electronic aids? Not that many these days. I welcome the new entrants into the GIS community, be they concerned with API or map data or the methods employed in GI systems, all have contributions to make for the good of GIS. I have little time for people who stick themselves like glue to the Paleo camp and are not open to new methods and technologies. I dont think a high-powered meeting at some location would be much use, but I do welcome an open debate via the web that is open to all and is rolling. My first introduction to GIS was 28 years ago and I could say my roots are in the Paleo camp, equally I started computer programming 20 years ago which could put me in the Neo camp.

    As we have seen in so many industries, GIS has had a positive impact and in a few exceptional cases a negative impact on society. What has stunted the growth of GIS in the UK is the cost of map data and some very inward looking people who should consider retirement. It makes me laugh that some of these old stick in the mud’s who believe if its not ESRI then its not worth having should think again. Well when it comes to the cartographic element of ESRI many including myself were producing maps using the exact same methods but manually, where accuracy and presentation were just as good as if they were produced today, the only difference is that it took a bit longer and a lot more skill and required a printing press. Even today with modern GIS systems I can still plot faster using manual methods than electronic methods. The only real advantages with modern GIS systems are that analysis storage and publishing are quicker, easier and more flexible.

    A map that is not published is no good to man or beast, unless the cartographer wants it as a work of art to admire by himself or herself, so the publishing method is irrelevant as long as the map gets published to some audience. What counts for any map, be it paper or electronic is accuracy and readability the medium is largely irrelevant and will depend on the intended audience and use.

    As for terms I have little time for them, they are mostly invented to somehow re-describe a technology or method that in most cases has already been invented. The core methods and skills of a true cartographer have not changed in a couple of hundred years. The only difference is that these methods have got an awful lot easier by using modern technology. Nothing wrong with that as I am not one of these people who puts on a white coat and makes everyone feel the person wearing it is important. My view is very simple the more people who use maps to explore the Earth in the pursuit of work or pleasure the better. After all finding your way is an awful lot less stressful than getting lost.

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