Soundcloud simplifies premium plan structure

Soundcloud unveiled a simplified plan structure today, moving from four pay plans to two, with the high-end unlimited plan going from €500 a year to €99 a year.
That’s a huge drop, and let’s face it: €500 – which is about $625 – is a pretty penny to host audio, and for a site many called the YouTube of audio, price was always going to be a significant deterrent for the casual or starting user at those prices.
But now with the lower price, Soundcloud just  became much more accessible.
The company also announced a new Pro Partner program, which is a little like YouTube channel effort in that it allows those in the program to promote themselves. The biggest benefit, however, is that participants have access to the moving sounds player (which can be seen being used here by Pro Partner, Red Bull), a nicely implemented (if currently a little buggy) player that allows much greater visualization by allowing for picture embeds within the player itself.
The player is nice, but is only useable today at the Soundcloud site and not through embeds. Since the most valuable aspect of Soundcloud to me has always been the embeddable player, I’ll wait until they can start to make it available outside of the Soundcloud domain before I exclaim this as a potential game-changer.
Net net? I think Soundcloud is establishing itself as the leader in hosted, embeddable sounds (I say sounds because they are gaining significant traction with news and podcasts), and the new price tiers will give them additional momentum.
And who knows? Maybe one of the bigger, acquisitive companies may eventually take notice.

The Shapeways API: Why it’s important

Just in time for SXSW this week, Shapeways debuted their new API, which allows developers to build consumer facing applications that can access the Shapeways printing network and marketplace.
Why is this important? First and foremost, you need to understand that Shapeways does its biggest chunk of business directly with creators, people who upload their own 3D printed designs and are savvy with 3D printer software. However, the much bigger opportunity is in a broader audience, those who want access to 3D printed creations but don’t know or necessarily want to know how to use 3D design and CAD software.
That’s where the API comes in. In my opinion, the gateway to mass-market 3D device creation is through software, much more so than lower cost and easier to use 3D printers. While I’ve stated that low-cost 3D printers for consumers will eventually arrive, the services are much more accessible and affordable today.
So what does the API have to do with this? Well, by making an API available that accesses the Shapeways printing network (with controls over materials, etc) and the marketplace, savvy app developers can create offerings that make 3D printed creations even more accessible. Combine in the fact that Shapeways allows you to build your own storefront, the Shapeways API will help usher in the coming wave of “Shapeways millionaires” which CEO Peter Weijmarshausen talked to me about recently.
What are some future possible outputs? Imagine, for example, Rovio putting a feature in the next Angry Birds app that allows  users to create an Angry Bird 3D model, with a handful of different features or variations.  A menu of these options are preselected and built into the app, and the API quickly accesses all the necessary information and delivers it to the fulfillment engine of the Shapeways marketplace.
Today you already see this on a small scale with MixeeMe. I think you’ll see a whole bunch more interesting uses of Shapeways printing services and marketplace enabled through their new API over the next year.

Managing digital resale

Like Amazon, Apple is not asserting that its users have a right independent of their being Apple customers to resell digital goods, as they would with physical goods. It’s describing a service that allows them to transfer digital goods among themselves under Apple’s supervision.

Books are the new blogs

From print-on-demand to new digital publishing and self-publishing platforms, the tools for publishing book-length works — both in print and electronically — are now well within reach of the hobbyist and amateur. The result has been an explosion of titles from both amateurs and professional writers originating outside traditional publishing channels.

What Avis actually got in the Zipcar acquisition

A pretty entertaining fight broke out on Twitter yesterday between management guru Tom Peters and some of the VCs that backed Zipcar. It began when Peters tweeted:

“Aargh. Hate hate hate to see Zipcar swallowed by Avis!! Greedy VCs looking for quick payback, I presume???”

Folks like angel investor Jerry Neumann didn’t love the comment, disavowing Peters’ theory that the Avis acquisition of Zipcar was driven by the desires of VCs to exit. (My colleague Katie Fehrenbacher correctly points out that in terms of the return VCs got, “The multiple is also not all that high in the VC world.”)

The conversation soon devolved into a snippy dialogue on the value of venture capital investing with Neumann tweeting:

@tom_peters You might want to reflect on this conversation before you go calling people you don’t know arrogant.”

And

@tom_peters I agree. I suppose I find hating on the best form of innovation finance we know more dangerous than you do.”

There are situations in which VCs are pushing for an exit and it causes a premature acquisition before a company is given a chance to flourish. But I don’t think that was the case here.

I think Zipcar itself was concerned about its capital scaling costs going forward as expanding into new cities is very costly and there’s a significant lag time before those markets become profitable. Avis had the logistics and capital to ease that transition.

GigaOM analyst and founder of NextMarket Insights Mike Wolf correctly pointed out on Twitter that “What Peters doesn’t consider is that Avis could have just started their own sharing business, which contained valuation IMO.” This is exactly what Hertz decided to do after considering buying Zipcar itself. It launched Hertz On-Demand. It clearly ran the numbers and decided that $500 million or more was just not worth it, given that Hertz could just pour that money into developing its own service.

And that’s the interesting part of this deal. Avis paid $500 million for branding and for the IT infrastructure and experience that Zipcar brings. It seems like a steep price, given that Zipcar built its brand and infrastructure with $95.7 million in VC between 2000 and 2010. Surely, for a couple hundred million, Avis could have branded and developed a pretty catchy car sharing service, particularly since both Hertz and Avis are in the enviable acquisition position of already owning most of the infrastructure parts needed to launch a car sharing service.

It’s a difficult question to answer but let’s hope that Avis doesn’t dilute the Zipcar brand by putting it on the back burner, or by pushing the Avis name into the brand. At the end of the day the Zipcar brand is the most important asset and what Avis was actually paying for.

Intel is the new Apple TV

The pay-TV ecosystem is not going to be disrupted, displaced or even seriously degraded by recreating it at a discount online. It simply is not in content owners’ interest to let that happen and the nature of the content rights system gives them an absolute veto over whether it does.

Disney’s first-mover advantage

Disney struck at the moment when landing a major studio deal in the pay-TV window probably has the greatest strategic value to Netflix. It’s unlikely Netflix will be willing or able to make many more such deals with other studios, however.