As a research analyst and “data” guy, I am a big fan of Infographics and Data Visualizations. But like everything else you can find just as many bad examples as good ones.
The following infographic was designed by David McCandless for the blog Information is Beautiful. Since its publication in early April, the graphic has made its way around the Twittersphere with several thousand retweets. It reached an even larger audience after being picked up by Mashable (http://mashable.com/2010/04/15/music-artists-earn-online-infographic/). But popular does not a good Infograhic make.
Looks pretty doesn’t it? But it misses the boat in three very important ways…
1) Data Errors: The first thing you might notice, if you take more than a casual glance at the data, is that there is at least one visible mistake. The stream for Rhapsody shows the artists’ share at $0.0022 per play, which somehow equates to 849,817 plays per month to reach a minimum wage salary of $1,160. The stream for last.fm shows the artists’ share at $0.005 per play, which according to the graphic equates to 1,546,667 plays per month to reach a minimum wage salary of $1,160. So in other words, a stream that pays more per play (.005 > .0022) takes more plays per month to reach the salary level.
Ok, lets check the math:
Rhapsody $1,160 Monthly Salary / $0.0022 per play = 527,272 plays per month
last.fm $1,160 Monthly Salary / $0.005 per play = 232,000 plays per month
Weird, neither of those numbers comes close to what’s presented. Luckily, they provide the underlying dataset, take a look.
Ok, looks like there was a mistake made entering the musician revenue but as anyone who works with data will tell you, typos can kill the legitimacy of a table.
2) Simplifed Data not Complex Data Simplified: For this table the designer took 18 rows of data and 20 variables then simplifed it to 11 rows and 8 variables. The table itself is not complex and you don’t need a degree to understand most of what’s going on. There is little need for a graphic to tell the story.
3) Meaningless Story: The major piece of data the designer seems to be pointing out is almost totally without meaning. The big pink circles, that may be trying to describe how rough a life musicians have, show a silly metric not based on reality. The idea that a musician would strive to earn minimum wage using any single one of these options is a bit ridiculous.
The biggest reason the metric is silly is that most struggling musicians have always been unlikely to make the bulk of their money selling music. Instead, it comes from selling their performance of the music. Another reason is that all of these funding mechanisms drive one another. Radio play, CD sales, MP3 sales, and live performances are linked in many ways. No artist would ever make a living solely on one.