“Are you really coming out against Record Store Day?” my friend wrote in an e-mail. “Like, for real, not just in an attempt to gain online traction?”
I stopped and thought about it. It had been a few days since I wrote a post titled “Why I’m Not Celebrating Record Store Day,” and in retrospect it did seem a little strange. Had I actually become a person who would rip on record stores?
Well, yes and no.
“Not against Record Store Day,” I responded. “It's not like I have an objection to records or record stores per se. But I don't think that just because cool things have happened and do happen at record stores means that we need to take action to keep record stores in business—which is the basic idea behind Record Store Day. I was reacting to this sense that if you love music, you have to support your local record store. I think that in a lot of ways music is better and more accessible in the post-record world, so I'd really be okay if record stores went away. That's why I don't race around town slapping high-fives to all the record stores.”
Over the past couple of years, spurred by both the rapidly changing media landscape and by my association with like-minded coblogger Becky Lang at The Tangential, I’ve written a number of posts arguing against nostalgia for old media and in favor of a unashamed embrace of the new.
Last year I wrote that I’d be okay if hard-copy books went away, and in a pair of posts in the Daily Planet and on The Tangential, I responded vehemently to an argument that we shouldn’t write for free—thinking of writing as a product, I argued, is a notion tied to an outdated and uncomfortably exclusive media world. I’ve also written posts criticizing current copyright law in general, and in particular its online enforcement via the misconceived SOPA and PIPA legislation. Becky, meanwhile, has argued that publications need to rethink themselves as lightweight content conduits (rather than factories creating expensive and elaborate products) and that online television access shouldn’t be contingent on existing cable-TV infrastructure.
At The Tangential, we’re walking our talk—we write and edit the blog for free, thinking about monetization as a matter of long-term brand building rather than short-term ad sales. We even post our content in complete-post form on Tumblr, a platform that many for-profit publications are leery of because users like to read content on their “dashboards” (that is, on the Tumblr site) rather than clicking through as they do on Twitter or Facebook. If we forced our readers to click through, we’d get more hits—but we’d have fewer readers.
We’re also both lucky to have “day jobs” that are consistent with our optimism about new media. Becky works at Zeus Jones, a Minneapolis agency that specializes in helping brands to adapt and build meaningful relationships with consumers in the new media world—versus the old top-down marketing model, where, as Becky puts it, “selling a product used to be about having a sexy spokesperson, stretching the truth about the power of your product and finding new ways to sneak money away from customers.”
For my part, I’m here at the Daily Planet, a nonprofit publication founded in 2005 on the premise that emerging media technologies hold the potential to radically democratize the process of reporting and sharing news. We offer a free megaphone to neighborhood and community publications looking to expand their reach; we offer classes and workshops in citizen journalism and media literacy; and we offer people who aren’t professional journalists the chance to report news and perspectives relevant to their lives on a platform that, because it’s moderated by an editorial staff, is taken seriously and widely read.
New media, of course, don’t necessarily exclude old media—but maybe, in some cases, they should.
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying your record collection as well as your iPod—but I’m wary of propping up a system that formerly made record companies fat on the proceeds of LPs, cassettes, and CDs you had to buy just because you liked a single song on the record.
Hard-copy books can be enjoyable to hold, read, and own—but we shouldn’t support a system that gives publishers and retailers the power authors and consumers should have to negotiate the terms and price under which an e-book is sold.
My hard-copy New Yorker subscription, which comes with free downloads of the tablet edition, shouldn’t cost more than a tablet-only subscription—such as is currently the case.
Creators should have the right to ask fair compensation for, and control over the uses of, their work—but they shouldn’t be allowed to slow innovation and devastate unlucky individuals via the current copyright system that lets copyright last too long, unduly restricts fair use, and levies outrageous penalties on the small minority of infringers who are caught.
It costs money to produce movies and TV shows, but there should be ways for consumers to pay that money other than by buying cable or renting DVDs.
It’s great when content can be distributed through a system that generates enough payment for creators to be compensated—but people who want to create content and distribute it without pay should be encouraged, not criticized.
As Becky observes, “the last decade has been a revelation of what really motivates people to make music, as the traditional paths of finding success and fortune have faded away.” Some point out that new media are making it harder to make money at artistic production, and arguing that in that sense they are facilitating exploitation. The ones who are arguing that, though, are for the most part the top-tier creators who benefited most from the old regime. Consumers and DIY creators like Tumblr kids—people for whom the line between “consumer” and “creator” is rapidly blurring—think the new system works a lot better than the old one, and I agree.
I firmly believe that new media will make—are making—the future of art even better than the past. The sooner we embrace digital media and the free and open exchange of art and ideas, the better.
Photo: Notorious music-sampler Girl Talk performing at First Avenue. Photo by Mandy Dwyer.