Out of Print – The Bad Side of Digital

There is a downside to digital music, especially if you’ve moved completely to digital downloads and have given up on CDs and LPs and want to be completely legal.  Most albums only stay in print for a certain period of time.  Famous records from artists like The Beatles, Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones tend to stay in print forever, but not so for the work of most performers.  If you love a less famous band, say Quicksilver Messenger Service, most of their albums are out of print.

I would love to hear three QMS albums again, Shady Grove, Just For Love and What About Me on my Zune or iPod.  They aren’t available from Zune Marketplace.  Nor can I buy them from Amazon on MP3.  Nor are they for sale at iTunes.  I can get them from Amazon as Japanese import CDs for $15 each.  Or  I could track down the original LPs on eBay for less and then convert the tracks to digital.  Just when I thought I had left the physical world of LPs and CDs, I’m dragged back in.

What this means:  If you REALLY love an album buy a physical copy.  Rip it, make backups, and store away the original for safe keeping.  You never know thirty years from now when the nostalgic mood hits you and you’ll moan pitifully, “I’d give a hundred bucks to hear that album again.”  Otherwise, Zen up, accept the fleeting quality of this world, and stop trying to clutch desperately to the past.

You’d think with digital record stores everything that was ever recorded would be for sale, but for legal reasons that’s not true.  Like I said, if you’re criminally minded, just steal what you want off the net.  iTunes, Rhapsody and Zune Marketplace should have everything because production costs shouldn’t be an issue.  If the pirates can offer everything from free, why should the legal dudes have any trouble providing it for money?

I could wait and maybe Shady Grove, Just for Love and What About Me will be legally reprinted in the Zune Marketplace and Rhapsody libraries.  But what if the contract is only for five years, and I want to hear those albums again when I’m 88?  That’s the problem with subscription music – it’s ephemeral.

Why even have a publication period for an album in this digital age?  Why can’t artists just sign up with publishers and have their work always in print and constantly available?  That might happen in the future, but I can’t trust it now.

Nothing is for sure.  I could buy those three Japanese imports and twenty-five years from now CD players could be as rare as turntables that play 78 rpm records.  There might be technological reasons that put music out of print too.  Owning a MP3 file, free of digital rights management, might have a longer useful life span than a physical album, but only if you backup like a compulsive fiend.

But this is also sadly funny.  I just got a new Zune, I have access to hundreds of thousands of albums I’ve never heard, more than can fit in any record store I’ve ever visited and I’m crying over three albums that probably, if I had them, I’d only play once because there’s a reason they are out of print.  Why don’t I make an effort to discover new albums to love rather than whining about old forgotten albums?

Over the years I’ve owned thousands of albums, many of which I can’t even remember, but every once in awhile will pop back into my mind and I’ll wish I had them to play again.  I guess that’s human nature.

JWH – 12/25/8

5 thoughts on “Out of Print – The Bad Side of Digital”

  1. You know you can get them pirated, right? I have to admire your determination to get them legally. Now, if you owned the albums and they were in, say, your basement, and you had choices: a) et them from storage and rip them. b) download a ripped copy. Is one more legal than the other?

  2. Yes, I assume everything I could want would be available somewhere on the net illegally. And the pirates may turn out to be the true archivists of history. However, my personal ethics dictate that I don’t pursue that course.

    I think the music industry has been badly damaged by the easy availability of digital files, and in the time of world-wide recession it’s important to help businesses, and not hurt them. The only way for our world to be pleasant and thriving is if everyone has a job. We need to do everything that we can to support the creation of jobs, especially green friendly occupations. So killing an industry like the music industry just because it’s so easy to steal is product is bad.

    Also, if stealing is going to keep other digital industries from getting off the ground, that’s also bad.

    Ethically, I’ve even wondered if we should even give up buying digital music, and go back to buying CDs. I know this won’t happen, but selling CDs made for a lot more jobs, especially local jobs. I miss record stores. Actually, I miss large 12″ LP covers – that’s when record shopping was at its height. One reason I don’t try as many new albums is because the digital sales places don’t show beautiful album covers to entice me. I should write a post about that. iTunes, Rhapsody, Zune should all make large coverflow venues to flip through albums to try.

    But I didn’t answer your last question. If I owned a copy of an album and it was stored in my house, it ethically wouldn’t bother me to download an illegal ripped copy. Since I once bought all three of those albums I might could extend that stand, but those LPs are long gone, so I have no proof of ownership.

    Actually, Rhapsody and Zune are a legal way to have access to all albums – but their libraries aren’t complete. I write my posts hoping to generate public pressure to change that. For about 99% of the time, I can read a review of an album in The Rolling Stone or Entertainment Weekly and that album will be available to me through my subscription services. So isn’t paying $15 a month worth being legal and supporting an economic system that creates jobs?

    It’s too bad the RIAA doesn’t say to kids, if you pay for a subscription service then it’s okay to scrounge anything else online legally.

  3. Well, there’s also a wireless system that lets you hear a lot of music for free on a daily basis… it’s called radio! 😉

  4. It should be pointed out that the sellers of sheet music protested and tried to make laws about radio music! Radio killed off the home piano! Thus putting a lot of piano tuners and makers out of a job….

    Technology moves on, there is nothing sacred about “jobs” – they are just a means to an end, if there are less opportunities for people to sell music then maybe there will be more opportunities for them to make it or do something else productive!

    I was listening to a radio programme recently and they said that about 30,000,000 individual songs were currently available on one website or another, but that only 3,000,000 had ever been bought (even once!) So maybe Quicksilver Messenger Service is still out there somewhere! lol!

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