A bit of expansion of my comments on a recent post at St8ED.
I’ve been doing a bit of pondering on the value of traditional media, particularly with the recent shutdown of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the release of Amazon’s Kindle 2. I feel bad for the folks who have lost jobs because of the decline, but I’ll be perfectly honest: I haven’t read a newspaper since 2005 (unless you count the tbt, which I don’t).
In my mind, crying for the end of newspapers is kind of like crying for the end of music on CDs: it’s not like there’s anything about the medium that makes them inherently superior to what is replacing them. The music and newspaper industries were simply happy raking in the dough and were unwilling to consider the possibility that their dominance was impermanent.
Inevitably, the critics of new media trot out the “nostalgia” argument: traditional media cannot die because there is something about them that gets us closer to our humanity or some other lofty ideal. Sven Birkerts argues against the Kindle by telling us that by touching books, we touch a system that stands for the “labor and taxonomy of human understanding.”
Great. But are we so devoted to “touching” this “system” that we are still willing to put up with the inconveniences of paper? Are we willing to throw our cash to those who want so desperately for us to prop up their fading industry on the basis of some crazy idea that has nothing to do with how we interact with the medium?
Okay. Rant over.
Traditional media, however, does have a place – maybe their respective industries won’t go on making the same big bucks they have been, but that doesn’t mean they have to go extinct. The one criteria, however, is the medium has to be inherently superior in some respect. Beautifully worded justifications about what the medium represents are just not enough.
Case in point: vinyl records. 8-track and cassette tapes have been relegated to the dustbin of bad sitcom jokes, but vinyl records live on. In fact, in 2007, vinyl sales revenue jumped 46%. For what it lacks in portability, its quality makes vinyl to the music industry what microbrews are to the beer industry: a product for connoisseurs.