Saturday, May 16, 2009

The failed promise of digital content


The digital transition is leaving a lot of music and movies behind.
Back when the Internet was young and known as the “information superhighway,” pundits predicted a time when whole libraries would be converted into ones and zeros, the binary language of computers.
Physical books would give way to electronic books easily accessible via the World Wide Web. Generations of audio and video entertainment would be in stored in cyberspace as well. As a 1999 commercial for Qwest Communications put it, “every movie ever made” would be available for viewing over the Internet. (See video on sister Web site One Stop Video.)
Books, newspapers, magazines, music, television shows and movies would all be digitized and made available online, the technorati predicted.
But copyright laws and corporate disinterest have gotten in the way of that dream.

Part 1: Music

Consider music. Many vinyl LP records never made it on to CDs. They were never digitized by the record labels so they aren’t available for download either, except through peer-to-peer file sharing, which is considered illegal.
Some musical works are orphans, where the rights holders are unknown or can’t be located.
But many more are controlled by record labels that are unwilling and uninterested in making older works available. They don’t see a return on investment in digitizing analog works.
Many albums are out of print and the music isn’t available for digital download.
A friend of mine with a turntable and a recording setup on his PC recently digitized three LP albums from the 1980s for me.
The LPs were Wild Blue “No More Jinx” (1986), Sandy Stewart “Cat Dancer” (1984), and The Motels “Little Robbers” (1983).
The first two albums were never issued on CD. The hits from the latter were put on compilation albums, but the entire album, including some of my favorite tracks, are not available on CD or for digital download from Apple’s iTunes or Amazon.com.
There are other albums from that era I’d love to get too, but aren’t available in digital form. They include House of Schock, a short-lived group featuring Gina Schock, drummer for the Go-Gos. That group put out one album in 1988.
This music really captures an era. The synthesizer-heavy melodies and beats and power ballads are distinctive of the time. These recordings bring back a lot of memories of the 1980s.
I’m just glad I was able to bring some into the 21st Century with me. Because it doesn’t look like the rights holders ever will.

Album covers from Wild Blue “No More Jinx” (top) and Sandy Stewart “Cat Dancer.”

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