Saturday, April 20, 2013

Timeless classics, no mildew

I worry about books being burned. Not in some sort of orwellian dystopic sense - although the whole censorship conundrum requires constant vigilance - but I worry about the glut of analog material being tossed aside in the big push to digitize. Books are only the most flammable. 

Not that this is new, it's just all of the sudden so ubiquitous. In olden times, that box of eight tracks found in the back of your uncle's shed would be an oddity - but it's not like it had a chance to end up at the antiques mall. After a few quick clicks and a post to your Google+ page for your friends to get a good laugh at, the bulky plastic would end up in the trash - I mean, no one's getting any money for this.

We were spoiled by vinyl. It had its day and then it became a precious commodity among the musicphile elite - the ones who made sure they had a reliable source for turntable needles. Recently, "collectors" editions of heavy grade vinyl started being offered; but record companies know who their audience is and cater to them as if sending packages of food to war torn countries. 

Back in the early '90s it was obvious used record stores were literally stocked to the ceiling with unloved vinyl; they couldn't give them away fast enough. I confess, we figured out a way to abuse these rejects into art. I hung mobiles made from 45's, some artists took out their mini welders and figured out how to melt vinyl into fantastic new shapes (check out the amazement for vinyl here and cds here.)

This probably isn't going to happen with dvd's, just as it didn't happen to cassette or VCR tapes. And it certainly doesn't bode well for the trillions upon trillions of paperbacks heading for the landfill (although there a few who are touched by brilliance or madness who can do this.)

I've had good luck selling my cds, my hardcovers, my dvds - but the glut of product on has forced prices down to the literal penny. As more and more people digitize, it will no longer be profitable to spend the money to package and mail something that you're only getting 1 cent in return. Then the boxes go to the thrift stores because, if you haven't noticed, used record stores and used bookstores have evaporated like rain on a hot sidewalk. Those who still believe they have a buying public have been relegated to dusty, musty stalls at the flea market, but only for the buying public who like lifting crates and perusing un-alphabetized effluvia.

When I was a kid, in my hometown, there was one of those ex-military rounded un-air-conditioned metal buildings (Nissen huts...) called "Paperback Palace" or some such. I remember endless bins of mostly romance novels; the place seemed cavernous and unending, full of every book imaginable (and this was in the late '70s: how many books could there have been in the world?). A paperbag full of moldy-smelling paperbacks was a good catch on a hot Saturday afternoon. (I had a collector's tendency at an early age; I was determined to buy every Agatha Christie novel - even if I had no intention of reading any of them). The bins of vinyl at many late-lamented used record stores had the same distinct sweet and dusty air to them.

I don't believe there are special landfills for books and cds. I don't imagine we can power whole cities based on burning album covers for fuel. I don't believe most people can go through a stack of media and know what is valuable and what is not, so it will all find its inevitable way down to the curb for the trashman's joy.  Ultimately, if this art is something that can and will be digitized, we're just talking about copies which shouldn't be eulogized like fallen heroes, right? And in the digital realm, all will eventually be reconstituted - except for the wonderful mildew smell.

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