Which are more important to you, songs or stories? Which would you rather have, a world without books, or a world without music? A recent Wired article about the Google books legal fiasco made me realize that society has already answered this question.
In a previous blog post I compared the current complaints of the publishing industry to the music industry’s cries from ten years earlier. In a nutshell, the publishing industry is experiencing the pains of virtualizing their product and coming up with a business model that integrates with internet technology. Lawyers, lawsuits, pirates, copyright, DRM… it’s the exact same paradigm shift the music industry had to make ten years ago. But the publishing industry is determined to retrace the steps of the music industry instead of learning from their mistakes.
I guess Sting said it best, “History will teach us nothing.”
Text vs Tunes
Consider this – computers and the internet have excelled at working with text right out of the box for almost 50 years. The ASCII format for text storage and transmission was created in 1963. E-mails were being sent in the early 70’s.
But music had to twist itself in a knot to adapt to computers and the internet. It had to struggle with the insane conversion from an analog to a digital format. Then add in compression and compatibility issues. The MP3 Format was created in 1991, and didn’t really catch on until internet speeds rose in the late 90’s and early 00’s.
So don’t you think it’s odd that Music ran into the problems involved with product virtualization and online business models ten years ago, but the publishing industry is having these problems now? Why didn’t the publishing industry hit this crossroads first?
The publishing industry should have been dealing with piracy, copyright and DRM issues WAY before the music industry, but it took text thirty years to make the jump from the physical page to the virtual mainstream, yet music took only ten.
Looks like the choice was made. Music is a hotter commodity than books.
Sorry books, but music wins.
There’s several reasons why I think tunes trumped tales on the internet.
E-book readers – The I-pod evolved naturally from the portable cassette and CD players, and clearly the I-pod is an improvement in music portabilty. There’s no similar device to serve as a precedent for books, which are already portable and wireless.
You could argue that every computer with a display is an “e-book reader.” But I can’t think of anyone who really wants to read Moby Dick on their computer monitor. Even the best e-book readers on the market today can’t hold a candle to a real book made of paper. So it’s no surprise that music made the digital jump before books.
Short No attention span – We can listen to music while doing other things, and more importantly, music can make those other things more pleasurable. Think of all the people who are driving, snowboarding, or even working while music is playing. Life is better with a soundtrack.
Meanwhile, books take more of our attention away from the world. We need to turn pages, and keep our eyes locked on the page. You can’t drive, snowboard or work while reading. (or shouldn’t, anyway.)
Gen X/Y vs the Baby Boomers – Lets not overlook the core group of people whose lives are caught in the ‘net. It probably goes without saying that Gen X’ers who latched onto the internet quickly and Gen Y’ers who probably can’t imagine the world without it, spend more time on the internet than their parents. It’s also not hard to believe that this large subsection of the population using the internet listens to music more often than they read.
This would be a case of the industry following the market (albeit kicking and screaming, but eventually following.)
Drag race on the Information SuperHighway
Does this mean that music is more important to us than books? Or that the publishing industry has more resistance to change than the music industry? Regardless, neither industry was in a hurry to embrace the new tech. On the internet superhighway if the music industry drives a 1986 Ford Fiesta, then the publishing industry must be walking. And I haven’t even touched on the software or video industries. I leave that to you as a homework exercise.
As both a writer and a musician, it pains me to even think about picking one over the other. But if I had to pick between .mp3 files and .docs I’d choose music. If nothing else, we could convert all the books in the world to audio format, but there really isn’t a way to translate music into text.
What do you think? Drop your thoughts/comments below.