The end of "rare" music and other digitizable media

This Rolling Stones former-rarity is easy to find online.

My consciousness was forever altered when I happened on Kamandi #3 at age 11. I wanted to read every comic Jack Kirby had created up to that point. But early issues of Fantastic Four were rare and expensive. I bought what I could afford and treasured them. Today I'm sure I could get my hands on PDFs of every issue of Fantastic Four in short order (but I don't have to because I bought the cheap pulpy Essential Fantastic Four anthologies - the ones to get are Vol 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 -- after that Kirby jumped ship for DC). Rare old comics, along with music and cult films, are no longer rare.

Bill Wyman of Slate explores "what it means to have all music [and other digitizable media] instantly available."

A rarity might be less popular; it might be less interesting. But it's no longer less available the way it once was. If you have a decent Internet connection and a slight cast of amorality in your character, there's very little out there you might want that you can't find. Does the end of rarity change in any fundamental way, our understanding of, attraction to, or enjoyment of pop culture and high art?


In a recent issue of the New York Review of Books, the poet Dan Chiasson wrote at length about Keith Richards' autobiography and made an interesting point near the end, about how scarcity and rarity, long ago, actually fueled artistic endeavor:

[T]he experience of making and taking in culture is now, for the first time in human history, a condition of almost paralyzing overabundance. For millennia it was a condition of scarcity; and all the ways we regard things we want but cannot have, in those faraway days, stood between people and the art or music they needed to have: yearning, craving, imagining the absent object so fully that when the real thing appears in your hands, it almost doesn't match up. Nobody will ever again experience what Keith Richards and Mick Jagger experienced in Dartford, scrounging for blues records.

Point taken--but let's remember it's a small sacrifice. I have this or that fetish object--the White Album on two 8-tracks in a black custom case, for example, or a rare Elvis Costello picture disc. And I remember the joy of the find. But it's hard to feel bad about the end of rarity; didn't a lot of the thrill come from feeling superior when you had something others didn't? You really want to get nostalgic about that? We're finally approaching that nirvana for fans, scholars, and critics: Everything available, all the time. (Certainly Richards and Jagger would approve.) It's not an ideal state of affairs for a rights holder, of course. But for the rest of us, what is there to complain about?

Lester Bangs' Basement


  1. In my opinion, the end of rarity is a very good thing.

    I’m a huge Pink Floyd fan. A lot of the bootleg stuff was quite rare, but with the internet, I can look up a particular show and have it downloaded in a day or so. I went to Roger Waters’s Wall show back in September, and a couple weeks later a recording of the show I was at appeared online.

    There are still some recordings that will never see the light of day. Some owned by the fans, but most held from production by the artists themselves. Whether they see it as “not good enough” or whatever, that’s the stuff I really want to listen to.

    But as far as what the medium that carries that music is, I don’t care whether it’s reel to reel, 8-track, vinyl, whatever. It’s the music that matters to me.

  2. Like Shamanologist Terence McKenna used to say: “Culture is not your friend”

    Personally, I still get lots of pleasure stomping around real swap meets and garage sales
    looking for groovy LPs. Sometimes these “stomps” result in great feelings of accomplishment,
    when I’m able to unearth a never-known or never-heard independent pressing
    of an obscure Gospel album or weird Lounge 45.

    I’ve come to realize that the Internet has never provided me with similar peak moments.
    Finding music on the Internet is like shopping for eggs at the supermarket. It’s easy to do
    and it’s not that exciting in the long run. Besides, it’s what happens after I find music
    that’s the really exciting part – listening and learning from an album in any format,
    regardless of bit rate or whether it has a 300k cover jpeg attached. Interesting topic!

  3. Meh. Some forms of culture are easily reproduced and readily available on-line. But the experience of recorded music is not the same as live music– lack of dynamic range– and paintings are higher resolution than your computer screen, and can use more colors than your screen can reproduce. Folks inclined to see the glass as half empty– or, more ominously, folks who have the resources to consume culture and the inclination to put down people who don’t– will still find many examples of rare cultural experiences and events to get misty-eyed and/or snooty about.

  4. You might want to post a nipple warning. Most places of work probably frown on surfing the web in general, but they especially don’t like nipple viewing at work.

    1. Nipples warning, rather, as Sir Mick’s right tit is peeking out at us, just under Jerry’s. I somehow doubt most workplaces would cavil at the knightly mammary, though….

  5. Oh I so disagree that there is nothing lost. Great art came of scarcity, and new ideas get spawned in isolation; today bands from all over the world sound pretty much the same, all sing in English, etc etc — and that’s because of the instant access. The Beatles were unique because there was one blues record store in the UK and it was in Liverpool (it sprung up for US seamen and Navy guys) — and the lads took those scarce sounds and made them their own. But if you are arguing that there’s a lot great musical innovation out there, I would have to disagree. For my money the last musical innovations were rap and grunge, both happened in isolated communities pre internet. After internet, it’s all pretty much Rebecca Black.

  6. Oh no, the tyranny of artificially inelastic supply is ending! Whatever will I do with my new-found extra money and space?

  7. You still have to dig for the good stuff.

    Wait? Are people responding to Jerry’s nipples? they used to be on the cover of Vogue all the time. Gack. That’s what I hate about 2011.

  8. Kamandi! Whoo! That’s something I’d like to have every issue of.

    But, as a serious collector of live recordings, it was more fun pre-file sharing to track down those rare recordings and trade with people by mail all over the world. A lot more fun than clicking “Download Now”

    I made some short-lived but interesting friendships with tapers and collectors all over the US and Europe back then and I treasure all of those recordings more than the one I am currently downloading, no matter how rare a performance it is. Just not as special.

  9. I grew up in a small town, but had a terrible thirst for experimental electronic music and, um, “Rock In Opposition”. In that time and place the kind of scarcity, or rarity, referred to in this article could be roughly translated to mean “Too bad, kid, you can read about this stuff in a magazine, but you won’t actually hear any of it until you hit your late 30s.”

    I wouldn’t go back to those days for anything, not even youth itself. I just want to hear the damn music, not fondle antique fetish items. I love the fact that there’s no collector’s market for MP3’s (that I’m aware of).

  10. Personally, the abundance IS paralyzing. I just don’t get excited about music on a computer, nor do I get excited digging through blogs, but that’s just me.

    Also, not everything is digitized and available online, that’s a FACT. There were more audio recordings released on records than any other medium in history, combined. I would even argue, although no one could ever compile the evidence, that more of what was recorded in the 20th century remains on a record/tape un-digitized, than on the internet.

    You can NOT find everything you’re looking for online. I have records that literally have ZERO info online about them. I can list some this shit, but most of you have never heard of it and probably don’t care anyways :-) no I’m serious it’s obscure, so what right? It’s STILL hard to get, in ANY format, in fact it’s probably more likely you’d find a still-obscure re-issue or the actual record if you like to dig, than a track online. A lot of it is only available when a crazy record collector turns geek blogger and digitizes it for public viewing (thank you thank you thank you).

    Check out these two if you want some examples of folks who have done so- ,

    1. I hope this doesn’t mean, Andy, that if you heard, for instance, a song that thrills you in vinyl, played on a computer, you don’t feel the same thrill. For instance, every time I hear the opening bashing chords of “Street Fighting Man,” I feel the little hairs on the back of my neck rise, and I feel a chill. Man, I’m feeling a little chill right now just imagining those riffs in my head.

      Does it really matter whether you’re hearing it on a computer or an old scratchy 45? To me, despite the fact I collect records and maintain a working record player, it really doesn’t. Some genuine rarities have made it into the digital realm to be maintained as long as there is a human alive to care about its maintenance. The came could be said of the Smithsonian Folkways compilations, the UNESCO series of world music, and the Back From the Grave vinyl comps- very rare recordings which may last a bit longer than expected, since someone included them in new schemes which in turn have their own unique lifespans.

      When I stumble on something in cyberspace I know has never made it to official release, or even buy a CD release of LPs saved from obscurity by labels like Sundazed, who couldn’t find the original tapes of Robert Drasnin’s Voodoo, so they mastered from a clean vinyl source they found- I’m positively thrilled.

  11. I don’t remember which issue it was, but all I remember of Kamandi was some giant creature keeping him like a doll. Then when it was being killed and Kamandi was escaping, it said something like “Come back, dolly! I want to play with you!!!” Maybe that was some other comic book, though.

    Strange memory from a distant past…

  12. This is a lot less true now than it was a couple years back. There was a heady time when it seemed everyone was busy torrenting and blogging rapidshare links of ripped vinyl rarities. I had a great time finding all those previously legendarily hard to find items.

    But take a look now – there are no seeders, the blogs have been deleted, and though you can find Google caches of them, the Rapidshare links are dead. I think the idea that once something is on the internet it’s there forever is somewhat less true than you might think. Yes they may now be on a lot of people’s hard drives, but without active links it’s really not instantly available all the time.

    1. Yes, finding really rare (hard to find in meat space and cyberspace) things takes a lot of patience. So many dead links and links to those accursed isohunt ads. Continually bumping up your posts in hopeful forums and messaging people who never respond. These tasks are kinda annoying to do and lack the meditative quality of flipping though lps in a bin. This has lead me to digitally hoarding of things that I at the time don’t care about but downloaded anyway in case I wanted it in the future.

  13. nobody brings up books yet? before the press books were both hand written and rare. Mass duplication brought mass knowledge – and although I don’t think mass dupes of culture will bring about any amazing advancements in serious thinking, it will ultimately be a good thing.

    I also totally agree that at least so far, not all data is digitized or accessible. just wait and see the rant that will appear somewhere in these comments from my wife about the woefull plight she is in when it comes to trying to find rare Canadian TV or older movies. ;)

  14. “The danger of the Internet is, not only can you relieve your childhood, you can relive everyone else’s as well.”

    Imagine being able to get every comic book you wanted as a kid, every movie, every album. Then imagine finding all the other cool things that you had not heard of, but are still interesting.

    Now imagine how much time it will take just to get through it all.

    You need immortality just to catch up.

  15. I’ve been thinking about this for a while. before the invention of recordable media, if you wanted to hear a piece of music, you had to find the sheet music for it and play it yourself, or go somewhere to listen to someone else play it.

    then we were able to obtain physical objects to play music at our whim. and slowly a lot of that stuff that was previously only “recorded” in someone’s mind or in reams of sheet music was preserved, while new music could be preserved immediately. I’d guess that you still ran into limitations in terms of how much music you could listen to because eventually you ran out of money to buy records, or ran out of room to store them.

    now I think about the world my future children will grow up in. they will likely not have any sense of nostalgia for music on physical media, and will basically have near-instant access to almost any kind of recorded music ever devised by humans. Click here, click there, some 1930s jazz. click here, click there, early 90s rock. Bulgarian pop music? here it is. Opera from the 1700s? right here.

    It’s fascinating to me, because my early music exposure was limited to the types of records my dad owned and whatever played on the radio. To this day I’m still exploring “new” music — new to me — which came out decades ago. (it was only a few weeks ago that I discovered Pentagram from the 70s — man that shit is great)

  16. It comes down to tactility. MP3s, FLACs, WMAs, etc. can’t be experienced by any sense but auditory. Rarity also comes with what you can place in your hands. Sure, I can download every studio session the Beatles ever recorded thanks to the Internet. However, if I were out and about and came across an acetate of the original “Get Back” album, then that’s what’s rare. The Internet will never replace something like that.

  17. “didn’t a lot of the thrill come from feeling superior when you had something others didn’t”

    I have to disagree with that. This is not being a collector, this is being a dick. I was a vinyl collector myself but I never experienced this syndrome. I think what Wyman is missing is the spiritual part involved when you find a rarity.

    The word may be strong, but when you find a rarity it’s not only like finding a four-leaf clover, but the unique one you were hoping to find for such a long time. Not only this: it’s the most beautiful one you ever found as well.

    Is it possible to be in a better mood to enjoy that record? Sure, if it wasn’t rare it would objectively sound as good. But doesn’t everything taste better when you dreamed for it and had to fight for it?

    Think of it as the preliminaries: you can live without them, but the main course tastes so much better with them! :)

  18. My information superhighway theory is what had value has lost some of it and it brought value to things that had little.

    As far as music my 60 gig HDD of music, everything I ever wanted, except that yard sale homemade 8 track with no label find that got lost that hardly gets listened to.

    But the youtube brought the (new to me) incredible X-Ray Spex powder keg last month that I’ve listen to pretty much everyday since that I would never have come across

  19. Bill Wyman of Slate explores…

    I see what you did there.

    I’m fine for more pop music influenced by Asmus Tietchen’s “Biotop.” Bring on the bootlegs, the lack of scarcity…make it available.

  20. The Beatles Carnival Of Light tape, for good or bad, is my Holy Grail. At the same time I kind of like the fact that I can’t and indeed may never hear it. I’m not sure about the point here other than there’s something to be said for the mystery and mystique of the unobtainable.

  21. You’d actually be hard pressed to find the complete run of Fantastic Four in PDF. The formats of choice are cbz and cbr, so you’d have to convert them yourself which is tedious if you can make do with the main digital comic formats.

    In other news, the end of rare came about 12 years ago with Napster. Welcome.

  22. didn’t a lot of the thrill come from feeling superior when you had something others didn’t?

    For me, much of the thrill came with sharing my discoveries with my friends. The hunt was also a lot of the fun. Some of my best memories from back in the day include the drives to and from whatever destination had been chosen.

    I would argue that while the disappearance of rare music is a good thing, music listening has become a more self-centered experience. Sure, we talk about sharing, but when was the last time you got a new album and listened to it all the way through with a friend? The new formats and devices encourage isolated listening habits.

    The element of discovery is also missing because if it’s online, someone else somewhere has already written about it and you can listen to it before you buy. I got burned by a lot of awesome album art that contained shit music, but that was just a chance you took and part of the fun. There’s no risk to buying music sound unheard anymore. Hell, there’s hardly a risk of buying music anymore.

    I’m not lamenting the rarity aspect. I mean, I got stoked when I found original Blue Note pressings because they looked better than the reissues, but ultimately I just wanted the music. But I miss the hunt. I miss being excited about going to record stores around the country and around the world.

    I’m with Andy in that I think shopping for music online is unexciting. And I say that as someone who runs a label that sells music online. Thankfully I’m lucky to be in a city with Amoeba Music and can still get lost for a few hours flipping through the racks.

  23. I feel like I’ve tracked down most everything rare I ever thought to seach for on the internet. Some things did actually take years, but everything is out there eventually. Keep at it! The lesson learned however is that most all obscure childhood memories that I track down to see or hear again, no matter how briefly they passed me by on the TV 30yrs ago – nothing is ever as remembered, and definitely not as good as remembered. I suppose things are obscure for a reason, and our desire fills in the holes on the question of quality.

  24. This is the epitome of what art theorists worried about at the beginning of the last century. If a factory could just stamp out 1000 tiffany lamp look-alikes a day, what makes the original any better? Rarity? Originality? As for music the live performance has always been the pinnacle of the art form IMHO. That’s why venues like Red Rock, the Gorge, and your local dingy rock bar exist. If I wanted to get my snobby opinion fill about bands-I’ve-never-heard-of I can just go to pitchfork.

  25. All I know is how I feel. I used to get a lot of joy going record shopping, whether at record stores, used cd stores, or flea markets and thrift stores. Now most of the record stores are gone, and all you find at flea markets and thrifts is Mitch Miller and Barbara Streisand LPs covered in mildew. Part of it is that 30 years after the dawn of the cd era the previous supply of used vinyl has dried up, and is all in the hands of collectors or internet stores. In fact, the few times in recent memory when I have come upon a huge collection at a yard sale or estate sale, there is a used vinyl dealer already there buying out the entire lot to sell on ebay.

    I have found some cool rarities on blogs, but it doesn’t excite me as much to find it. Sure I enjoy the music just as much, but it’s the thrill of the hunt that has been removed. Whether that is a worthwhile trade off for being able to have instant access to a gigantic collection of rarities I don’t know.

    There also used to be a romantic alluring mystery about some records. Any obscure private pressing record was a mystery, and you came to it with a sense of wonder at this weird curiosity. Now you can find tons of information about those records. Sure, it IS helpful, but it’s also like some of the wonder of life has been removed. If you knew how every magic trick was done, you would get a lot less enjoyment (perhaps none) from watching even the best magician perform. That’s kind of how I feel.

  26. Came here to repeat what’s been said. I get excited when I find something that’s rare, even *online*. There’s quite a bit that has been recorded that just isn’t available, meat or cyber.

    Sure, there’s something exciting about owning something rare. But if it’s good, don’t you think it should be heard by many more who would apppreciate it?

    @Anon #6 : No, not everything is Rebecca Black. You aren’t looking hard enough. There’s plenty more beyond iTunes and YouTube.

    @UncaScrooge : I’m with you on exp. electro. During the 80s, a DJ on WFMU had a show called Synthetic Pleasure. He played records and tapes that you wouldn’t hear *anywhere* (and probably I will never hear again), some of which was not even commercially available. It seems to me, the popularity of electronic music *today* would warrant the discovery and appreciation of such unheard gems.

    We’re a looooong way off from ETEWAF. And even if we get there, know this – you can never hear everything worth hearing in your lifetime. Just because everything is available doesn’t mean you heard all of it all at once. You may have heard 1930s jazz a million times and it sounds as old as it is. But at this moment someone, somewhere is hearing it for the first time. How did you feel the first time you heard it? Someone is experiencing that right now. (They might even like it!)

    Take comfort that there is always something waiting to be discovered. *If only* we had such abundance in earlier times…

    I don’t know if all this I said is coherent. And don’t care. Thank you.

  27. I dunno. There’s certainly MORE of the very popular rare and live bootleg stuff, but I feel like there is less truly obscure content every year that goes by. When boots were still on CD there seemed to be so more love and care put into the online guides and resources about the recordings. And I do believe it was easier to find rare recordings on CD or tape for trade via crappy Geocities sites 12 years ago than it is now for download. Yeah, you had to wait or send money, but it was out there at least.

  28. Scarcity is a mixed bag. When it comes to music and video, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, going to places like the local record store or making pilgrimages to Manhattan (from my home in deep Brooklyn) to find stuff taught me more skills than simply purchasing a product. I had to hunt out, seek out and interact with folks I would most likely have never run into before. And along the way also discover others stores with other cool stuff. Thus being introduced to a whole culture.

    Now I really love MP3s. My 120GB iPod has every bit of music I have owned—even from those old school LP/CD/Tape days—but discovering music is so, so, so isolated now.

    Every new band I have heard of nowadays comes from either a website or a podcast or even a radio show. Quick Google search and iTunes store search and BOOM! I got it!

    But I never left home and I find that miserable. It’s too conspicuous and isolated.

    I mean look at books. Ride the subway in NYC you can see book covers and see what people are reading. In contrast, with a Kindle who knows what they are reading.

    I appreciate the fact that “bootleg” recordings are now easily downloadable and nobody has to pay for them. But still, you loose the interaction.

    On the other side of the equation—kind of—I collected (and still collect) some rare Japanese toys I bought as a kid from a cool store in Greenwich Village back in the day. No clue about their worth or rareness since the Yen was weak in the 1970s I simply paid fair price for them. But I liked them. Prior to the Internet I was the only “freak” who knew what these toys were. Now thanks to the Internet I have a whole world of fellow collectors I buy/sell/trade with. And as a result, these toys have a deeper/stronger value than before… Their “provenance” has increased.

    In general the Internet is a good thing in the case of communications and media. But we are definitely loosing a social aspect of consumption that I think is vital. I mean, I just got a flier in the mail for some soap company that advertises how convenient it is to “never leave home” to buy soap. WTF is that about? You mean buying soap is so difficult I need to be a recluse and have it delivered to home?

    We’re living in interesting sociological and consumer times.

  29. Uricacid raises a fascinating point. Art is my field…consider that before the mid-19th century most painters saw the Old Masters’ work once. If you were lucky you toured Europe’s galleries making sketches, painting copies, and stuffing your head with a lifetime’s worth of impressions. After that you worked from memory. Given the elasticity of memory, pieces you painted were influenced less by the Masters than by your recollection of them. That recollection changed as you aged. So anything you did “based on” a masterwork was overlaid with a thick layer of imagination.

    Along came halftone reproductions…color reproductions…each innovation approximating more closely the experience of seeing the original. A master’s influence on your work potentially could become much stronger. You could re-examine a composition or a value arrangement instead of guessing at it. Surely this easy availability of near-originals has changed the balance of influence and imagination in many art works.

    I’m not criticizing the change. I’m just intrigued by the changing role of influence. In the 50s and 60s I saw countless movies on TV…once. (No VCR’s, etc.) If I’d wanted to make a William Wellman film I’d have had to shoot what I REMEMBERED a Wellman film was like. Today I could watch everything he made repeatedly, analyze each aspect to my heart’s content, and even knock off a nice scene shot-for-shot if I felt like it.

  30. The flipside of superabundance is fragmentation: more difficulty sorting the good from the bad, fewer shared cultural experiences.

    We’re in an era where everything is available, but there is more content than attention, and superabundance doesn’t necessarily lead to greater listening experience if the good is hidden amongst the dross.

    Human and automated curation is the only way through the thicket.

  31. From the original article:
    “Nobody will ever again experience what Keith Richards and Mick Jagger experienced in Dartford, scrounging for blues records”

    He’s got that wrong. Now EVERYbody can experience what Keith and Micj experienced in Dartford, in their own particular niche of interest, wherever they happen to be. I’m not much into music, but I do enjoy rifling through national archives. Back in the day these places held things that were the epitome of rare: exactly one instance of most records they held. To see it you had to find the one archive that held it, then go there, and read it yourself. Finding and reading one historical document might take several months. Or, more likely, you’d never even know about it, and remain completely oblivious of its existence.

    Now more and more archives are going online. Even if the documents themselves aren’t, then at least the finding aids are, so you can at least be aware of what you’re missing out on. And there are many many sites where people discuss and share records either directly or indirectly.

    Now I don’t have to rely on anyone else’s interpretation of events – I can read the same documents they did, and read them in full, then make my own conclusions.

    Granted I don’t have to waste months tracking down individual documents, and perhaps don’t experience the thrill of the chase and the sense of victory when something is found. Now I just have the ho-hum satisfaction of getting access to the material I’m after.

    Also, there is the needle-in-the-haystack issue. Tracking down obscure material – of every genre – on the web can be everybit as frustrating (though perhaps not as time consuming) as doing it in meatspace.

    Obscure is the new rare.


  32. for some music its easier to download it than locating the CD in the rack, but its ridiculous to say that a lot of stuff is that easily available: even ‘rare’ vinyl rip tracks that are on youtube can be difficult to find as decent quality mp3 or flacs.

    and, out of all the music ever pressed, how much of it is online at all?
    don’t be silly.
    still gonna be digging in cd,vinyl,tape,[md,dat,hd etc. etc.] crates 20, 30 years from now.

  33. Personally, I’m glad I don’t have to spend $30 for some dodgy lo-fi bootleg anymore. Especially after finding the record store owner paid $1.50 for it.

    What I find gratifying about our information/communication explosion, is the abundance of little known art films, say by the Vienna Aktionists, or Soviet era Czech films that I’ve never seen anywhere besides on line.

    Amos Vogel’s book Film as as a Subversive Art has now come to life for me. Without the internet, I probably would never have seen (or experienced) these flicks.

    Also turning my crank, 70s Zimbabwean psych-rock. Mind bloWing!

    Bring it on, I say! We are living in interesting times:-)

    1. @anon #43; regarding the abundance of film available, I’ve discovered 70s Turkish ‘remakesploitation’ cinema in much the same way.
      I suppose every new technology comes with a flip side to it too. The printing press was a revolution, but writing as an art form suffered a huge blow. As these things become more abundant, we lose a piece of something too, like the meatspacechase.
      Regarding 70s Zimbabwean psych-rock, Do you have any names I could check out?

      1. @Anon #56
        Try Chrissy Zebby Tembo, Ngozi Family, W.I.T.C.H., or Amanaz for starters. You can find audio samples and related bands on youtube, and search from there. If you can’t find the albums on torrent sites, add ‘blogspot’ to your search terms. Happy hunting!

    2. To be pedantic, if it was in the 70s it would’ve been Rhodesian, not Zimbabwean.
      I have some 90s Zimbabwean grunge by ‘Turbulent Sky’. Find it on

  34. Lossy pirates, played on wretched speakers; plus you’re one hard drive crash from losing the entire lot.

    Mighty Archie laughs at your record collection.

  35. Fresh art will not end because we all have access to the backcatalogue now.

    A great deal of art, I think, comes from people deciding something that doesn’t exist yet ought to, and setting about making it. That kind of scarcity never goes away.

  36. Some media may now be instantly available, but the free time needed to enjoy that is still and will always be scarce. Unless of course someone can come up with implantable memories, like in the Matrix…

  37. We’re getting there, but we’re still a ways off. Media is easy to find IF it is modern AND in English. Scholars are working on digitizing old manuscripts, but this is a lengthy and complicated process. In addition, countless other fascinating cultural artifacts remain that nobody has bothered to digitize because there is limited demand for them because they are not readily available in the dominant language of the Internet.

    As exciting as it is to have a copy of something that is hard to find, it is a lot more susceptible to loss and damage than if it is preserved in Cyberspace.

  38. After the realization that scarcity is no longer an issue for certain items such as music and books and other ephemera, comes an opportunity for another shift of perspective, which I find much more difficult to adapt to:

    You no longer need to think of your own accumulation as something that must be preserved in mint condition. I tell myself, “It is not my responsibility” to have a hardcover book in perfect condition, or “I can throw away the CD booklet” — the source files for producing a perfect replica are someone else’s responsibility, I remind myself. But it is difficult to abandon the sense of one’s personal collection being an important museum of sorts.

    If you were raised in a time when you had to order things and wait “4 to 6 weeks for delivery”, you felt then as if you’d received a rarity that you needed to protect and keep in immaculate condition. And that is hard to shake.

    And indeed, as much as a relief as it may be to rid ourselves of that sense of responsibility, we do have to thank people who spent their lives protecting their collections and who are now doing their best to move their materials into electronic form — tedious tasks like scanning obscure album covers into high resolution tif files, or abandoned music, or abandoned postcards, or all sorts of other ephemera… retroactively making the past have an internet presence.

  39. The other side of the great abundance of media online now, or maybe it’s just that I’ve gotten older, is an acceptance of the fact that I’ll never have all of it. There’s the stuff that I truly love — and that I can get complete sets of — but for everything else, there will always be a hole in the collection. And I’m OK with that.

  40. If the overabundance of information/media on the internet lessens your enjoyment of music, you could always choose not to download music. I almost never listen to music on my computer because I don’t enjoy it as much, and it doesn’t sound as good as physical media. Even FLAC through a 24 bit soundcard doesn’t sound as good as a CD or record… just because most people are willing to trade sound quality and the experience of finding/having music physically for convenience doesn’t mean anyone is holding a gun to your head forcing you to download stuff off of mediafire…

  41. HA! Everything’s on the internet? I wish. I’m still trying to find a decent copy of the Howling II soundtrack.

  42. Depends how you look at it – a first printing Fantastic Four #1 isn’t any more common now than it was then.

  43. The feeling of superiority might be gone with the lack of scarcity, but the thrill of the find is still there.

    If you give a damn, if you are curious, if you want to educated your palate and if you do your homework – the rush is still definitely there. It might be finding some boot or might be making a connection you didn’t know was there. Might be really obscure or just obscure to you because you are 15 and just started giving a crap.

    The comic-book-guy BS is what is gone. And that is not a bad thing because it means a lot of 35 (and 65) year olds will finally have to stop with their childish idiocy.


  44. Lotta posts here but just to reiterate what someone’s surely said already (I hope): If that nipple gets you in trouble at work, you’re really not allowed to surf the web there, no mater what your boss says.

    Also, it’s awfully nice to have a reminder that there was a time when women did not have to have plastic titties in order to be considered hot.

  45. Torrent sites distribute what’s popular, much like record stores. If you’re looking for rarities by world famous artists, the internet offers complete catalogs. If you’re looking for an obscure artist from the Netherlands on the other hand, you might find the odd seed, once in a while.

  46. As others have said, part of the problem is now we spend hours ON LINE looking for these rarities, instead of spending a day with friends going to record stores, or going to the local film festival or art opening; the internet has created this weird combination of isolation and community, where you “meet” semi-anonymous people on a blog discussing the rare recording they all just downloaded. They could all be on opposite sides of the globe and will likely never meet in person.

    Personally, I spend all day in front of a computer screen for my job, I don’t want to spend my free time at home in front of another computer screen looking for music when I could be at the few remaining record stores looking at actual objects instead of 2-D digital representations. There is a certain joy involved in holding a well made LP record or even a good cd with detailed booklet; very little craftmanship goes into a digital file.

  47. “Nobody will ever again experience what Keith Richards and Mick Jagger experienced in Dartford, scrounging for blues records.”

    Ugh, what a silly opinion of life and art. I dislike Dan Chiasson.

    -I can’t get no satisfaction
    -I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
    -All the lonely people

    Still as relevant today as when originally performed.

  48. Yes, its all well and good if you are looking for “rare” items that happen to be mass market pop culture that hundreds of thousands of copies existed of at some point and many online nerds love enough to upload/scan their copies.

    Now go find me some torrent sources for comics like Sue Coe’s “How To Commit Suicide in South Africa”, or anything by French cartoonists like Blutch and Aristophane.

  49. Nobody’s mentioned this, exactly, but in general the memory of the intertubes has been improving. Whether or not a particular item lost to history (i.e., lost to me) resurfaces, people are more likely over time to know more about it.

    Some people may remember the infamous “Max Headroom” TV hack in Chicago 25 years ago. I saw it on the news and hoped a few years later that one of my friends who traded VHS-mixtapes would unearth it. No such luck. In the mid-1990s, a dinky little Quicktime movie of it turned up on someone’s webpage, then went dark. Now there are a dozen or so YouTube clips of it.

    When I was a kid, I saw a TV Movie of the Week that involved a not very serious Sam Spade-like detective getting held prisoner in a Roman-style arena by a lady ringmaster. I never saw the title, and all I remembered about it’s the character had three daughters called Faith, Hope and Charity. Last year or the year before, I figured what the hell and looked it up in It was “I Love A Mystery,” a pilot for a series that never got made. The woman was a very butch Ida Lupino. And it was basically a parody like The Black Bird, which had George Segal in it. I don’t know whether the movie is on a torrent, and I doubt it is, but I don’t really care. I finally satisfied a bit of curiosity.

    But I wouldn’t mind finding the PBS series The Fine Art of Goofing Off, or This Week In Nemtin, a comedy pilot Harlan Ellison raved about in “The Glass Teat.” I’m undecided about “The Love War,” which I did see on TV once, unfortunately.

    1. holy crap! i saw part of “The Black Bird” when i was 14 and had been wondering what it was called ever since. thank you!

  50. Searching for the music was fun, but having access is more important. The more people who hear good music the better.

  51. I have plenty of recordings of well-known artists that are simply NOT on the internet. Of interest to mutants: DEVO EZ Listening Muzak record, one of 1000 printed. I’ve never found the recording fully digitized. And of course my beautiful 2 LP of Pink Floyd at some unnamed radio performance. And let’s not get started on indie and punk B-Sides, especially from the cassette era.

  52. I got really into collecting bootlegs and stuff in high school. At the time – pre-torrent – there were groups online where you signed up and added your address to a list, and the first person would mail a CD with the recording, and then the person who got it would mail it to the next person on the list, and so on. It was fun. I basically never listened to any of it, though.

    Then I got into collecting records; starting with my parents’ old ones. I love the physical aspect, and the big cover art. I now have a few milk crates full of records – some rare and obscure – that I never even look at. I’ve got a working record player, but I never use it.

    However, sometimes I’ll buy records of new albums instead of buying the CD, since I’m going to listen to an mp3 rip anyway, for bands I really like (and I buy the record straight from the band when possible so they get the most money). I’ll also occasionally buy vinyl re-releases for older stuff that I discovered from downloading mp3s – I bought a few of the vinyl re-releases from The Smiths when they came out a year or two ago – a good excuse to drive out to Amoeba Records in hollywood. Not going to ever use the CD, so that’s pointless, but I don’t like paying for digital-only stuff.

    I’ve come to the point, though, where I don’t know why I buy physical things. They only end up annoying me now, because they take up a lot of space. I love movies and used to buy a lot of DVDs, but I stopped several years ago. I just don’t want to take up so much room with this stuff.

    So, I’m glad we’re moving to digital. I can still buy physical copies of the things I really, really love (like those Smiths LPs) but I don’t have to fill up my house with other stuff that I might like, but don’t love. I can just stick it on a hard drive where it doesn’t take up any space, and is a lot more convenient to access anyway.

    I love the thrill of the hunt as much as anyone, but I find my wallet is heavier (figuratively since I don’t carry a wallet) when I don’t do that anymore :) I still pay for things, I just don’t get burned as often, and I don’t pay extra for “collectable” stuff anymore. I’m sure I’ve got some rather valuable vinyl now that I could profit off of, though.

  53. As somebody pointed out, this goes back at least as far as printing vs. one-of-a-kind manuscripts. People who value instant gratification will never get “special”. It’s fashionable to hate Disney, but there was something amazing about the way Disney classics (when they really were classics) would just come out every once in awhile, not on T.V., and if you were lucky you’d be the right age to appreciate them. Setting the alarm to get up at 3:00 a.m. and watch a movie you have read about cannot be approached by having the thing sitting on a shelf (or whatever up-to-the-minute form you youngsters favor). Years ago there was a radio comedy in which kids persuaded President Truman (!) to make Christmas every day. You can guess how that turned out. Made an impression. Of course, most people will never see most things no matter how easily obtainable they are, for reasons that might smack of “superiority”, so never mind.

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