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