I recently finished reading Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music, by Greg Milner. A blog post won’t do justice to Milner’s work, which chronicles over 100 years of we now think of as recorded music.
In the book, history unfurls as a series of debates: acoustic vs. electric; analog vs. digital; and (most recently) professional vs. amateur. On that last front, Evan Brooks, cofounder of Digidesign, says about his own product:
“ProTools was all about egalitarianism, bringing those (music-making) capabilities to literally anybody… Unfortunately, if you allow anybody to make music, anybody will make music, which is a whole other set of unintended consequences.” (p 298 – 299)
In The Long Tail, Chris Anderson described this phenomenon as “democratizing the tools of production”. In our context, media professionals – recording engineers, typographers, editors and publishers – lament the trend, pointing out how product quality has inevitably declined.
As Richard Nash has illustrated, the published universe today may or may not be of the same quality, but it is decidedly less white, less male and altogether less tweedy. In democratizing production and distribution, we have also begun to democratize access.
It’s true that some, perhaps most music sounds worse today than it did in my long-past youth. It’s true that at least some of the books published today amount to little more than vanity efforts. We could pine for the old days, but the genie is out of the bottle.
The time is ripe for publishers to migrate their models away from preserving scarcity and toward capitalizing on abundance. Gatekeepers no more, publishers get to answer an exhilarating question: “Who are we, and how do we add value?”