The tangible items feel like they have more cash value than the invisible digital bits. The sheer abundance of internet items not only shrink their value, they curb our attention. Whether it’s a feed of Instagram images, tweets, or new music playlists, there is simply too many things to pay attention to and not enough time to consume them.
Even though vinyl today is mass produced to meet the growing demands of nostalgic record collectors and millenial hipsters, the magic of vinyl is in its transactional and physical experience. You paid for it and now you have to store it somewhere.
The great thing about record sleeves is that they can also serve as wall art. They’re like real-life square Instagram hanging in your hallway or in your bedroom that also demonstrates your taste.
But the awe of tangibility is not restricted just to records. It’s all formats. CDs still create the same return on a relationship with its consumer, at least in Japan. The reason Japan’s CD industry is still thriving is that Japanese fans love to show direct support of their artists; they want to ensure their money talks.
Yet even something as ubiquitous as a coke can create a visceral experience. Access is egalitarian. Said Andy Warhol in his 1975 book, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol.
What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.
It is still possible to tame abundancy and simulate ownership in a virtual environment. Shopping on the music store Bandcamp recreates a record-store experience. Writes music editor Ben Ratliff for the New York Times:
the online music site known for its equitable treatment of artists, and one of the greatest underground-culture bazaars of our time. From it, you can stream music to the extent each artist allows, or buy songs at a price set by the artist — which is sometimes “pay what you wish” — or order physical products from the site. The artist gets 85 percent. Always, the artist gets to know who’s buying, without a third party in the way.
Bandcamp is a mashup of both virtual and physical worlds. Buying and selling Bitcoin feels the same way. What gives a bitcoin value is an assumed relationship between buyer and seller, not to mention the scarcity layered on top of it. There are only 21 million Bitcoins that can be mined. Bitcoin and the emerging interest in blockchain exemplify the shift toward the value on bits and bytes and not just hard goods.
Record sleeves persist because we give physical objects extra value. But the virtual sleeves on an all-access catalog to Spotify library can feel similar. It’s amazing how real things feel when you pay for them 😉
If you’re interested in more reads about vinyl, check out the below:
- Photographer Alex Bartsch retraces reggae record sleeves in London
- How teens and hipsters stain the resurgence of Vinyl
- Jack White launches the first record to play in space