We did not know how good we had it.
Yesterday, it was about a trove of LPs. Your collection of grammophone records. Then tapes, of the audio and VHS kind. Then CDs, then possibly DVDs…
The point is, it’s never been possible to say: I own a copy of this movie or of this song. You own a copy of a recording of it. That’s all. In the shape that it’s in. Like in Wii Virtual Console, you could buy, say, Super Mario Bros. And then when Wii U Virtual Console came out, you could bring them along, but also had to upgrade them so they’d follow along to the Wii U’s menu instead of living in the Wii menu, because of course the upgrade took someone’s time and work and effort, and it’s time to charge a little bit for that.
I’m not going to talk about how DRM and such things work against conservation, or note how it’s in the interests of producer companies to be able to re-spruce up things constantly and sell you a new copy. This observation has been made before.
What I don’t think has been worn to such a stub before is about the “balkanization” of your possessions. Maybe you’ve never really been able to pour all your belongings into one big pile on the floor and swim through them with what I assume is a very light touch, Scrooge McDuck-style. But to the extent that you could mix and match how you arranged these things before, you can’t anymore.
Every app is its own jail. Every container is its own new shop of horrors, working in a new way, showing its small subset of available creations.
I don’t hold much nostalgia for physical record stores, or video stores. But here’s what I didn’t have to do when I walked into them: I didn’t have to work out which of the 57 resellers, distributors, networks or partnerships a particular thing was available in, I didn’t have to hope that they were available in my city, I didn’t have to look up any of a number of set of terms that will eventually allow me to get the thing, I didn’t have to hunt for discount codes or settle on trial periods or work out which currency is best to pay in, I mostly didn’t have to find the right store to be able to use the payment method I’m most comfortable with, and I sure as fuck never had to worry about whatever I bought being repossessed because three years later, someone is being huffy in a contract negotiation.
Apple TV and things like it are doing the best they can trying to solve all this. But we used to make standards – a CD was a CD was a CD. Now it’s platforms and apps. Now it’s signing up for HBO or Netflix or going manually to Louis CK’s web site to buy Horace and Pete. Now it’s managing a thousand overlapping terms of services and payment schedules.
I understand that this shit is not easy and that everyone wants to make their mark, make their platform the best. But why the shelf died, I will not understand. Why it can’t be that we all work out a set of standards for what a piece of media is, what a payment method is, what a media provider is, and have them all intermingle in some sort of post-iTunes, post-Spotify, post-Amazon, neo-Delicious Library of the fucking 2010s already, where you go to search and it searches all the things that anyone wants to sell, possibly via aggregators because spambots are still a thing, and it’s a click to find something and a click to buy something, and they don’t scurry off into their own apps and you have to sigh deeply when you go to watch that show that’s on the network with the horrible app, and if you’re unsatisfied with this particular neo-Delicious Library, you can get any of a number of clients like this because it’s all just fucking standards.
Yes, I know. Getting people to agree to this would be like pulling teeth, and would make even the normally sort of reasonable people look like the normally unreasonable people, because you’re saying “what if your business model was suddenly worth a lot less?”. But I’m just saying – what if this did exist? People would get paid in droves. Things would stay where you put them and you’d pick the best organization that worked for you. People who listened to classical music could pick an organizer that knew what being composer-centric was, and gain back three hours daily from fighting inefficiencies and/or telling people about it. And most importantly – there would be a chance at a single, coherent collection, not beholden to the success of any particular hare-brained, topping-out-at-9%-of-the-market-for-a-few-years, venture-funded platform.