Thursday, October 22, 2009

Schadenfreude

It's my favorite guilty pleasure just lately.

Example: being a Giants fan as the Dodgers are sent packing. Or: the faux strokes being suffered by book publishers over the price war being waged between Amazon and Wal-Mart. You can read about it here.

Love this quote: 'If readers come to believe that the value of a new book is $10, publishing as we know it is over.' Sir, have you not been noticing the sea changes in media? The packaged music industry is in tatters. The video side is trailing right behind. Newspapers are endangered. Publishing as you know it is over.

While the larger issue is really digital vs. analog, there is a pleasurable nostalgia in reading reactions to these sorts of skirmishes, as content-holders attempt to prop up perceived value and re-barn those escaped horses.

A similar battle is being waged on the video side right now, over those Redbox vending machines that rent new release movies for a buck a night. A few of the major studios (Universal, Fox, and Warner) are choreographing delayed placement in the Redboxes until the regular sales and rental markets have slowed down on given titles, as they fear devaluation of their products in the consumer's mind.

This fits with the author James Patterson's quote at the end of the fore-cited article: 'Imagine if somebody was selling DVDs of this week's new movies for $5. You wouldn't be able to make movies. I can guarantee you that the movie studios would not take this kind of thing sitting down.' Yessss...Universal would surely boycott Amazon and Wal-Mart if a similar war broke out on their hot titles.

The over-arching dark warning is that predatory pricing tactics will result in fewer listening, viewing, and reading options for enthusiasts.

No. It will result in fewer middlemen and less-frequent big-budget publicity cramdowns. The quantity of both have no correlation to the quantity or quality of choices we have.

**********

Last week we were musing about Pandora and which music makes the cut and why. Days later, this article appeared in the Sunday New York Times Magazine section. Interesting reading.

The article's author took his time getting to the key question: as Pandora's library is about 5% of iTunes' (which itself is merely a subset of all available music), who decides? And while the claim is that Pandora attempts to apply objective science in its Music Genome project, an a-ha comes in this telling quote from Pandora's founder: 'We struggle more with making sure we're adding really good stuff.'

**********

Still more good reading in this Wall Street Journal review of music critic Robert Hilburn's new memoir, 'Corn Flakes With John Lennon.' The reviewer makes a few good observations and offers his take on the age-old music vs. lyrics debate.

For what it's worth, this reporter stands firmly on the music side. Well-surrounded moon-June lyrics can result in gorgeous, involving listening. Insightful lyrics with indifferent accompaniment is all too often merely sung poetry, altogether better-suited for boho coffee shops.

There. That should make 'em forget the whole cowbell miasma.

**********
Finally...Nick Hornby is on something of a roll. He wrote the screenplay for 'An Education' (number one on my wish-list for if and when our local art house ever finishes its remodel), and he has a new novel out, 'Juliet, Naked.' For anyone who found his 'High Fidelity' the perfect mashup of music obsession and everyday banality: you gotta read this. It is cotton candy on the pop-culture midway.