Digital media has unbundled content, disrupting legacy businesses that sell bundled media like albums and newspapers. But that doesn’t mean there is no value in bundling content, as Nick Carr observes in a lyrical deconstruction of David Weinberger’s assertion that the track is the natural unit of music.
David Weinberger’s Digital Media Argument
For decades we’ve been buying albums. We thought it was for artistic reasons, but it was really because the economics of the physical world required it: Bundling songs into long-playing albums lowered the production, marketing, and distribution costs because there were fewer records to make, ship, shelve, categorize, alphabetize, and inventory. As soon as music went digital, we learned that the natural unit of music is the track. Thus was iTunes born, a miscellaneous pile of 3.5 million songs from a thousand record labels. Anyone can offer music there without first having to get the permission of a record executive.
Nick Carr’s Rebuttal Of David Weinberger’s Argument
And yet it is the wholesale unbundling of LPs into a “miscellaneous pile” of compressed digital song files that Weinberger would have us welcome as some kind of deliverance from decades of apparent servitude to the long-playing album. One doesn’t have to be an apologist for record executives – who in recent years have done a great job in proving their cynicism and stupidity – to recognize that Weinberger is warping history in an attempt to prove an ideological point. Will the new stress on discrete digital tracks bring a new flowering of creativity in music? I don’t know. Maybe we’ll get a pile of gems, or maybe we’ll get a pile of crap. Probably we’ll get a mix. But I do know that the development of the physical long-playing album, together with the physical single, was a development that we should all be grateful for. We probably shouldn’t rush out to dance on the album’s grave.
To recast old media with new media buzzwords, albums and newspapers are content agregation plays. Nick is right that the problem is not in the aggregation — it’s in the efficiency and flexibility of the aggregation.
A newspaper is one size fits all. It is created once and can only be dynamically re-aggregated with a pair of scissors. But that doesn’t mean hunting and pecking for content on the web is superior. Search is so successful because it’s a hyper-efficient, dynamic form of aggregation, creating “information-papers” around any key word. Digg is really just a dynamic newspaper.
On iTunes, an individual can aggregate music by creating a mix, thus creating an album. While consumers do highly value the freedom to buy individual songs, they also still value discovering songs that go well together in a bundle.
Disaggregation — taking apart media — is only step one of the media revolution. Step two — or 2.0 — is finding dynamic ways to put it back together.