Yours Truly is a bit sick to death of all this talk on about The Death of the Book, The Death of the Bookshop, and The Death of Our Brains at the hands of Monsieur Internet. (Except, maybe she’s a woman. In fact, yes – let’s call her Señora Internet. Look, she’s even got a little hat!)
In his editorial for the latest issue of McSweeney’s, Dave Eggers puts paid to all that with some encouraging statistics about the current vitality of the book industry. And just to waggle it in our faces, the current issue is “a book designed to look like a book!”
Borders might have thrown in the towel, spat the dummy, or whatever other clichéd figures of speech you might want to attach to that Dodo-ified business; but all I can say is that our “local independent” seems to be doing rather well. As a direct result of said closure? Who knows. Probably not a bunch of puffed up, Internet-fearing catastrophists.
Bringing it Back
It was with some pleasure that I was introduced to an exciting new piece of technology this week. It’s called the Flipback, and if it sounds half like a Paperback, well, that’s because it is.
Printed on super-thin bible paper and bound with its spine unattached to the cover, the Flipback only requires one hand for reading and can lie open on its own (no more panicky searches for a bookmark). You read it sideways – or you would, if the writing wasn’t printed perpendicular to the usual way. This means it’s more similar visually to reading digital text, but the experience is altogether more tactile. The idea is to flip the pages with your thumb whilst holding it in one hand. Hey presto! (But perhaps it’s a little too tactile – I found myself needing to lick my thumb in order to turn the pages easily. Maybe it just takes practice. I hope they release a Flipbacks for Dummies for this difficult new technology). Meanwhile, you could be doing almost anything with The Other Hand. I’ll leave that one up to your imagination.
When that chock-full peak-hour train suddenly surges round a bend, and the geek sitting by the aisle flounders as his slippery iPad shoots off into a sea of high heels, who is triumphant? The old-fashioned book-lover, that’s who – one hand’s steady grip on the rail, nifty little Flipback wide open in the other. Additional perks include not having to hide it from thieves, and not having to experience that annoying moment when you realise the power point wasn’t switched on after all, and the batteries are still flat.
That’s because it’s still a book, albeit one that feeds into today’s obsession with multi-tasking and compactibility (it fits easily into your back pocket). Its size also makes it kind of pretty – from a distance, you might mistake one for a cassette (remember those?), and they’re just about as sturdy. They’d look rather cute all stacked up like Lego on a shop counter.
They’ve already sold over a million of these things in Holland, where they were conceived; it will be interesting to see how we take to them when they’re unleashed in Australia this August.
Rock Will Never Die
Well, it hasn’t yet. But speaking of cassettes … Okay, so the cassettes might not be a particularly good example. How about vinyl, then? I mean, if you’re looking for an antiquated technology from an industry that has been absolutely, positively, well and truly revolutionised by digital technology, then records are most definitely it. The music industry might not be making much dosh out of vinyl, yet still it prevails.
Once the musical medium of choice, vinyl has now been transposed to a niche market for nostalgic music-lovers, serial op-shoppers, professional (and un-professional) DJs, and smug rock’n'rollers who believe noise just sounds better on vinyl. Not only are all sorts of great bands still releasing versions of their new music on record, but audio manufacturers continue to produce turntables for your listening pleasure, replete with flash 21st century packaging and super-precise speakers. If the contemporary perks sound counter-intuitive, go get one of those old boxy things with the peeling brown faux-wood. People will think you’re cool just for having a turntable, especially all of your art snob friends.
- Franc Kuzma’s Stabi XL turntable. Don’t confuse it with the coffee machine.
I Heart Art
Aside from the retro-nerd kicks you might get from owning a record collection, there’s also the crucial element of art and design appreciation. If you’re downloading music, especially from an unqualified source, you’re likely to not even see the original album artwork. If you do, you’re probably viewing it as a tiny little picture on a screen. Hardly the best medium for displaying a work of conceptual art.
Which brings us back to vinyl, whose sleeves sport a large surface area, rather good for displaying album artwork. You can then sit in your velour, op-shop lounge suite and ponder it whilst soaking up the sounds of a new album. The record sleeve’s papery feel is also a bit nicer than a plastic CD case – an opinion affirmed by plenty of high-brow indie artists who prefer to package their CDs in paper (often recycled, just to underline the extent of their cultural envelope-pushing) rather than the usual plastic.
- Andy Warhol’s famous cover art for The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, complete with real zip. Tactile.
The continued love for vinyl shows an appreciation for the album as a complete, conceptual piece of art and a fulfillment of a band’s artistic vision, from the choice of song order (none of this shuffle bullcrap, thank you), to the cover artwork and design, and liner notes. It’s a preference for quality versus convenience. It’s not that there’s no positive place for Internet-sourced music; rather, there is a place for the old-school to continue alongside the new. Radiohead had the right idea when they realised their die-hard fans would still pay money for the hard stuff, even if they could get the online version for free.
- Bon Iver’s forthcoming self-titled album will look super pretty on vinyl.
Dear Sir or Madam, Will You Read My Book?
If vinyl can do it, is it really so far-fetched to suggest something that has existed for about 10 times as long in one form or another might also hang in there for a little bit longer? Unless, of course, they invent a solar powered eReader. Now that might really be something worth ditching your Flipback for.