The Afterlife of Media

Lorcan Demsey’s blog entry on the Afterlife of Media and the observation “Who would have imagined, for example, that the youth of today would strum, drum and hum along to Should I stay or should I go? by The Clash?” sparked another chain of thought as I read it.

Individuals often struggle to convey the impact of digital preservation to a wider audience. I’ve been struck by how the introduction of ipods and itunes (and their competitors) have changed my musical listening (and those of teenagers too). It has suddenly made older music more accessible.

In my case to paraphrase Lorcan “who would have thought a teenage ska-punk fan would have Louis Prima (Swing Jazz) on their ipod?” (and not just the Jungle Book tune either).

Perhaps anyone wanting to explain long-term benefits of digital preservation to the public could do worse than looking at the impact of digital conversion and ongoing digital preservation in making old music, film or books available online?

Assembling the evidence would probably show Long-tail effects within digital preservation are having a profound impact.

One Response to “The Afterlife of Media”

  1. Jenny H. on 02 Apr 2008 at 3:46 pm

    The public-facing outputs of digital preservation activities are the very stuff of the Long-tail; the existence of a findable and copyable version of an older work allows users to express their Long-tail preferences. I suspect that people have always had eclectic tastes that reached beyond the superstars du jour, and large scale digital preservation provides us with a means of expressing those tastes.

    You and Dempsey both titled your blog entries “The Afterlife of Media” but it seems wrong to call the long-tail portion of a work’s existence an “afterlife” and I think we do so only because most of us never expected media to spend the majority of its culturally and commercially viable life in the Long-tail.

    The Long-tail effect is often lauded, but I have a concern about it that I haven’t seen explored: The widespread realization that even mediocre artistic and intellectual works remain commercially viable longer than Twinkies* seems likely to have the negative effect of encouraging rights holders to push for strict enforcement of copyright and extension of copyright term. If this is the case the popularity (read level of use) of digital preservation projects could be a case study that rights holders site in lobbying for strict and long copyright. The greater the extent that rights holders succeed in strengthening and lengthening copyright, the less intellectual and artistic material will be available for non-commercial digital preservation projects and cultural reuse.

    Libraries and archives should and will go ahead with digital preservation projects efforts in spite of the above. Digital preservation has many immediate benefits for institutions and patrons. But as we go ahead with the digitization of everything, we should also consider how our products serve a proofs of concept for a new model of the economic life-cycle of an intellectual/artistic work. I think we would be wise to conduct this thought exercise if only to get a sneak preview of the future of libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions in a world where works remain commercially viable for most of the time they exist and very little passes unintentionally into the public domain. Coupled with some thinking ahead about the effect of licensing access rather than purchasing copies, we might be able to make a good forecast and useful recommendations about active steps cultural heritage institutions can take to position themselves to remain useful and effective institutions.

    *Claim not yet published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

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