Bracken’s right: Print IS the new vinyl

It might have been an offhand comment, but the idea that “print is the new vinyl” is a rich analogy. It was made last week by the Knight Foundation’s John Bracken speaking at the Asian American Journalists Association conference.

After getting pulled down for a bit in the undertow of Twitter, Bracken expanded on his comment.The last few graphs are the key point:

“Bands … have recognized that vinyl encourages exclusivity, maximizes design potential and creates a depth of involvement that 0s and 1s cannot. ¬†Vinyl’s renaissance is not due to nostalgia — it’s due to the fact that musicians, labels and fans have built a creative and consumer experience based on what the format does well.

“I don’t want to beat this metaphor to death. Here’s the core of the comparison: as more and more of the content we consume is based on bits, the ability to engage with atom-based media will, for some, gain value.”

That’s an idea I’ve been thinking about since March when Bon Jovi accused Steve Jobs of killing music. And it’s not uncommon to hear from music fans this same love for the tangible.

Based on a lot of time talking with people who prefer print to digital, the tangibility of it must be the top reason people prefer print.

The analogy is good because it not only deals with consumption habits, but also production.

Albums — in vinyl or CD —¬† are a product, a good, a widget. They are a complete package. Digital music is disaggregated. It’s becoming increasingly a social experience. I suspect that one day soon we’ll be paying more for the service of digital music storage and delivery than we do for the content itself. This is going to be the same for news. Maybe its always been the same for both news and music businesses.

In any case I do think that print is going to be primarily for “hipsters.” The presence of high quality print is going to become a social signal — “I’m considerate. I invest time and money into my collection of knowledge. I enjoy learning about the world around me, not because it helps me make or save money but because I enjoy being aware of the world. I’m not a news junkie; I’m a news connoisseur.”

Vinyl signals the same things. Both the person with 100 records and the person with 10,000 digital songs can legitimately say “I’m REALLY into music.” But they mean different things.


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