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Michael Rosenblum

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The Beatles Make a Comeback Again and Again and Again and Again and...

Posted: 05/14/2013 1:48 pm

There's an old joke about Alzheimer's: the good thing about it is you always meet new people. What does this have to do with media on the web? Everything, I think.

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Hey... check out Double White!

Up until now, we have always lived in a linear world of very limited shelf space. That is, there were a limited number of TV or cable channels, a limited number of hours of broadcasting. In the world of music, there was only so much shelf space at Tower Records. In the world of books, only so many shelves at Barnes & Nobles.

The upshot of those physical limitations was that there were only so many movies, or TV shows or albums or books that you could be exposed to in any given time period. With limited shelf space came the need to constantly create new material. Once an album had been played a certain number of times it was time to "find the next hot act." Likewise with TV. How many seasons of Seinfeld or I Dream of Jeannie could you watch before it had become stale? Even in reruns?

But the world of the web is different. It is different because the "stuff" is non-linear, on-demand, and in fact available forever. So what was old can -- to a generation that has never been exposed to it -- be incredibly new.

We see this to a very limited extent in the world of literature. For each new generation exposed to Shakespeare's Macbeth, it is as though it is for the first time. But those kinds of things, until now, have been a rarity.

As the non-linear online world of infinite shelf space becomes the norm, I think this notion of "what is old for you is new for me" may become the dominant feature of the world of media. When the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years, they didn't do that because they were lost. They did it so that everyone with a memory of what it was like to be a slave could die off. The new world required fresh thinking.

Soon (sorry to say), everyone with a memory of the Beatles will die off. Then, there will be a whole new generation for whom The Double White album will be as new to them as it was to me when I first heard it at the age of 14. And it should, in theory, be just as good.

In the past, this kind of thing was possible, but a rarity. There were a few 'oldies but goodies' radio stations; a few vinyl record stores. But let's face it, they were on the margins. Now they will become mainstream.

In the digital world, nothing ages (except the consumers). Everything that is created continues to exist forever. As you can see, over time, we are going to build up a lot of stuff. And it is all going to be available to everyone forever.

So, in the not too distant future, "the newest" may not be the most attractive. It's going to change the equation of value and quality.

Owning the rights to "classics" -- great music or film or video libraries -- means an annuity in perpetuity. Think of this as buying Rembrandts. They stopped making them years ago and so the value only continues to appreciate.

We are, all of us, the products of our life experience in the linear world. This is what we grew up with. We have a natural expectation that the "new stuff" is going to be better and much more desirable than the "old stuff". We would rather have a 2013 Mercedes than a 1987 one. We would rather see the "new" Great Gatsby than the "old" one.

But in the future, this may not be the case. The value may be much more for the "old" stuff than the "new." (What is worth more, an "old" Rembrandt or a "new" one?)

It used to be that we outlived our TV shows and music and movies. Gilligan's Island came and went. We continued. But as the world goes to digital and infinite, it is the content that will survive long after we are gone. Or certainly past the time that we can remember that we actually already saw that movie. Or did we?

 

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