January 10, 2012

In the Groove

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director

I guess Sunday was Elvis Presley’s birthday. It would have escaped my awareness were it not for the newscasts mentioning the thousands of fans who continue to make their annual pilgrimage to Graceland. It makes me wonder whether more Elvis devotees flock to Memphis for his birthday or for the anniversary of his death every August. That’d be a good question for George Klein.

As for today, January 10th, it’s also a day that goes down in music history. For Elvis fans, it was on this day he recorded “Heartbreak Hotel”.  For Beatles buffs like me, this was the day their first album, Introducing the Beatles was released in America. 

But perhaps most importantly of all, today is the anniversary of the 45.

Around since the late 40s (and introduced almost simultaneously with the vinyl LP), this 7-inch wonder was the most popular means for teens to bring their musical idols home with them. Anyone younger than thirty has probably never owned stacks of wax, nor have any idea what the oddly-shaped yellow plastic in the picture was for. This adapter – used for centering 45s on a turntable spindle – was officially called a “spider” (though, wisely, I don’t think they were ever marketed by that name).

Every music store carried 45s during the 50s and 60s, and it was their most popular section. But look how frequently things have changed since then:

By the late 60s 8-track tapes became the top portable music medium. Prone to malfunction, however, they would not survive long.

Next, hoping to save the day, were cassettes.  By the 70s, these little pocket-sized tapes were king. 

Then 1982 brought the CD, and nothing’s been the same since.  It nailed the coffin on all vinyl medium – and eventually tapes – with technology so universally accepted that it begat DVDs.  Now, even the CD and DVD are being threatened with eventual extinction by MP3s and streaming video.

Buyers have always been attracted to the most convenient medium for their entertainment, and in this mobile society we like being able to take it with us. The prevalence of e-books and e-readers speaks to that.

Fortunately for traditional publishers, books have always been and always will be sufficiently portable. The trade-off, perhaps, is that you can store countless books in a single digital reader. But for many who’ve compared the two, e-readers are the microwave version of a restaurant meal. It’s quick and does the trick but once in a while you gotta have the real thing. 

There will be room for both for a very long time, and the publishing world’s acceptance of the two allows them to support each other and play nice together.

So unlike the 45, the 8-track, the cassette, and possibly the CD, the digital age isn’t about to replace the printed page, which has been around since the 1400s, because we just plain love ink on paper. For that, I say to Gutenberg: Thank you, thank you very much.  

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