Hard copy, please

I’ve been thinking about the word fugitive, lately. Not the Dr. Richard Kimble variety, but fugitive in the fine arts sense. Sometimes these effects are unintentional. Works that don’t use lightfast pigments can change colour or fade completely, while poorly produced paper can suffer damage even from a reader’s breath. Of course, sometimes the artist’s purpose is to create something temporary, as in Richard Long‘s environmental sculptures. What’s been bringing the word to mind lately, though, is the thought that we’re moving into a fugitive age, spurred by the digitization of cultural production.

Call me a Luddite, but I don’t believe that having music, books, film and television available for download or streaming can take the place of record stores, bookstores and video stores. The Amazon glitch that caused them to delete all gay and lesbian titles is an example of why I’m cautious. A more important consideration for me is my reliance on the idiosyncracies of the people who staff brick and mortar stores. Their recommendations and conversation can lead to amazing discoveries. But regardless of my objections, the tide is turning.

On May 5th, the owners of Videomatica, possibly the best video store in Canada, announced that they will be closing by the end of the summer. They’ve probably found a home for their massive collection, but it’s still a loss to our community. Don’t take my word for it, though, when you can read this eloquent piece by Darren of my local video store, Black Dog.

Not even libraries are reliable repositories for cultural production any more, as Nicholson Baker raged over in his book Double Fold. The deaccessioning craze that’s taken hold of libraries seems to be in the same vein as the narrowing of focus found in big box bookstores and online video providers. When most people want only a small portion of the newest productions, what incentive is there to carry the old, the obscure and the rare?

I’m going to continue to support the independent stores as much as I can, for as long as they last. I don’t want to think about a world in which I can’t spend time in my favourite shops, browsing through stacks of books, thumbing through cds and records, or scanning the back of dvd cases.

And that’s Ms. Luddite, to you.

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6 thoughts on “Hard copy, please

  1. In independent book stores we discovered the mole sisters and that new book from England that seemed to be taking off for Kathleen long before anybody else new what Harry Potter was. Film history is such a rich resource for ideas and entertainment Videomatic will be greatly missed.

  2. That’s true – if it weren’t for places like Kidsbooks, we’d have missed those books entirely. Well, the Harry Potter wave would have caught us eventually. And with the passing of Videomatica, we’re going to have a much poorer cultural vocabulary, for sure.

  3. I’ve never understood why the homogenisation of available literature, music, etc. is seen as desirable by so many people. The demise of these independent shops is heartbreaking. People just don’t seem to realize what we’re losing. I’m with you — I’ll continue to support the small places as long as they exist. Thank you for writing about this topic.

  4. I’m not sure if it’s that it’s seen as desirable, except by those in the consolidated businesses that provide access to books, music and film. I do agree that people don’t realize what we’re losing.

    In the conference I attended this weekend, one of the presenters spoke about the long tail effect in demand (simply, that the number of people wanting various less popular things is equal to the number of people wanting the few, most popular things) and that’s something that the owners of Videomatica always took into account.

  5. I’m with you on this, Teresa. I cannot imagine a world without neighborhood bookstores where I can spend hours browsing and petting the store cat, or card stores , or any of the independent stores where you can go and spend some time and have a conversation with a live person. I’m so sorry to hear about your local video store closing.

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