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Alien Influences

Editorial By Joe Roberts From Sound Practices Issue 12

 

Sound Practices Issue 12  These days there are more audio magazines around than ever before, yet one has to wonder about the very future of print in an age where more than anybody wants to know about most topics is accessible for free on the Internet. Paper magazines are expensive and resource-thirsty to produce and circulate. It costs a few dollars to print up a magazine and a few more to mail it, then it takes days if not weeks to get where it's going. The same information minus the paper wrapper can be disseminated electronically in seconds for almost free. For that reason alone, paper media are more or less doomed to eventual extinction, sooner or later.

It is an old story how economic considerations drove electronics design from the $20 tube to the 20 cent transistor. Well, the same forces are assuredly at work in the information delivery business. It's still a challenge for a producer to get consumers to pay for digitally-served information in these early days of the technology but this will surely change as people get used to the concept of paying for raw info rather than tangible paper artifacts, buying "ideas" not books. Inevitably, print journalism will have to find a new home, but in the meantime there's a golden age of audio journalism afoot.

Ironically, the same digital revolution that threatens to destroy the magazine fostered a parallel revolution in desktop publishing technology that has totally transformed the landscape of the magazine racks. There used to be significant barriers to entry in the publishing biz but not anymore. Today, anybody with a used computer and spell checker can hack together a decent looking publication on the kitchen table, Of course, certain talents are necessary to put out a good magazine and computers don't make that any easier, but the mechanical aspect of publishing certainly isn't the killer it used to be. The end result is more magazines, different magazines, a great thing.

New magazines brought a lot of new ideas and viewpoints into circulation but the diversity of fact and opinion accessible to the masses multiplied dramatically when online publishing came along. A cheap modem is all you need to get a message out to the whole world. It is quite inspiring to see what people can come up with when freed from the commercial considerations that shape mainstream print media, acting out of a pure hobbyist interest. Money has always been an effective motivator but nothing beats a labor of love for that feeling of connectedness. There is a lot of garbage out there but if you're not on the Net, you're missing a lot of hot audio info.

Already, after only a few years, the alien influences of alternative mags and online resources have seriously eroded the conceptual monopolies the audiophile media barons used to enjoy. The profound influence of the glossy magazines on "high-end' audio in terms of agenda setting, marketplace gatekeeping, and even definition of self for many audiophiles is depressing evidence what happens when the public discourse on a topic is manufactured and controlled by a few commercial institutions.

Given the romantic explorer self-image cultivated by the "High-End" all these years, one would think there could have been a bit more variety of thought and product out there. For decades, audio was like the adolescent who expresses his individuality by dressing exactly like all his friends. The hi-fl scene degenerated into a tribe of like minded recommended-component zombies, speaking the same bizarre lingo, listening to the same awful audiophile records. Finally, there are signs of life, signs of experimentation and growth, thanks to the widening information pool and channels for direct hobbyist to hobbyist interaction on a global scale. Now that's romantic!

Just as the so-called "underground" media have always done, the hobbyist-driven efforts show the mainstream players to be exactly what they are: large creatures that must keep their hungry maws in a deep trough of advertising dollars or die. The bigger a mag gets, the more it must eat, so further out into the fields of lowest common denominator and mass appeal it must roam. Specialization is a luxury of small circulation media, as is the freedom to pursue perspectives independent of advertising considerations. The big mags still rule the contemporary marketplace, but if you want a glimpse of the future, go to the alternative channels of information and discover what the experimenters are doing years before you'll read about it in Stereophile, Audio, or any of the other well-fed paper dinosaurs.

The rise of alternative info outlets is not a question of "the small axe that cut down the big tree." The popularization of access to public communication media is the biggest axe of all time. Clear the landing pad, the invasion has begun.

 

 

 

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