‘Limited Edition’ publishing in a digital age.

Walk The Plank 7" first press, "limited blah blah"

Today is Record Store Day 2012. A day designed to “celebrate the art of music” by encouraging people to visit, engage with, and purchase physical products from physical record shops.

It’s a noble aim, to support something that has brought a lot of light to people’s lives — the people at Probe Records in Liverpool, Piccadilly Records in Manchester have been particularly helpful in nudging me down avenues that the racks of HMV, Virgin MegaStore or the algorithms of Amazon’s recommendation engines never could.

The first thing that is particularly interesting about RSD is that it mimics the music industry’s recent shift from sales to events. Touring acts are now the primary focus for income from the major labels, and RSD is an event to encourage merchandise sales. There are plenty of in-store performances in record shops to entice the curious. Although, if you’re a regular at Rough Trade East in London, you might be put-off by today’s special performance: Keane.

The second thing that is interesting is the means in which RSD offers added value: limited edition records. Small number pressings of seven/twelve inches by bands such as Arctic Monkeys, The Hives, Talibam!, Belle & Sebastian and, er, Abba.

What these two things are doing is drawing a massive line in the sand, demonstrating what record stores can do that the online merchants of Amazon, eBay, Discogs etc can’t do: physicality and ‘value’. The online value is usually down to price; offline value is about being able to be part of something, hold something beautiful, and — crucially — be one of the few people to have that experience or product. As Andy Votel notes, “tangible & sociable (not invisible)“.

The internet does scale well, the ‘real’ world does intimacy well. The question is: can the web successfully do limited edition publishing, with intimate value?

It is dangerous to mimic the models of one form in another, and I don’t want to see a replica, but the frictionlessness of online is perverting the value in supply and demand. If everything is always available, can it have value?

It’s a question I’ve looked at briefly in some work. MemCode — a small publishing project — follows an issue model of publishing, looking at quarterly editions of memories and form experiments (issue 2, blue). An initial idea was to have a payment system, for intangible moments/memories, with a built in half-life of the link. That’s a form of the solution, but it doesn’t enable a person to retain the ‘product’ permanently, and leaving a trail of dead links across the web is littering.

Another form of this is a project I have worked on with Philter Phactory’s Weavrs MMM — a storytelling platform for bots, where a majority of the narrative is hard-written and a percentage is generated based on searches and API calls. It’s a version of ltd edt as each version is likely very different, but it’s not quite the same.

At the moment, it is very binary: paywall or completely open. Yesterday, I noticed this tweet from Caitlin Moran (by way of Mary Hamilton) about a temporary paywall amnesty:

I think this is the start of something along the lines of what I describe above. The offering is the value of not having to pay, but also the satisfaction of being one of the people who got it when it was available.

A limited edition offering, a ‘first pressing’.


2 thoughts on “‘Limited Edition’ publishing in a digital age.

  1. I’ve been thinking about fiction as liquid forms recently. Following on from Jeff Noon’s dub plate fiction. I was thinking about the multitude of versions of Frankie Hollywood’s Two Tribes. Simon T and I were comparing versions, and I said I thought there was an algo somewhere constantly remixing and releasing versions so no one would ever have them all, or remember them all.

    Fiction as a moveable thing – like a memory.

    and that we should work on ways of capturing snapshots of these fictions, that we could store, and hold and share – the relationship between memory and a photo for example. Russell thinks fiction is a trap – its too easy.

    I have also relating this to games, and missions. specifically a scenario that I play is different to yours based on activity, and prowess (bad word) and even goals and rewards are algo generated. but a framework to allow us to compare gets hard. (as in life) but I am not sure that is a problem that needs to be fixed.


  2. I liked your blog post. It made me think of this:

    The art market for new media art is an interesting model for what you’re talking about. In order to be valuable and saleable, a kind of arbitrary scarcity needs to be introduced into reproducible or immaterial artworks, and this typically means transcoding digital experiences into object form (and sticking an artist’s signature on that object, for authenticity’s sake). I’ve seen signed, editioned CD-ROMS of freely available artist-made generative software for sale at galleries in the past: they may as well just sell the artist’s signature.

    But temporarily removing pay-walls is just as arbitrary, in my view: value as related to scarcity only operates in an object-based economic model that has the idea of an ‘original’ at its centre. Maybe a re-reading of Walter Benjamin’s “Work of Art In The Age Of…” and “Unpacking My Library” might be useful.

    (I’ll get on to that straight away.)

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