Media Scarcity in a Time of Entertainment Abundance
I recently had my name day and added 2 years to the 4 decades I’ve been on the earth. I observed my birthday by undertaking a pilgrimage to the closest mecca of low-cost contemporary home furnishings, to buy some shelves for my turntable and records. After spending more than 20 years collecting records, I still did not have an ideal storage solution for them. While I’ve always rejected the argument that people collect vinyl for purely performative reasons, I’ve seen through Instagram’s discover algorithm that there are many people who do enjoy showing off their records. With very few exceptions, these people have much better storage solutions than apple crates sitting under a 25-year-old pinball machine (my old setup).
Once I had acquired and put together some new Kallax shelves and organized my audio equipment and media, my thoughts turned to whether I needed to get some new vinyl to break in the new setup. My brother and sister-in-law had generously gifted me with a Bandcamp gift card and I had a couple of choices for how to spend it. I could:
- Buy something digital that was not available on Apple Music (these finds are increasingly rare, but definitely still out there).
- Buy a physical copy of something that I already have access to via streaming.
With my new furniture in mind, I was leaning towards the latter option. Then, I ran into a problem that I’m not used to dealing with: scarcity.
With everything available digitally and no limitations on the number of consumers, I’ve gotten used to being able to acquire virtually any music I want. When I step back into the world of physical media, I have to deal with manufactured goods, supply chains and consumer buying projections.
A phrase that has been relegated to the back of my mind while living in this new age of digital abundance is “sold out.” As I looked back at some of the records I had my eye on at Bandcamp, I came across the phrase more than once, when trying to buy physical copies of albums I had loved during my high school days. I remembered well those days of making trips to the mall in the mostly vain hopes that the Sam Goody would have an album by that band that I’d heard the bass player from Dinosaur Jr. had started.
Many record companies release a limited number of records on colored vinyl to entice consumers to buy early. It’s a strategy that makes sense. Frequently, I’m tempted to wait to buy a copy of an album on vinyl until I’m sure it’s worth shelling out the American bucks. The “peak vinyl” program, as Merge Records calls it, turns that around and makes it more enticing to go ahead and buy the album, before it’s released, to get the cool color variants, before they are all gone. It’s a bummer when you don’t order an album early enough to get the “special” version, especially when it’s one of your favorite bands and you didn’t originally know they had something coming out. It’s something else entirely when you can’t get the album at all. That is accompanied by a feeling that to which I’ve grown unaccustomed.