So I went to Amazon to pick up Constance Classen’s The Deepest Sense: A Cultural History of Touch, which I’m looking forward to reading. This is what I found:
While I’m definitely interested in picking up the book, and while it is clearly eligible for super saver shipping, this is the first over-$1500 academic paperback I’ve ever seen. Either someone made a whopper of a typo, Amazon has some kind of algorithmic error (or U of Illinois press does), or the press has a truly insane pricing plan for purchasers outside the United States.
Luckily, there are other vendors who will sell it for less.
Assuming it’s an error, and one that might be to the author’s detriment, I emailed Amazon to ask why the book was so expensive. If I hear back, I’ll post it here.
Here’s the email I got back from Amazon. Suitably cryptic:
Thank you for writing to us at Amazon.ca.
I am sorry, but this item’s price “The Deepest Sense” was listed as wrongly on our web site.
We build our web site information from many sources, and we really appreciate knowing about any errors which find their way into it.
I’ve forwarded your message to the inventory department and I can ensure that this error is corrected as soon as possible. This process will takes 5 to 7 business days, so we request you to wait until that time to get this issue corrected.
I will write back to you within 5 to 7 business days with a resolution.
Thank you for your patience and understanding, and thanks for shopping at Amazon.ca.
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On Facebook, Dave Noon pointed me to this $23 million book about flies.
Yesterday’s New York Times caught up with a story that’s been making the rounds of the internet music circles since Zoe Keating published her finances about a year ago: in many cases, Spotify pays so little they might as well not be paying artists at all. Sure, artists get fractions of cents in royalties, but very few, if any, will be able to make a living off streaming audio. This should surprise nobody. The commodity status of recordings has been in question since the file-sharing boom. But getting people un-used to the idea of buying recordings does not automatically mean that the recordings will lose their commodity status. In the spotify example, recordings have moved from physical commodity to service. Of course, radio–and practices like middle music before it–already employed a service model for music. But middle music was performed by living musicians who were paid; radio had a royalties system tied to a commodity system of recordings. Spotify is what you get when you subtract recordings from radio.
In their 2006 book Digital Music Wars, Patrick Burkart and Tom McCourt predicted this outcome. They argue that the utility model–they adopt the term “celestial jukebox” from industry publications–is actually preferable to the sales-of-goods model for large segments of digital media and music industries, and that the result will be diminished returns for both musicians and for audiences:
The Jukebox may promise more innovative music, more communities of interest for consumer, and lower prices for music; in fact, however, it gives us less (music in partial or damaged or disappearing files) and takes from us more (our privacy and our fair-use rights) than the old system. . . . Rather than a garden of abundance, the Celestial Jukebox offers a metered rationing of access to tiered levels of information, knowledge and culture, based on the ability to pay repeatedly for goods that formerly could be purchased outright or copied for free (136-137).
Real reform of the music industry has to start with social questions about music, not new business models. How do we want to support musicians and music-making? What kinds of musical culture do we want to develop? Those questions should animate social thought about music, music criticism, and music policy. If you’ve never heard of music policy as a current thing, that’s because we need it right now.
When I first moved to Montreal in 2004, people would tell me they were going to “London” and I’d get excited for them because I thought they were going to the UK. Then they’d say “London, Ontario” and it would be slightly disappointing. Nine years later, last night, I’m checking in at the airport to fly to London, Ontario for the first time and the woman says to me “can I see your passport?” When I explain it’s Ontario, she said “oh, sorry” and gave me a disappointed look.
Some cosmic loop has just closed.