I find them useful - by writing a list, it helps me organize the way I think about the previous year's art/culture/entertainment/media. But also, by reading other people's lists, I always find gems that I've overlooked. Essentially - it's a great way to get friends to make recommendations.
Over the next several days, I'll be posting these lists from people who were nice enough to contribute them (after all, ranking your top favorite movies, books, albums, TV shows, etc. is not as easy as it seems - and it can be quite time consuming - I've spent 8 hours, for example, working on my first list - my favorite music of 2012).
But before we get started, I want to comment about the dangers I see in our willing participation in Download Culture. When we choose to download or stream content instead of buying a record, book, DVD, etc. we're fucking ourselves long term because of laziness, novelty and ignorance.
Remember back when record labels produced records? Book publishers published books? Movie studios made movies? Video game companies made video games cartridges and discs? Increasingly, we are now referring to these one-time manufacturers as "content providers." They don't make things anymore, they provide us with content for our gadgets.
This may seem like a small change in our perception of their role, but it's huge, and it's intentional.
A record is not an abstraction. A DVD, a book, a video game disc - these are real things. They are tangible. Content is not a tangible good. Content is an abstraction.
The difference? You can resell a tangible good. You cannot resell content.
I have worked in the video game industry, in the music biz and in publishing.
When I worked in publishing, I discovered many large publishers hated, HATED the secondary (used) market. When I worked in the video game industry, I found the same thing. Large video game companies loathed used game sellers. And when I worked at a record label, I found many of the large labels felt the same way - they hated used CD dealers.
These big labels/studios/publishing houses see the secondary market as direct competition. If you buy a used copy of something, not only are they not seeing any money from it (which they believe they have a right to), they are convinced they are losing money from that sale because you are not buying a new copy of that item.
The mistaken rationale they have is that when a used copy of something is sold, that's one less new copy they'll sell. Any of us who buy used goods know this isn't the way it works. There are records I will never buy at new prices. However, a $5-$10 used copy? That changes my perspective on my internal value vs. need formula.
The big publishing corporations believe that when you buy a book, CD, DVD, etc. - you are essentially just leasing the content and you don't have the right to resell that content should you decide that you don't have enough shelf space for it, or it wasn't as good as you'd hoped, or you're short on cash and just need to sell some shit off. The problem for them is you have the physical book, CD, DVD - so it's easy for you to do.
And while they continue to file suit after suit to try to outlaw used sales, they also push us to move more and more toward a digital download/streaming content model. After all, when you're done with that downloaded book - you can't resell it - you just back it up or delete it. Therefore you are not competing with them. There is no secondary market for digital content.
Consumers are under the impression that this content leasing model will serve their interests better - that they will have easier access to more content at a lower price, but this too is a mistake.
Remember how CD prices were supposed to drop but record labels found that consumers were willing to pay higher prices for them so the consumer cost never went down (thereby fueling a large used CD market)? The same thing is happening with downloads.
When you deduct the manufacturing costs of the physical objects, when you deduct shipping costs, when you deduct the retail markup savings by cutting out stores - digital content should be a small fraction of the cost of the physical copy - but it isn't.
In some cases, the download is just as expensive as a new physical copy. In some cases, a download is more expensive than a new physical copy. But in every case, a download is more expensive than a used copy.
Not to mention - if you are buying downloads or streaming - you are most likely primarily supporting a small handful of very large online retailers - and these retailers, like Amazon, can be nasty beasts that we really shouldn't be feeding.
We're also strangling brick and mortar stores who not only can provide us with convenience (if you need a gift for a party tonight, where do you go?) and expertise, but selection.
Not everything that was physically manufactured is available digitally. Nor will it ever be. So once we help them kill the secondary used/collector's market, it will be solely the decision of the major publishers what content we have any kind of access to.
You won't be able to find/buy out of print items - out of print will mean cease to exist. This works well for companies like Disney and embarrassments like Song of The South (VHS copies can still be found on eBay), but not so much for those of us who love arts.
And finally, reliability on what digital downloaders/streamers offer is making us stupid and keeping us less informed. For example, in a class I teach, I had a handful of recommended documentaries for my students to watch on their own time for class credit.
My students had no idea how to see these films. I was flabbergasted. I asked them how do they usually see movies. Most responded, "Red Box" and some said "streaming."
Despite a whole world of movies out there, if they can't get it from a box or if it isn't automatically provided for them via streaming, as far as they are concerned it doesn't exist. This can not possibly bode well for media/arts/culture.
In this instance I assured them that every documentary on my list was available at Video Americain, and that figuring out a way to see these movies is part of the assignment.
But let's just take a look at the world we're creating: a world where we no longer have the right to resell the arts/entertainment/media we consume, a world where we pay more money to not have that right, and world in which a handful of giant media corporations make the decisions of what "content" we have access to.
We're fucking ourselves with Download Culture, folks. Yeah we all use it, me included. But we should be aware of the future we're building for ourselves with each click of the mouse, and we should think about the way in which we use it.
That being said, we're just about ready to get on with the 2012 Year-End Wrap-Up.