This one is admittedly a bit more rambly, a set of random thoughts put together, but a good discussion topic just the same. I’m not calling conspiracy or anything like that, so accuse me of anything. This isn’t some planned attack…as far as I know anyway, though given some of the parties involved I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out to be case either out of elitism or greed. That’s how the division began though.
Back in the old days when books, scripts, and what have you had to be transcribed by hand few people had books. Before every hotel had a Bible in the nightstand (I’m not sure if that still happens but I kind of hope it does) only the church had copies and you had to accept their context if not their actual reading. Otherwise only the rich and the transcribers themselves could afford books. I don’t know for sure how much exaggeration that is because I’m no historian. What I do know is that the invention of the printing press changed all that. And as the technology got less expensive so did the books. Numerous theaters around the world could act out the same play. The peasant could have numerous books in their home from fiction to cookbooks. Rinse and repeat with every form of media since print. Radios were first owned by the rich but as they became cheaper everyone could have one in their home, all but replaced by television.
Now with computers and new software even making prose, videos, and audio is so much easier and so much more of it can be produced. However, with every up in life there is a down and moving everything online is coming with a cost. Printing prices have somehow gone up, and with it books and comics while finding anything is becoming harder in some ways rather than easier. It’s not a crisis yet, but there are some courses to correct or at least trends to keep an eye on, because paywalls are making things harder again and actually limiting choices.
This isn’t totally true in all cases. Video games were always expensive. Nowadays there is software where you can make video games for fun or a decent game cheap, usually from one or two people using RPG Maker or some other program. It requires a real interest in learning programming languages and how to use this software and I only have a basic knowledge of…well, BASIC and nobody uses it anymore. Flash is dead but other ways of making browser-based games are out there. Of course the problem, and this will be universal, is finding them.
In the case of games you have a number of different services and not everything is behind the paywall. Some games require you to pony up for the real goodies and that’s how they make money on a free or even cheap game. (Even the big name developers have tried to get into that racket.) However, not everything is on Steam or its competitors and system exclusive networks. Still games really haven’t changed in this regard. However, so many of these games require hundreds of hours for a full story and casual games are scoffed at by hardcore gamers because they’re on a tablet or don’t have the flashiest graphics. They’re denying themselves a casual bit of fun. Heck, I play a bit of solitaire every day and my dad plays a few rounds of Bejeweled for fun every day.
Audio dramas never really went away but nobody really airs them on the radio anymore. Radio itself still has what we could now call a “free with ads” model while satellite radio and the internet has made it easier to find old dramas and new ones. However, with so many options you can’t keep track of them all. How does this lead affect casual indulging? I’ll get there.
Let’s talk about the big ones though: TV, books, comics, and movies have suffered the most. Movies you had to pay for and most of its financial issues can be blamed on the economy. TV however is not all that free anymore. It used to be you bought a television set, put up the antenna on your house, and you paid for everything. Cable and satellite TV changed all that, as now you had to pay a monthly fee to get the stuff people were really talking about. It’s even worse now with the paywall streaming services like Netflix. Amazon has some free shows through Freevee (the former IMDB TV) but new stuff is behind the Amazon Prime service. Hulu used to be free with ads, but now even the ad-sponsored videos require a paid subscription on top of it. This still requires you to pay for some kind of internet service just for the ability to pay even more for Netflix or their competitors. You can get an HD antenna to get digital signals since for whatever reason the FCC forced everyone to drop analog signals, making the old aerial antenna on the house or even the TV itself useless, but that’s actually more difficult to pick stuff up. We tried that and you have to be more precise than ever to get all the local stations. We eventually stopped trying and are still paying for cable and internet.
And while I’m a supporter of serialized storytelling the effect is lost when you binge watch (what we old fogeys used to call “marathoning”) a whole season at once because that’s how it’s dropped. Not having to watch it at the same time, spend a day or week thinking about it and theorizing with others at work, school, or forum means you don’t connect with it. Back in the TV days marathons were special events. Now they’re half the schedule. It kind of discourages casual viewing and coming back next week, which standalone stories have an even hire chance of reaching. Everything’s a soap opera now rather than one-shot stories that combine into a larger timeline but not always an epic five-year plot. I’m exhausted. I just want to watch a hero beat a bad guy or the couple come together (sidebar: they’re making a reality version of The Love Boat and I’m not even sure how you do that) and move on to something else, even if it’s dinner or bed.
It’s prose books and comics that are suffering the most. Having a home video release still exists, a good option to trusting that the streaming service will still have the rights when the studio starts its own service and you don’t need the internet to enjoy it. You can still find cheap home videos in the bargain bin. Comic stores have a bargain bin but you have to find a comic store to see what’s in it, and that’s if one is still in your area. It’s also the only place you can find comics at all, and novels are headed down the same path. I don’t even know where to find print magazines outside of a handful of gossip rags anymore.
I used to get comics from the convenience or drug store. I haven’t seen a single one in either. In fact the only place I’ve seen a comic book for sale outside of a comic store or some graphic novel/trade in a section of the book store somewhere in the back before reaching the kids books was Dollar Tree, and that was to promote their own toyline. Plus it was $1.50 while most comics cost around five bucks. They need that flashier paper, hire novelists to write their comics instead of comic writers, and that’s on top of other issues with the stories being produced that don’t factor into this discussion. When Stop & Shop still had a spinner rack, and that’s gone now, you only had three comic companies represented: DC, Marvel, and Archie. I don’t even see those Archie digests anymore in my area. I had heard Alterna was trying to sell comics through Dollar General, which I admittedly don’t go to very often, but last time I was there I didn’t see any. Even then, not all of their comics are less that $4.99, with some of their single issues maybe half of that. I full expect graphic novels to be more but too many of them are trades while the single issues are story arcs padded for the trade.
Remember how comics became a popular media format? You’d grab one at the newstand for some quick enjoyment riding the train home or to give to your sick offspring. Kids would spend a part of their allowance to get the latest adventure of Superman but even if Superman comics weren’t increasingly kid un-friendly since the 90s and especially during the forming of DiDio’s Darker DC and whatever the hell they’re doing now they’re priced above your average allowance. Maybe with your birthday or Christmas money you could get one but then you’re only getting part of the story rather than a standalone and maybe continuing subplots that form continuity and a shared universe for those who can afford a monthly run. If you can find them, you can’t afford them.
Books seem relatively unchanged pricewise, just in keeping with the economy, but finding them is also difficult. There are a few more options than comics, but not much. We used to sell books when I worked at the grocery store, and some of the novels in my collection were impulse buys of books I saw on the rack that caught my interest. Now you have to go to the bookstore to find something and you’re only going to do that or go to Amazon if you have a specific book in mind. Book racks in a box store are buried if they have them at all. A Target near me has a section near the electronics, at least last time I was there so it’s not as bad as comic books yet but give it time.
What about the old “dime novels”? (Adjusted for inflation close to a quarter.) That was a really quick read but they along with fiction prose magazines died off before I was born. The closest to anything cheap would be what they had at the Scholastic Book Fair back in elementary school.
Is the internet a solution? Yes and no. Now you also have to pay for shipping and the website is going to promote a book that is either popular or has been paid for to be advertised by the publisher. “But now you have free options for reading.” Again, yes but with limits. Sites like Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archive exist but those are public domain. You have to scroll through a long list and eyes can only look at a screen for awhile before you get bored or your eyes need a break. They’re also sponsored by donations so that’s a future already in jeopardy. It’s a lot to take in all at once and it may make looking for something casual rather than something specific harder rather than easier. And it’s still not a physical copy, so if someone insists they hold the rights and want it removed they have to comply. DC did this with old Captain Marvel (Shazam) stories with some of the Golden Age comic public domain sites, though franky I think they’re full of crap. That’s another argument.
The internet helps but you still have to know where to look. There was a time when I could just see something cheap in my local store that caught my attention. Now they’re getting more expensive or put behind paywalls and I can’t read or watch it without a computer or tablet. Entertainment no longer exists without a constant flow of money rather than one payment and your done and the only places to find it are outside most people’s routines so they’ll focus on something specific. Then you’re encouraged to ingest it all in one sitting, which means you have to devote time to it rather than just something fun and relaxing for a few hours.
Again, it’s not a crisis and it’s not a conspiracy, though what today’s elitists are doing to stories might as well be. That’s another topic and one I’ve both done before and probably will again. These are just trends I’m noticing and while I’m not scared I have…concerns. Increasingly you can’t watch, play, listen to, or read anything without a major commitment. You have to go to older works, if you can find them, for casual entertainment. I just want to see a few more options. The internet helps but you still have to know where to find sites of old works, and certainly of independent creators who are doing more than some side project for fun. You need money, web access, and a lot of time and effort to enjoy stories more and more. That’s now how these formats became popular.