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Contribution: "Culture, SOS the analogue is back!" by Paul Vacca

Those who predicted a “great digital replacement” in culture are paying for their errors. Even if digital usages have largely expanded, analogue practices are far from becoming obsolete, on the contrary they are going through a huge renaissance. Maybe it’s the battle analogue/digital that has become outdated?



Faced with the inexorable advancements in our digital cultural practices – streaming playlists, binge watching, catch TV, BOD, social curation, e-books, etc. – some signs observed during the last few months have shown that the analogue world, that some considered to be on the path of extinction, is resisting.

And even better.

The vinyl record - yes, that voluminous object with little practicality – has recently shown a surge in sales attaining similar levels to 1989. In the United States, the vinyl is more profitable than the free streaming platforms that are financed by advertising[1] and next year estimations project a 10% take-over of the music market. The “book” market also tripled since the birth of Napster in 1999 and the peer-to-peer wave.

The good old paper book, is also retrieving its flair, and independent bookstores are flourishing in cities while the e-book for the first time experienced a slow-down[2]. To such an extent that at Waterstones, the British bookstore chain, took down e-book readers from their shelves and replaced them with books[3].

At the same time as mass streaming and home streaming, people are still queuing up in front of movie theatres. Even better, to the favor of the next Tarantino, The Hateful Eight filmed with a 70mm Super Cinemascope (Ultra Panavision 70), the Weinstein Company equipped more than a hundred cinemas with voluminous old style projectors that they succeed to find. The other movie directors will probably follow after…

It’s more than a resistance movement, it’s a renaissance. More profound that a simple “vintage” fashion trend.

The rejuvenation of old formats

A desire to return to the past? Has the zeitgeist “it was better before” returned? Apparently not. The renaissance of vinyl records for example is a digital natives’ phenomena – those who have never experienced it even as babies chewing on their parent’s CDs, the same parents who are today listening to their playlists on Spotify, Deezer or Apple Music (and who would swear to never return to the vinyl world!)

In fact, the return of “old formats” mainly would mean the affirmation of something new.  A bit like in “Pierre Ménard, the author of the Quichotte”[4], the novel in which Borges imagines a 20th century writer that takes up the enterprise of rewriting word by word the Don Quichotte of Cervantès. With a result surpassing the original as Ménard consequently proposes a linguistic recreation, while as Cervantès wrote flatly in the Spanish of his times.

While before, the paper book, the vinyl or the cinema hall meant the only access routes to culture, today they are transforming within a digital ecosystem with unusual user experience is generalized. This isn’t a revival, but a true renaissance. From this angle, the paper book can maybe be reconsidered as a “100% immersive de-connected format”; listening to vinyl records as “a full engaging experience of an album concept outside of the playlist stream” and the movie theatre or concert experience as some “collective sensorial immersion” …This is Analogue 2.0.

The era of synergies

Exits the apocalyptic fantasies for a “great digital replacement”, a kind of digital millennialism. A virtuous circle is at work: as digital usages spread further, the greater becomes the attractiveness of analogue supports. It’s a fact that analogue and digital are meant to mutually reinforce each other.

Culture and creative industries have much to gain from this synergy that is a guarantee for diversity. On one side, it’s in the best interest of historical industries to embrace digital formats without the fear of disappearing. On the contrary. A young French company, Delight[5], for example offers a new approach to data for show producers. A science that is eminently digital – the alchemy of data and algorithms – at the service of a vital need that can’t get any more analogue: filling theatres and staging successful productions. Or Pathé that opened in Paris an ultra-modern cinema hall, Les Fauvettes, to project classics.

On the other side, new digital entrants should no longer think in terms of replacing formats or driving out existing players, but in terms of recreating services. How many supposedly augmented experiences have ended up providing diminished experiences? Inversely, Metabook[6], an application for mobile phones and tablets, aims to give birth to new interactive narratives formats using original creations.

No format is obsolete. But the battle between formats is decidedly so.

[4] Jorge Luis Borges Fictions (Folio)



About Paul Vacca

Paul Vacca is a novelist, essayist and consultant. He scans the social transformations related to digital technologies as well as the trends in media and cultural markets. He published articles inTechnikartLe Monde and La Revue des Deux Mondes, is a speaker for conferences at the Institut Français de la Mode and collaborates to the think-tank La Villa Numeris.

Recent publications: the novel Comment Thomas Leclerc 10 ans 3 mois et 4 jours est devenu Tom L’éclair et a sauvé le monde (Belfond 2015) and the essay La Société du hold-up - Le nouveau récit du capitalisme (Fayard 2012).

On Twitter : @Paul_Vacca