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Is record buying—even in its current, iPod-diminished form—more or less kaput? That’s what Rick Rubin would have us believe. In a New York Times profile, the man who brought us LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys—and is now co-head of Columbia Records—says that subscription services are the wave of the future.
The subscription would be much like cable. Except, instead of choosing a channel, a subscriber would choose an album—say, Leonard Cohen’s Songs of Leonard Cohen—from a virtual library.
What this would mean for the middlemen, the already hurting bricks-and-mortar record stores, is that they would be even less necessary than they are now. Which, for someone like myself, someone who dreams of pink-label Islands, is just more in a long stream of bad news.
Those who care more about criticism than collecting, however, have less to worry about. A stream of names on a computer screen is just raw data. It only becomes meaningful once you know something about these people. For example, confronted with a screen full of “C”s, how would I know to stop at Manu Chao if it weren’t for gatekeepers, such as Chris Richards and Sasha Frere-Jones, to suggest that, hey, maybe this is something worth checking out?
In the NYT article, Rubin talks about the importance of word-of-mouth in this newly democratized, iPod world. But word-of-mouth has to start somewhere, and chances are, if you’re not reading criticism, someone along the line is. Without it, Chao is just another name that begins with “C.”