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16 January, 2007

Opposite extremes

A member of the Porcupine Tree Forum happened to notice that the Virgin online music store offers downloads of recent Porcupine Tree albums, including a radio edit of 'Shallow' which was previously only available as a not-for-sale promo single.

This excited certain completists, but I was a little disparaging: it's a DRM'd, restricted-resolution download, which inherently wouldn't interest me, and it's 'Shallow', a trashy pop-rock track which I'd have preferred to have been never released at all.

One response puzzled me:

but... but... it's Porcupine Tree, and a version not previously available!
I'm no collector or Porcupine Tree fanboy, and don't quite understand the 'need' to have everything they've ever released, but I have particular trouble comprehending the desire to collect downloaded material.
I can just about understand someone collecting 'things', such as coloured vinyl special editions with hand-made sleeves (though I wouldn't participate myself), but a download is just a string of 1s and 0s.

Seriously: what is the attraction of having an intangible, abbreviated copy of an existing track? Just having it? Being able to tell people you have it?

Another person shared my lack of interest in downloads:

I'm not tempted. It's like [someone else] said I need the product. didn't even download Rockpalast. It won't feel the same.
That's a bit different, and I don't understand that attitude either. The 'Rockpalast' concert material was previously unavailable at all (not merely edits of existing tracks, like the 'Shallow' promo single), and the downloads sold by Burning Shed are non-DRM'd .wav files (losslessly compressed to .flac). By definition, there's absolutely no difference, bit-for-bit, between a mass-produced CD and a download burned to CD-R. Both discs would contain identical .wav files.

If it's about the music, I see no disadvantage in downloading. Download, uncompress, burn, enjoy.
If it's about the object, and the music doesn't matter to you as much as the shiny plastic disc in your hand, okay, there's a difference, but I genuinely don't understand why it matters. Remember, when there's no known plan to ever release the recording on CD, it's download or nothing.

It's interesting that this one topic drew out the two extremes of 'fandom'. At one end, there are those who'll buy anything, simply to possess every note and hiccough ever committed to recording. At the other, there are supposed fans who'd rather not hear the music at all than buy a release they can't physically fondle.

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