Digital Dilemma

You know, I'm a funny one when it comes to hobbies and interests. I have several, but am fickle with them. I become obsessed with one, while going slightly cooler on the others. The obsession lasts for a while, before I switch focus to another interest.

Those other interests never go away altogether - I'm not that fickle. It's more that they go soft-focus in my mind's eye. Which makes things difficult, in the sense that it's difficult to throw too much stuff away, in case I suddenly become properly re-obsessed with it later. 

Right now, this season, the overriding obsession is magic. As in magic tricks, rather than alleged 'real' magic. A strong cord of magic nostalgia leads back into my childhood. I loved magic as a kid and performed as a magician. Sometimes I even got paid for it. 

Back then, I subscribed to a magazine called the Magigram, a wonderful affair published by Devon's Supreme Magic Company, which was then the biggest magic mail-order company on the globe. Thankfully, I still have several volumes of the Magigram from childhood. Phew. Problem is, this monthly title ran for 27 volumes, from 1966 to 1995, totalling over 22,000 pages. That's a lot of magazines to collect. And of course, I find myself wanting all of them. 

Yeah, that's me.  Go on, laugh it up
By now, you may find your eyes flitting restlessly back to the title of this piece. You may find yourself impatient to hear about this Digital Dilemma of mine. Well, here's the thing. An hour ago, I learnt that there are websites like and Elmwood Magic, which sell various things including scanned PDF files of old magic texts. I searched for "Magigram" at and all 27 volumes of the magazine appeared. You can buy them all on DVD-ROM for $70 or download them all for $65. Twenty-seven years' worth of conjuring history - an unimaginable amount of magical wisdom from countless columnists and contributors - reduced to a single instant collection. 

I should have been delighted. And part of me was. But mainly I felt kind of... agonised. 

"No! This is just too easy. Where's the grand quest, the great hunt? The gradual collection-building? The joy of finding those missing issues? The hours of scanning eBay and setting up automatic alerts?"

I know that doesn't sound great. It sounds irrational. Those feelings momentarily made me wonder what my hobby-obsessions are really all about. Do I collect things for the things themselves, or for the experience of collecting them?

In fairness to me, though, it's about more than just the hunt. After all, if someone turned up at my front door with all 27 physical volumes of the Magigram, it would be like all my Christmases coming at once (that's a slightly disturbing phrase, actually - makes me picture a quick blur of festive joy, followed by me collapsing, reduced to a skeleton.) Part of the appeal of wonderful things like the Magigram is their physicality. Their age, their history. The smell of the pages, that slight yellowing around the staples. The experience of having the magazine in your hands - one which will almost certainly have been shared by magicians before you (I have no serious aspirations to become a magician, incidentally, although I still buy and perform tricks. Writing is my discipline of choice and I've no time for another. I'm more in love with the iconography of magic. The props, the imagery, the feel of it all.) 

So my Digital Dilemma is this. Do I buy PDFs of every Magigram ever, in one easy, cheap fell swoop? Or I do persist with collecting the physical magazine - an endeavour which will quite probably take months or years and cost a great deal more? 

The physical magazines will take up more space, but look great on the shelves. The PDF magazines will take up zero space, but deny me the tactile experience and force me to zoom in on pages on my iPad screen. I'll also most likely never be able to sell PDF files in the future.  I doubt their value will accrue.  

You can probably tell which way I'm leaning, but officially, I'm still thinking about it. As I'm sure you are, with various media. Do you switch to buying ebooks or stick with good old-fashioned dog-eared paper novels? Do you eBay-off all those CDs, download new music and enjoy the feng shui benefits therein? The digital dilemmas go on. 

I think many of us will make different decisions about different media. It's not as if we have to choose 'physical' or 'digital' right across the board. For most of us, it will be a mixture. I, thankfully, don't have much of a fetish for paper books, so have been able to switch to the Kindle app for iPad and the ease of wirelessly, auto-magically, downloading books from Amazon. I'm also, rightly or wrongly, confident that digital books are sufficiently popular for me to only publish ebooks. My How To Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne And Everyone Else book, from last year, remains digital-only, and I suspect the same will be true of my forthcoming novella The Beast In The Basement (first you've heard of that title? Clearly you don't read my official Facebook page - shame on you. Yes.) 

Magazines are a different matter. I love them and am mindful that a double-page spread isn't going to fit onto any current digital screen (not a portable one anyway, but I spend enough time in front of the PC screen as it is, without sitting there in order to read a magazine) with any kind of clarity. The iPad screen isn't big enough to do them justice. CDs, DVDs, comics and Blu Rays also continue to be things which I almost exclusively want to own in the physical realm. 

Which decisions have you made and why? Have those decisions differed for each medium? Have you wholeheartedly embraced digital items full-stop, or do you plan never to touch them, ever? Tell me below, in Comments. Digitally. 

Oh, and if you have a pile of Magigram magazines doing nothing in your loft, or Supreme catalogues, tell me privately.


As a footnote, if you share my love for the Supreme Magic Company, you owe it to yourself to pick up a physical book called Dealing With Magic - The Rise And Fall Of The Supreme Magic Company.  Written by magician Ian Adair, who was instrumental in the company for most of its run, it's a wonderful look back at that era and a great story, albeit one with a pretty sad ending, which speaks volumes about how the rise of corporate thinking ruined many a creative goldmine.

You can get the book from Ian directly, by sending a cheque for £17.60 (including p&p in the UK - it's more if you're overseas), made out to 'Ian Adair', to this address: Ian Adair, Mystic House, 15 Oak Tree Drive, Barnstaple, Devon EX32 OHE.  For details on overseas orders, you can contact Ian on this e-mail address.


My Amazon-acclaimed non-fiction ebook How To Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne And Everyone Else is out now on Amazon UK, Amazon US and Amazon Germany, among others.  You can also get a Triple Pack of this very same ebook (PDF, ePub and Kindle/mobi files) direct from me.  Full details here.

How to Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne and Everyone Else


Mike Record said...

For a long time I resisted digital music. I refused to get an iPod and banged on ad infinitum about how the physicality of the cd case, the artwork and the disc were all vital. I spent many years collecting all the Wildhearts material I could find. I paid over the odds for long deleted singles off eBay so I could hear the b-sides. I took pride in arranging them on my shelf.

But I also loved my high tech phones and eventually got an iPhone, and that changed everything. The immediacy of hearing a new piece of music that I hadn't heard before and then being able to own it 5 minutes later after a few button presses was intoxicating.

The digital age has feeder my desire for immediacy. If I get a sudden urge to read or listen to something that has peaked my interest I can download it there and then for little cost. This has meant that I have gotten into bands that I never would have before due to having to commit to a whole album up front. I've started read the classics like Gulliver's Travels, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde because they are free and there for the reading. I still don't download films because they take more time - I add them to my Lovefilm account and let them take their turn for my attention.

However, when immediacy isn't the issue I still favour hard copies. Anything that isn't desired on a whim I will actively purchase the 'proper' version, like a new Terry Pratchett novel, or a new album by a band I already like, or a film I already like and want to own.

The digital format has allowed me to indulge in impulse whereas before I would have not committed to the risk, but for pre-planned already established love - the physical copy is must for me, otherwise it doesn't feel 'real'.

So yeah, it's a weird one.

Jason Arnopp said...

Thanks for that post, Mike - immediacy is indeed a really valid factor when making these choices.

Since writing this blogpost, and indeed as a direct result of it, I've found a magician with a full collection of Magigrams to sell. Negotiations have ended and I'm buying them all, which is amazing. Can't now eat for a month, but that probably isn't such a bad thing.