Early Thoughts on the Packaging of ‘Rolling Stone Cover to Cover’

So, a couple days ago I went into BMV books in Toronto on my lunch hour and treated myself to a marked-down copy of this: every issue of Rolling Stone, front to back, on DVD, from 1967 to May 2007. I’m slowly making my way through it all — I certainly have no intention of reading every issue, though I do intend to at least browse through every page of the first ten years or so — and it’s fascinating stuff. I love all the old ads, the letters, the pics, and yeah, sure, what the hell, there’s even an article or two I’ve come across that’s okay.

I was hesitant about buying it, not because I don’t think it’s a good deal (it is), not because I don’t think it’s pretty cool to have at-your-fingertips access to all this stuff, but because I hadn’t read anything about the package itself, i.e., how well-designed it is, how easy it is to navigate through it, etc. As someone who spends an inordinate amount of time computing (both at work and at home), I pretty much have zero patience for non-intuitive PC gadgetry, and the last thing I wanted was some behemoth of a document that would be a pain to sift through.

With that in mind, a few early thoughts on the package. (There’s no point me discussing the contents; everything is scanned directly from the magazine.)

  • There are four discs in the set: one to load the software, the other three being the DVDs which contain the mag itself. The DVDs are divided by chronology. (I’m at work, actually, and don’t have the set in front of me, but I think Disc 1 covers 1967 to 1983, Disc 2 covers 1984 to 1993 and Disc 3 covers the rest.) It’d be nice to have everything on the one disc, obviously, but given the amount of info stored here, I imagine that’s just not feasible. Crucially, the search engine is stored not on the discs but on the application that runs the whole thing (which you load on to your PC). This means that you can search for anything from any era, but if you have the wrong disc in, the system prompts you to put the right disc in. It’s really not that big a pain.
  • The navigation didn’t initially seem all that intuitive to me, but once I latched on to the concept (seriously, I think it took me about 15 minutes, after loading the software), it was fine. It’s all fairly sensible. You have your choice of browsing through every issue (which you can see chronological listings of) or doing word searches to see what comes up.
  • The search function itself (the key issue for me) thus far seems to work well. If you search for a particular critic, for instance, every article they penned for the mag (I presume it captures them all) comes up, and you can click through and read it (a little slow bringing back the results, but again, given the amount of data, not too surprising). The search engine also seems to pull up other articles in which your search item is mentioned. So if you search for “Lester Bangs,” articles not just by Bangs, but with some mention of him, appear in the results. How comprehensive this is, I’m not sure. I guess the best way to test it would be to sit at the PC with a few issues in my lap and try searching for random items, but people get paid big bucks to do that sort of thing, don’t they?
  • One thing the search feature doesn’t catch, unfortunately, is letters, though of course, you can read them all by going to any issue you want. For instance, I tried last night searching for the Ross MacManus letter I posted here yesterday, and it doesn’t come up. However, three different Costello articles come up, which would indicate that El’s father is mentioned in the text.
  • There are extended search capabilities also, but I haven’t even gone there yet.
  • The quality of the scans — the readability of the thing — is very good, though some of the text is a bit of an eye strain, just as it can be in the early years of the mag itself.
  • The only really serious negative for me is the imposed limitations with regards to printing stuff. Obviously, as each page is literally a scan of the original, I get why you can’t do things like copy and paste text (copyright concerns as well, of course). But there are no print options like, for instance, enlarging the size of the doc and spreading one page over two pages… at least not that I’ve seen. Of the half dozen things I’ve printed off, half of those are almost unreadable for this middle-ager — the font size appears to be about .05. (At least in regards to the early issues, we’re talking newspaper size pages with already tiny fonts forced to fit onto an 8 1/2 by 11.) Also, printing a lot of pages will kill your printer cartridge really quickly, as it prints the entire thing as is, including all the graphics and pictures and ads, thus sopping up loads of your black ink.

(I see the irony in this last caveat, of course — duh, the whole point of the thing is to use it on your computer. I suppose. But I know that the likelihood of me reading through the entirety of lengthier pieces — I can’t wait to pore through the Watergate coverage, for instance — on a computer screen is slim to none. So I do think it’s a legit point of contention.)

Last thought: let’s all pray really hard for a CREEM version of the same. Failing that: Zoooooooooo World.

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