Numlock News: February 12, 2024 • Cassettes, Darwin, Radio
By Walt Hickey
For the past 18 years, a project has attempted to identify thousands of items in British naturalist Charles Darwin’s expansive library, and has identified 440 previously unknown titles that were in the scientist’s stacks. The inventory of his home following his death counted 2,065 bound books as well as an unknown number of unbound volumes and pamphlets. Today, the catalog of his books is understood to be 7,400 titles across 13,000 volumes. At the time of his death, the valuation of this library came in at a paltry 66 pounds and 10 shillings, or about £4,400 in today’s valuation, which neglects the contemporary reality that any book known to have belonged to Darwin will fetch a hefty price at auction.
Last night's Super Bowl was also an extremely lucrative night for the music industry, as the ads are a centerpiece of the $1.5 billion synch business. That's the money gained from licensing songs to commercials, movies and television, and it's a huge driver of ancillary revenue for musicians. A song played during a commercial last night reaped the labels anywhere from $150,000 to over $1 million. Most of the time the money goes toward well-known and longstanding hits over more recent music.
A 200-foot-tall AM radio tower belonging to the radio station WJLX 101.5 FM/1240 AM has gone missing, and is believed to have been stolen. It's been there since the 1950s, and all that remains now is a pile of wires where otherwise a $200,000 structure once was. Replacement costs just to bring things back online are estimated to be $60,000.
Cassette tapes are mounting a rebound in Japan, where the Tower Records store in Shibuya has expanded its cassette tape selection sixfold and now stocks on the order of 3,000 tapes to keep up with demand. Just as vinyl has mounted a rebound, so too have other retro formats, but this is especially odd, mainly because vinyl actually sounds great whereas cassette tapes somewhat notoriously sound cruddy after a long duration of use. Nevertheless, Side-B Creations, also in the trendy Shibuya district of Tokyo, has reported that it's selling 10 times as many cassette players today as it did in 2017.
Peak TV has peaked, as in 2023 there were just 516 adult scripted original series that aired on broadcast, streaming or cable, down 14 percent from the 600 series that aired in 2022. That is a steep drop, steeper than the 7 percent dip seen in the 2020 COVID year, and is a sign that the heady days where all the lights were green and all the seasons were renewed are coming to an end. Still, despite the dip, there is still way more television than in the era before the Golden Age of television, as in 2002 there were just 182 such shows.
Sales at U.S. restaurants are projected to rise from an estimated $997 billion in 2023 all the way up to $1.1 trillion in 2024. That means that the restaurant industry in the United States will be bringing in $3 billion every day, to the tune of $125 million per hour. That doesn't necessarily mean that restaurants are going to be making a ton of profit — food costs, labor and other costs rising are fueling some of that growth, which will eat into margins in the notoriously tight-margined space — but nevertheless it's expected that the industry will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.
The National Chicken Council expects that 1.45 billion wings will be eaten on Super Bowl Sunday, and while that is bad news for approximately 700 million chickens, it does shine a spotlight on one of the most volatile and arguably liminal dishes on a given menu. Restaurants have been agonizing over wings, and how precisely to sell them. Are they an appetizer, or are they a main course? Historically, wings were considered an app, but that perception has shifted as a number of restaurants emerged that treated them as the main star. That perception change has been costly for restaurants: If they're an appetizer, they're priced lower than a main course, and restaurants sweat it when it becomes popular for diners to order a cheaper app as their main. It's led some restaurants to try to bury the wings on their menus, so that only the diehards will find them.
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