It was a bit of bittersweet sad news today when Graeme Read and Grant Whittingham decided to shut down both ABBAMAIL.com and the ABBAMAIL mailing list which has been a big part of my life for almost 12 years now. The closing was just under three months shy of ABBAMAIL’s 12th birthday.
ABBAMAIL wasn’t so much just a bunch of ABBA fans as it was a living, breathing community. While in the late 1990’s, a lot of online fan communities consisted of lists, fairly impersonal message boards, and fairly simple webpages, I personally was a member of a quite a number of them for various hobbies and interests. And it seemed without fail that as soon as the subjects of the list seemed to disappear off the pop culture radar, so did the people in these communities and many of them fade out and disappeared. ABBAMAIL was different.
Unlike any other forum I had been a part of from the same era, ABBAMAIL was quite a unique beast. A lot of that is due to the community’s founders, Graeme Read and Grant Whittingham, who fostered a true sense of community, simply being an ABBA fan was something all of us on the list had in common, but for Graeme and Grant that simply wasn’t enough. Members of the list were expected to introduce themselves and share that person behind behind the letters that make up our names.
It started with being required to always sign every e-mail to the list with our first and last names as well as cities and country. It started giving people on the list a way to start to get to know each other on the basis of where on Earth you resided. You couldn’t just be anonymous. Soon this started to give way to people sharing the details of their lives and it didn’t matter if the content was ABBA related or not, in fact, for a lot of folks, the getting to know the others on the list was far more interesting than the current news going on in the ABBA world. So even with the ebbs and flows of ABBA related activities ABBAMAIL was always a bustling vibrant community even during the slow ABBA news times.
In fact, this annoyed some folks on the list who really only wanted ABBA news and in a large part, the ABBAMAIL.com website was developed as a way to serve that news separately from the fan community. Later the site would eventually incorporate a chat room, a separate forum entity, and even columns, which I served as one of several columnists featured on the website.
One of the things that Graeme Read did early on in the history of ABBAMAIL that really helped foster the sense of community is that he got in a plane and took a tour of many of the cities where many of the frequent contributors to the list were with the express purpose of meeting those individuals. And considering he was coming from Australia, hitting the US and Canada in several cities and then hitting a few select cities in Europe, he was committing to a big adventure.
Looking back now, it was a brilliant move to put a name and face to ABBAMAIL and even though Graeme was meeting many people individually or in small groups, it was bringing us all together and showing that one of the best parts about ABBAMAIL was getting out there and making a personal face to face connection. It’s been a hallmark of ABBAMAIL ever since, especially when the “Rogues Gallery” was added to ABBAMAIL’s website where list members were encouraged to send in a photo of themselves so that it would put a face with a name. Not long after his tour, many list members were meeting up with each other in person and making ABBAMAIL a much more personal community.
In fact, people on the list were getting to know each other so well on the list that first meetings in person really weren’t that awkward at all. They felt more like the kind of gathering where you already knew the person so well, you were just seeing them again. And because people have been so open with the sharing of their lives, there never was any trepidation about what if this person for real is nothing like their online persona.
This has resulted in the establishment of a wonderful world-wide network of friends. This truly has been the cornerstone of my ABBAMAIL experience. To to be perfectly honest, my absolute favorite band of all time, is not ABBA, it’s Roxette. But due to ABBAMAIL, I have a greater network of friends that has been a daily part of my life over the last twelve years. I can count the number of lasting friendships I’ve had with other Roxette fans on one hand and still have a couple fingers to spare in my count. But with ABBAMAIL, it was always like being part of a large community, and lets face it ABBA ceased to exist as a current and relevant band in 1982, twelve years prior to the formation of ABBAMAIL so with very few exceptions in that time were we ever talking about “new” ABBA material.
One of the biggest positive effects of ABBAMAIL has been it’s role in helping Univeral put out superior quality ABBA product. For example, in 1997, Universal issued the first set of ABBA remastered albums, and the quality of the work was horrible. The packaging was terrible, the silkscreening on the discs were hideous, and there were a lot of errors on the CDs, such as an edit version of “The Name Of The Game” being used instead of the proper album version on “The Album.” And the liner notes in that release were written by John Tobler, a music journalist, who at one time during ABBA’s original run was assigned to write about them, but was found to be someone who would include rumors as if they were fact in his write ups and simply wouldn’t do the necessary research and fact checking.
The complaints sent into Universal by ABBAMAILers led to new remasters being done in 2001. While these releases were still far from perfect, they were a vast improvement over the previous remasters. They were released in collectible vinyl, limited edition digipak CDs (in Europe, the US only got digipaks and they are still available), and jewel case CDs (available everywhere except the US). Noted ABBA historian, Carl Magnus Palm, who was highly recommended by ABBAMAIL wrote the liner notes in high quality booklets that spanned many pages, featured the lyrics, and archival photos, it was Universal’s first attempt at a real quality product as far as ABBA were concerned.
For most of the years that Universal has had control of ABBA’s catalogue, the relationship between Universal and ABBAMAIL was quite amicable. In fact, local branches of Universal, such as Universal Australia, regularly courted ABBAMAIL’s help to launch ABBA products, such as “ABBA: The Movie” on DVD where ABBAMAIL was given several promotional items to offer as prizes in drawings and invitations to attend special screenings. This came to the forefront when Universal Sweden decided to take legal action against ABBAMAIL, mainly for having a webshop of unauthorized material which the sales of which funded the mailing list and the website. While none of the material offered in the webshop contained any of the commercially available ABBA material, Universal sought to shut down the operation.
Ultimately Universal lost their battle against ABBAMAIL but it left a bitter taste in the mouths of ABBAMAIL’s founders Graeme Read and Grant Whittingham. Although the support of the ABBAMAIL community ultimately converted to a paid membership plan to the mailing list, and the webshop only able to offer limited items, ABBAMAIL continued on. In fact, it made ABBAMAIL’s 10th anniversary all that more poignant in January of 2007 when several of ABBAMAIL’s list members covertly organized a collection of funds and some gifts to show the appreciation the community felt towards Graeme and Grant for providing such a wonderful forum.
Well the community continued on, but ultimately Graeme and Grant have decided that as a result many reasons they ultimately no longer feel they are ABBA fans. And basically it was no longer fun for them and it was consuming too much of their time and their own funds to continue when the passion to continue simply was no longer there. So today, ABBAMAIL as it has existed for nearly 12 years has ended. The website has been deleted save a couple of letters from Graeme and Grant to explain their decision and plans for the future.
The community will go on, in the form of a new mailing list called “ABBA Village” which has it’s first year of online service paid for by Graeme and Grant. The reins have been handed over to a good friend of mine, Kevin Evans. And Graeme and Grant will be closing a door on the ABBA portion of their lives, which extends back a lot further than just ABBAMAIL. I consider both to be close personal friends that I look forward to continuing my friendship with outside of the realm of ABBA fandom.
Since the ABBAMAIL site is no longer in existence, I will be gradually incorporating the columns I wrote for ABBAMAIL into some format either here on my blog site or setting up a separate blog. It’s five years worth of monthly columns and I am quite proud of the work I’ve done in the ABBA Fan community look forward to making that content available for the enjoyment of people who were a part of the ABBAMAIL community or interested in looking back at some of the highlights of the last five years of ABBAMAIL’s existence.
So on this ending of an era, big thanks to my friends Graeme Read and Grant Whittingham. The forum they provided has been an important part of my life for the last twelve years and that their friendship has and will continue to mean a lot to me. So the next time I’m in Sydney or if Graeme and Grant make it back here to San Diego, we’re going to toast a drink to ABBAMAIL’s place in history and celebrate the new beginnings they are about to embark on.
UPDATE: November 1, 2008
I have opted to start a separate blog for my past ABBAMAIL Columns and I will be in the process of getting the old columns up, and they will be available to read at http://abbamail.ryansincredibleworld.com or by viewing the page set up here on Ryan’s Incredible World which links to each column directly. To access this page, click over to http://www.ryansincredibleworld.com/my-abbamail-columns/.