Why Physical Media Is Archaic

Most people consume media in a disposable method, despite the fact they want to own it.

Interesting conversation on Twitter this weekend with my new friend HarryAllen, as I’m discussing how I consume my media, in this particular case I’m watching the final season of Battlestar Galactica, season 4.  Some in Twitter say they’d prefer to buy the DVD set, where I prefer to have it on demand, and not own or have to manage any plastic.  

A few reasons why I think owning physical media (DVDs, CDs) is antiquated:  

  • 1) I’m impatient, I want it, when I want it.  
  • 2) Owning media takes up space 
  • 3) It reminds me of the 80s and 90s when my friends would buy shelves and shelves of VHS tapes –DVDs will be antiquated, as new formats are already coming around beyond Blu-Ray.  
  • 4) Owning media is a liability: It depreciates over time, can be a challenge and a headache to sell 
  • 5) It’s bad for the environment: If there’s anything the world needs less of it’s forged plastic disks and equally bad for the environment containers. 

Friends and family of mine like to own media libraries, but I question exactly how many times they watch it after buying it.  Perhaps it’s a Western mentality, the desire to ‘own’ and have collections of content.  

So what’s the future?  I prefer to buy via iTunes, or Amazon music (DRM free), or stream the shows live from the web, even Netflix offers on demand via the web –you don’t have to open the mailbox.  Once I buy it, I can always download it again in the future, and at some point, most media becomes free in order to give it a second life.

This isn’t just about TV or movies, but applies to my CD collection too –I will never willingfuly buy a CD again if I can get it on demand.  Could this apply to books with the new Amazon Kindle?  Maybe, yet I think it’s one of the few types of media that will still retain it’s original form –sometimes it’s nice to unplug.

Take my kid sister, who’s visiting at my house for our Mother’s day dinner, she streams content online, downloads it from the internet, and has an iPod.  I think looking at Generation Y is a clue to what is to come, media will represent the culture it’s providing for:  portable, mobile, interconnected, interactive and on-demand.

To me, owning physical is the old way, the new way is relying on the network.  

Would love to hear what you think.

  • Lucretia

    I also think we agree, but we need some more clarification

    Shakespeare, the Dead Sea scrolls, the first editions of Robert Frost, are these media or important artifacts? I’d go with the later.

    I think the discussion is around the common media we all are used to like DVDs, CDs, VHS.

    Regarding artist signatures on memorabilia, good point. But there are tons of other items you can get their signatures on (tshirts, posters, bobble heads)

    This brings another interesting point up, what if being ‘followed’ by an artist in Twitter or connected to them digitally ends up having similar value to a signed CD?

    In the end, the previous items never go away (your reference to prized personal items) but this argument is against mainstream consumer media.

  • As a 23 year old, I can tell you about how I consume and how my friends do (20-25 year olds).

    Almost everyone I know uses Hulu to catch up on shows or discover shows they never knew about in the first place. I love being able to get on Hulu and watch episodes from a show that I liked but was canceled years ago. Music is bought online or vinyl. They only buy CDs at concerts because its unavailable elsewhere or they want to directly support the band. A lot of us use netflix but the ones who don’t use redbox or local movie stores. The reason being we want what we want, when we want it. My friends mostly don’t have the patience to wait a day or two to get movies. We decide what we want to watch and want to watch it later that day or immediately. That’s why netflix streaming is extremely important to us. Although, the variety and quantity of content right now is not extensive enough right now.

    For now, DVDs still are bought. Only my friends that are more technically savvy have a computer or video game system hooked up that allows movie/video streaming. I expect it will be only a matter of time until this changes though. There isn’t any negative attitude against streaming or downloading movies to an apple tv like device. The complexity and cost just prevents most kids/students right now. Especially when they already have a $30 dvd player and there’s no significant cost savings from renting or buying a physical dvd than streaming/downloading one.

    The above reader who mentions signing of posters for music artists is completely right. Posters are huge. People love screen printed posters. It’s another way to show what music you like without having a wall of CDs 🙂

    Physical media consumption will slow but how fast will be determined by how reliable, simple and cheap the alternatives are.

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  • Beyond personal preferences, this is all technology and resource directed. Spare a thought for the unfortunate people in rural Britain who cannot access on-demand due to broadband speed restrictions. We are not even talking about all but a few cities in the entire African continent.

    Even when you do have the connection speed in African countries, you may not have the licensing agreements, or the ability to buy online.

    Personally I prefer storing my music and movies digitally on external hard drives. It is just more convenient and access to playlists, or creating playlists is so much more intuitive and immediate.

    TV live streamed however is another matter, more for the convenience and choice of time.

  • vic hansen

    A part of the reason for those shelves of DVDs, CDs, books etc is affiliation. They demonstrate who you are in the same way as the car you drive. A load of data on a hard disk somewhere or on a server in the rocky mountains doesn’t tell visitors that you are a diehard fan of Heroes. And there’s only so much wall space for posters.

    Also, the technology is still seriously flaky. Upgrading the anti-virus on my PC at home has just stopped it from booting. Admittedly that’s partly a Microsoftness but as other devices are becoming ubiquitous their complexity is increasing and, with it, vulnerability and likelihood of attack.

    Both these issues will be resolved over time but, until they are, I can still see mileage in physical media.

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  • Interesting article.

    “This brings another interesting point up, what if being ‘followed’ by an artist in Twitter or connected to them digitally ends up having similar value to a signed CD?”

    Not gonna happen. There’s a big difference between meeting an artist in person (if that’s how it was signed) vs. *knowing* them digitally.

    I do agree that physical media has some severe issues relative to the environment, which might be addressed by downloads only (let us not forget, however, that it still takes a fair amount of energy to store and distribute).

    One other reason physical media might not entirely go away: resale. I know a lot of folks that buy cds, rip them to Itunes & then sell it to recover the cost of purchasing the cd. I’ve also had issues with music I’ve downloaded to Itunes (from a cd) disappearing, which can be quite frustrating. Also worth mentioning…collectibles.

    I also think that there’s a way different perception value with walking into a store, looking at a variety of different things, and then ultimately purchasing something. Digital downloads don’t provide that same experience. I would rather have the “smell” of a book over the smell of a Kindle…even if the Kindle can hold much more information.

    I think the main thing is that people need to look at is: “Do I really need that?” I used to buy tons of dvds & now I only buy ones I know I am going to watch again.

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  • your last line scares me some. that relying, and not actually having any independence of property seems like it puts the individual at risk.

    what do you really have if all you have isn’t tangible. if a switch is flipped and all your knowledge, all you’ve worked for isn’t accessible, what are you left with?

  • Mark Marshall

    Coming in late here but I agree with Frank Meeuwsen and I think he’s made a good point as to why we may gravitate towards a CD, or book for example as “It just feels better. More human.”

    When you read a book or magazine, the experience extends not only to the words on the page, but the hands (holding and turning/flicking pages), smell (that old book smell, or high gloss pages and embossing in magazines).

    You can play a rollercoaster game on XBox but nothing will compare to the sight, sound and feeling as your body experiences the real thing.

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  • John in Missouri

    I came to the same conclusion about CDs a long time ago and now buy CDs only when I cannot download the files from the Net. I still own the copies, however, locally. I have no desire to depend upon the flakiness of the Net for my entertainment, and that’s probably why I still purchase DVDs (or Blu-ray) as well. If I want to order Season Four of The Pretender, I don’t have the storage for it on my Windows box, or on any other medium that I own, such as my DVR. Depending upon the Net in my rural location for 24/7 download is just plain foolish. So DVD/Blu-ray it is.

    Neither have I given up the hardcover book habit. I have over a thousand books (and counting) and they’re my proudest possessions. Quite frankly, reading on an electronic device frightens me. Can you say “eyestrain extreme?” I hear that the Kindle is not so bad, but in its case, the price, both for the book and the device, is prohibitive.

    So the technology is not yet there for a complete conversion to electronica, and even when it is, there are some areas where technology will never push out what already exists (and here I’m thinking of books).

  • Dennis Caldwell

    Just curious:

    You mention the western attitude of possession in a pejorative way more than once. Yet your #1 reason for antiquating physical media is:
    “I’m impatient, I want it, when I want it.”

    I find that attitude as harmful to society as the need for material gains.

    Just a thought.

  • Dennis

    You are totally right. Something I need to work on for sure.

  • EveryCritic

    “As a 23 year old, I can tell you about how I consume and how my friends do (20-25 year olds). ”

    Yes, and as a 44 year old I can guarantee you that as you age, you consume your entertainment in a very different way.

    That’s been the problem with the whole “physical media is dead” myth. The assumption is that 20 year olds will be relating to their entertainment the same way decade after decade. True for some but the majority.

    Also, considering all the people on the planet who have cognitive difficulty due to age or disability, nothing can top press-and-play.
    Physical media ain’t going anywhere.

  • Dawid

    Isn't the real issue a mindset? That's my point. People (I think it's westerners) prefer to own things, houses, cars, properties, and media.

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  • I've just started renting DVDs using Tesco's online service, provided by Lovefilm.com. That means I can line up what I want to watch, don't have to build a collection, the postie's coming round anyway, and it doesn't use an inordinate amount of bandwidth.

    How do you watch an on-demand DVD on the train, if it's not using some peer-to-peer technology which drastically slows down your machine and uses bandwidth to share content with other people…?

  • Alec Fillmore

    I prefer physical media. I know that when I buy a DVD, I can now rely on being able to watch it whenever I want, as often as I want, without further investment. Streaming is great for some content, especially when I want to see something right now and I don't have the DVD, but quality is usually inferior, often painfully so, and network problems frequently cause me to lose the option of streaming. Also, I fear that without physical copies, we are heading toward a scenario in which I have to pay a fee every time I want to view a film. This probably won't be true for all content, but I fear that it will be for more obscure, less popular titles, which is what I often prefer.

  • Alec Fillmore

    I prefer physical media. I know that when I buy a DVD, I can now rely on being able to watch it whenever I want, as often as I want, without further investment. Streaming is great for some content, especially when I want to see something right now and I don't have the DVD, but quality is usually inferior, often painfully so, and network problems frequently cause me to lose the option of streaming. Also, I fear that without physical copies, we are heading toward a scenario in which I have to pay a fee every time I want to view a film. This probably won't be true for all content, but I fear that it will be for more obscure, less popular titles, which is what I often prefer.

  • Szink

    True, I agree that books are going to be the one stalwart in the trend of digitizing media, but that’s partially because the format in which we consume books as mass media has always been different than that in which we consume music and movies.  For music and movies, the method of “owning” them may differ widely between people who choose to collect DVD’s, those who download onto their hardrive, or those who just choose streaming, but the way we CONSUME them is fundamentally the same as it ever was:  in front of a screen.  When we’re talking about physical books vs ebooks, the way the two are consumed is radically different (paper v screen) and I think it will be this inability of many to accept books as an electronic media that will let physical books continue to be a viable product for many years.

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