Sunday, December 04, 2011

Saying Goodbye to Physical Media

Remember CDs and CD players? Of course you do. Most people still have them. CDs are still sold at Walmart last time I checked. But in a few short years, that question will sound less out of place, because physical media, like the compact disc, will soon become relics of a by-gone era.

I remember a few years ago when I had CD towers in my living room to store all my music. I didn't own as much music as most teenagers do these days, but I owned enough CDs to need a couple of storage towers for them. Before that, it was vinyl. I remember having to tape a nickel onto the turntable armature because one of my Eagles albums would skip in one spot. The nickel provided enough weight to dig through the obstruction in the groove. The more I played my records, the lousier they sounded. When CDs came out, that was no longer an issue. But they still had to be stored away. I also hated having to rifle through my collection to find the one CD I wanted, then open the jewel case and put in the disc, only to have to get up and put the damn thing away after it got finished playing. I know; it seems like a minor annoyance, but it was an annoyance just the same. But now all my music is stored neatly on my computer, and in the cloud, so I no longer have to bother with those awkward jewel cases.

Once upon a time, if I wanted to listen to a particular song, I would have to, a) be at home, b) want to listen badly enough to get up out of my seat and find the CD, c) put it in the player, d) get back up and put the disc away afterward. These days, when I want to listen to a particular song, I push a couple of buttons and it doesn't matter where I am. If I'm at home, I use the computer. If I'm in my car, I use my iPhone connected to the car's audio system, or if I'm at work I can use the computer there or my iPhone connected to my work computer's audio system. I can listen to the music stored on the devices or stored in the cloud. It makes little difference; it's the same music playing at the same quality. All my audio systems have sub-woofers and decent speakers so I get the full effect no matter where I am. And if I'm not at any of those three places, if I'm at the mall, for example, I just pull out my ear buds which are always in my hip pocket. So who needs physical media, anyway?

With movies, it's a little different. I have a Blu-Ray Disc player and I still have a substantial DVD collection. But movies are quickly joining music in their non-physical form. Until recently I could turn on the TV and watch a Netflix movie through my Wii system. The problem is, most of the titles available on Netflix for steaming are not the titles I care anything about seeing. I typically rent (or sometimes buy) new releases. And there are very few new releases available to stream on Netflix. I can also choose to rent them from my satellite provider's On Demand service. Those really are new releases, but I hate spending seven bucks to watch a movie On Demand when I'm used to paying a dollar to rent a movie from Red Box. Red Box occasionally offers some new releases, but not many. To Red Box, a new release is really just an old movie that they have recently added to their library. Those are not new releases and shouldn't be labeled as such. So I usually just wait the couple of days it takes to get a movie through the mail from Blockbuster (since I dropped my Netflix service after their price increase).

But I believe the future for movies at home will be services such as the ones that let you buy a movie and then download it to your computer. You can store it on your hard drive or send it to the cloud. In other words, movies will be sold and distributed exactly the way music files are distributed now. And we don't have to wait for the future; it's available right now. It just is not as well known or as widely available through the number of vendors that music files are today. But that will change. And then, DVDs will join CDs in the attic or basement storage bins.

As for books and printed media, those too are on their way out. I no longer buy paper books. I buy them for my Kindle. If a title is not available for Kindle, I wait until it is. Eventually, all titles will be released electronically and on physical media simultaneously. The same is true for newspaper and magazines as well as directories and phone books. I haven't used a real phone book in a decade. I haven't ordered a magazine subscription in longer. I don't buy newspapers. All of those are available online or through my Kindle. Even the old stuff is available in some cases. I can go online and search the archives of Popular Science all the way back to the days before my mom was born. I can even check out the old ads.

Physical media has not yet become totally archaic, but it's on its way. Probably within this decade, all forms of physical media will join vinyl. It will be published for collectors or for those who hold tightly to their books and CDs for nostalgia reasons. But the mainstream media will be totally electronic in all its forms. And even though I'm well into my sixth decade of life, I stand firmly with the new generation of media users. I say good riddance to physical media.


Beth said...

I'm okay with both. I still buy hard copy books of my favorite authors, or bargain-price books that I come across. I have plenty of books on my Kindle, but I still enjoy the physical immediacy of turning a real page.

I still have a lot of CDs (and still buy them in that form), and for that matter, I still have quite a few albums. That's more of a collector thing. But I have a lot of songs on my computer, too, and in the cloud.

As much as I love the computer and get much of my information from it, I find that I still enjoy stepping away from it at times and reading our hard copy of Time or the Sunday newspaper. I don't run from technology; I had a computer before there was Windows. But sitting in front of the computer or pressing the buttons on my Kindle don't have the same charm or enjoyment as browsing the old books at a used bookstore. I don't ever want to lose that option!

Denbeath said...

I too see that happening and fairly soon too. I have a Nook and an iPad that hass three ereader apps but I still like a hard cover book...something about the feel and the smell of a book that can't be replaced (I'm well into my 50s). I have mixed feelings about trusting the Cloud with all my 'stuff'. I feel more comfortable having a portable hardrive to store my music, movies, ebooks.

BTW, it's a pleasure reading your blog posts.