It’s been a year and I’m about to move again. I’m looking through boxes of junk trying to decide what to sell, give away or trash. I inevitably get to my boxes of DVDs and CDs, which I’ve barely opened in the last year. It’s sad how many things are still in their moving boxes from last year. The things I haven’t looked at or used are obviously the things that need to go.
As I assemble my list of films for the “Movies Every Filmmaker Should Own” series, I’m running into a dilemma. I own a lot of DVDs, but I’ve bought very few in recent years. My movie consumption has consisted of Netflix (by mail and streaming), Hulu, Redbox and the occasional borrowed disc.
I’m sorry major movie studios, but I just don’t buy media anymore.
As a producer, I feel really bad admitting this. Our industry is heavily reliant on media sales. Especially the smaller producers that don’t have distribution or TV deals. Selling their own DVDs is the only way they can make a return on their projects. As I look through my library, I see quite a few of these movies/shows/shorts. I might have one of only 20 existing copies of this particular edit. I have quite a few discs of projects I’ve worked on in various capacities. But really, this is the exception.
Through the power of the internet, you can get almost anything you want if you’re willing to search for it and wait for it to be streamed or shipped to you. In fact, hoarding all this media in the off chance that you might consume it again a few years down the road is almost psychotic.
I think I have about 300 DVDs. Off the top of my head, I would say I could get 80% of them through either Netflix or online streaming. The rest are ones that are unique and would be difficult to find elsewhere. So right there I just figured out that I could sell or give away 240 DVDs, because if I really wanted to watch them again, I could easily get them again. That’s a good amount of shelf space. I’ve already ripped my 600 or so CDs into my iTunes library. I was thinking about doing the same with my movies, but when I realized how much storage space I would need, I stopped. I just doesn’t seem worth when I can re-rent or stream them so easily.
Steve Jobs has argued that the iTunes Store is better than a subscription model because people want to own their media. Well, maybe not all their media.
Magazines. I subscribe to just a few magazines. Many articles are reprinted in their entirety on the magazine’s website. Some may delay the articles by a month, but with most content this doesn’t really matter. Others actually add bonus content to their website. There’s a few mags that don’t put their articles online, but these are few and far between. I know that when I walk by the newsstand at the airport and see a copy of Pop Photo with a great cover article on a facinating new way to shoot things, I can sit down 5 minutes later at the coffee shop and pull up that same article on my laptop for free. Hell, most of the information in magazines is OLD.
But one magazine I have always kept physical copies of is Guitar World. Each month GW includes 4 or 5 song transcriptions. Due to their licensing agreements, these transcriptions can only exist in these magazines and can’t be reprinted online or elsewhere. So I would keep these magazines in huge piles because someday I might sit down and learn Dark Side of the Moon from Speak To Me/Breathe, all the way through Brain Damage. I’ve been saying that for 15 years now. I think it might be time to let the piles go. If and when I really want to learn these songs, I can find transcriptions online that will be close enough.
Music. This is the biggie. Like movies, the only CDs I’ve purchased in the last few years has been from small artists or friends. If I buy anything somewhat mainstream, it’s from iTunes. But mostly, I rely on free Internet Radio and my subscriptions to Pandora and Rhapsody. Now that I’ve ripped all my CDs to iTunes, the discs just sit on shelves or in spindles.
Rumors abound that Apple is using their new server farm in North Carolina to create cloud storage specifically for media streaming. So you can move all your music off your devices and stream from Apple. Many people already do this using services such as Dropbox and Sugarsync. If you use Pandora or Rhapsody, you’re already doing this. Is this the death knell for physical media?
Books. This one is tough. I’m a huge fan of the library. I’m not the type to buy a $25 best seller to read once. I have a very small collection of books, mostly reference stuff related to music, production or the like. But I know many people that are really proud of their huge collection of books and almost brag about it. I’m not excited about the current digital options though. I can go to the library and pick up a recently released best seller, but I can’t do the same if I have an iPad or Kindle. My only option on these devices is to buy. I feel like print media is about 10 years behind music and movies in this regard.
It’s kind of amazing how different we treat these pieces of media and how we consume them. Music – can’t rent, but you can subscribe, stream or buy; Movies – you can rent, buy and stream just about anything; Magazines – you can find articles on their websites, but very few are available electronically; and Books – libraries are good for physical copies, but you can’t rent or borrow a digital one, you can only buy (well, you can borrow with a Kindle, but it’s extremely limited).
As I contemplate all this, the physical media, the cloud, subscriptions vs buying, one thing really bothers me: the quality level of all of these options is crap. I hate that the music I buy from iTunes is so heavily compressed. Have you ever rented or purchased a movie through iTunes? Same thing. In production, we’re pushing for higher and higher resolution, color space and bit depth, yet on the consumption side, quality is being lowered. I’m not going to jump into the vinyl vs. digital debate, but the same arguments are true here. I have a fairly expensive stereo and speakers, and yes I can hear the difference. But I guess convienence is the winner here. I can keep piles upon piles of CDs and a huge aluminum component CD player with Burr Brown D/A converters
or I can just plug in my iPhone.
What do you think? Is keeping and using physical media a thing of the past?