One of the most obvious trends I have noticed lately is the move away from owning media content. I realize that the concept of the “cloud” has existed for quite a while , however that’s only part of the equation here.
The whole idea of being a collector is becoming more and more of a niche now that near instantaneous access to any content you can think of is available to anyone with an internet connection (i.e. 2.4 billion people). Yes, I’m generalizing here and yes there are plenty of exceptions (originals/ first edition content/art of any kind and appreciating the unique feel and sound of vinyl being just a few examples) however overall this is a significant shift.
This transition spans beyond merely the move from physical to digital and the subsequent shift from your local hard drive to cloud. These days content is discovered in the cloud , streamed from the cloud and tends to remain there without the need for ever downloading it. Let’s take a look at the big three forms of consumer media:
What is the point of owning a physical copy of a movie these days? People spent years building up VHS collections only to start from scratch once DVD dominated the field. Then came Blu-ray. Now video rental stores have gone out of business and both renting and owning physical copies of movies has been replaced by movie streaming. Initially this didn’t do it for me since I’m quite picky with quality (very few streaming services offered 1080p resolution with 5.1 sound), however that’s quickly becoming a non-issue as bandwidth grows and consumer data limits are increased.
It’s hard to understand the transformative power of this trend until you participate yourself. Between Netflix, Apple TV, Hulu (U.S only) and the plethora of On-Demand movies available on speciality HD channels such as HBO, TMN, etc…my movie viewing habits have been forever altered. What I pay for now is the service of streaming as opposed to the content itself. I do still occasionally go to the movie theatre, however it is usually limited to independent movies that are not available on these services. In terms of paying for the physical discs that store movies, those days are done.
First there was illegal downloading and p2p sharing (Napster, Gnutella, Kazaa, Morpheus, BitTorrent, Limewire) then came paid digital downloads with iTunes emerging as the dominant king. The latter seemed to be the winning model for a while, a model that I had fully learned to embrace over the years. But storing and syncing my purchased music among multiple devices while on the go quickly became a hassle as our music collections grew to previously unimaginable sizes. Even cloud services like DropBox or iTunes Match seemed to make the process more difficult rather than easier.
Enter 2012-2013, the years that consumers jumped onto smartphones in droves (over 50% here in Canada) . Among other things, this has meant no longer having to rely on computers left back at home to access new music and sync music to mobile devices. But wait, why sync at all? Why download anything when nearly any song these days can be instantly streamed on YouTube?
Actually there are plenty of reasons: poor sound quality, playlist creation limits, no serendipitous discovery of new music without actually browsing, etc… What about radio? Far too commercialized and poor sound quality. What about satellite radio? Lot’s of niches and great sound quality but far too repetitive. So what’s left? Specialized streaming music services of course.
The big players in the U.S are Pandora and Spotify, both of which are not available in Canada unless you do some creative technical tinkering. These are incredible streaming music services with lots of social integration that built up the appetite for this sort of thing in the first place.
Among the larger services that work in Canada , there is Rdio, Grooveshark, Songza and the recently announced iTunes Radio . My favourite these days is Songza, which if you have not yet experienced you should do so right now. It can be downloaded as an app on any device, however you can also listen to it directly from the web. Once you’re in, click on “Concierge” and select the mood you’re in. The rest is self-explanatory.
Other slightly more niche music streaming services to try out include:
- This is my jam –> For sharing one song at a time and finding people with similar tastes based on that single song of the moment
- Noon Pacific –> A service that delivers a single new song hand-picked by music bloggers every Monday at noon (Pacific Time)
- Ex.fm –> Nicely organized streaming music radio station, great for music discovery and organization
- 8tracks –> Another streaming music site I began using for music discovery
I realized the other day that I haven’t purchased digital music of any kind in months (whereas I used to multiple times per week). When I do decide to purchase digital music it’s usually entire albums of obscure artists I want to support, however this has stopped. I’d rather just send them a donation instead since the digital files are becoming increasingly useless to me and just taking up unnecessary space on my devices.
The other day I purchased an e-reader, the Kobo Aura HD to be exact. I resisted for years, however I finally realized that my physical bookshelf space was limited. It was simply unsustainable to “collect” books any longer given how much I read. The hassle of carrying books when travelling became quite the annoyance as well. What I love the most about the digital format is that it works across devices and across platforms allowing me to easily consume the content anywhere I am. Of course that also includes buying a book anywhere I am so long as there is a WiFi connection nearby, which is pretty much anywhere there is cell phone coverage since I can always tether through my mobile. And while increasingly certain services, offer book rentals, this is something I’m actually not interested in as I still want to build up a collection of books I read. I can’t explain why I don’t have the same need for movies.
Will I stop going to physical book stores? Not as long as they exist. How long that is I don’t know, but hopefully it’s for a while. Today I met a gentleman in the fiction section (not usually my cup of tea) who saw me pick up the 5th instalment of Game of Thrones and proceeded to spark up a spontaneous conversation with me about his favourite lesser known fiction authors that changed his outlook on the whole genre. I wrote down a few of them and plan on reading their books this summer. These sort of random serendipitous interactions are what I like about the physical book store. Yes, the digital platforms all have “recommendations” for you, but they are based on algorithms. Yes, the streaming services built on social platforms show you who’s listening to and/or watching what, but that’s still no match for a genuine in-person interaction.
In the end I find myself living somewhere in the middle of the physical–>digital–>streaming content transition. Part of me still longs for the experience of taking a walk over to the video rental store but it is quickly fading. The book store experience I do still enjoy on occasion, however bricks and mortar music stores, I have no interest in at all (although I do understand where vinyl aficionados are coming from). What I love the most about these massive media consumption shifts is that it has forced the industry to change and democratized it by fostering an environment where niche players can thrive. Most importantly however, I have finally begun to free up shelving space in my own home.