Physical v. Digital

Further to my post (today) about Amazon’s Top 10, which showed that it was (largely) full of artists who have been around for a long time, James made excellent points as to why this happens. Of course he did, James is the brains of this operation. I am the monkey with the typewriter. We’ve discussed this in these pages before, I believe.

Anyway, even my saying ‘monkey with a TYPEWRITER’ exposes me for the old fogey that I am, when it comes to how I enjoy my music. James’ point, well-made, was that the whippersnappers just download their music, either for free or from a service. They don’t buy CDs anymore. That’s why Tony Bennett and Barbra Streisand occupy all those top spots in the bestsellers lists – they’re the kids’ parents’ and grandparents’ music, not theirs. Only old fogeys buy physical media, anymore. Online is the place to be.

Lefsetz writes about this a lot, and you all know where you stand on it [we’d love to hear from you, in the comments!]. When I was growing up, LPs were the only thing available. When I started buying my own music, around 10 years old, it was cassettes. CDs were way, way later. I didn’t even have a PC until around 1997 or so, and not many of the things we now take for granted were in existence online, then.

So it’s pretty easy to see why I buy physical copies – it’s all I ever knew, really. By the time downloading and all that crap came about, it was already in my DNA to need the physical copy on hand. To my memory, I’ve only ever paid to download one thing from iTunes in my life, Metallica’s Beyond Magnetic. Because they lied to me and said it would be download only. Then they put it on CD later. Bastards. [I’ve already ranted about this in these pages].

But maybe the kids are onto something. Youtube has tons of full albums for free. Pick an artist and an album, betcha its on there, either in full or track by track. You could probably hear just about everything I own, for free, without needing a gigantic shelf in the basement to hold it all. Other services, like satellite radio, Spotify, iTunes, you know them all, give a lot of options, at varying prices. I suppose you could illegally download whatever you wanted too, but that’s not very honourable.

And come to think about it, whenever the rest of you guys are writing about an album you like (and which I don’t yet own), I usually find it on the Youtubes and enjoy it there. Even the occasional drunk reviews! I hadn’t given much thought to how often I do that until just now. It’s actually quite a bit. Hm.

So, just about the only thing making me still buy vinyls and CDs then, I suppose, is conditioned response. I already rip everything I have to my Mac and my iPod (my two main sources for music), so I obviously can’t care too much about the sound quality of digital versus CD or vinyl. Is it really just my need to be able to hold the LP cover in my hand and read it over and over while I listen?

There are some bands I collect that I simply won’t stop collecting, it’d be a shame to stop now. And there always those cool releases that just owning them gives obvious pleasure, like exclusives and the like. But catalogue albums? Readily available for free? Why own it? It’s a fair question.

True, there’s the collectibility and value of physical product, but that only has value to like-minded people, and if their numbers are diminishing as our generation ages, will I eventually be left sitting in a house full of things no one but me cares about anymore?

I think many Readers here will nod along when I say we’re in too deep at this point, sometimes thousands of records in collections. And it’d be painful to just get rid of them all. But going forward?

I can see value in both sides of this line of thinking. What do YOU think?

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Posted on September 25, 2014, in posts by aaron and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 41 Comments.

  1. Nah-nah-nah Can’t hear you! Nah-nah-nah

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    • Haha you’re first to get in the response I figured I’d get quite a lot. I know, I’m not likely to stop collecting either, it’s just an interesting philosophical exercise. Let’s see what the others have to say…

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      • I know, I think I said all there is to say in this debate articulately and concisely!

        For me it’s a full experiential thing, it’s my culture- house full of music and books, it’s what I grew up in too. It doesn’t make any practical sense.

        Neither my 12yo or 14yo have ever bought any physical music, it’s so readily accessible, why would they?

        Plus it only forms a small part of youth culture these days, they simply have more options than we did too.

        Maybe its evolution!

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        • Haha I know, but you’re right. We’re the old fogeys here. And there will still be people buying records, I don’t foresee a future where physical product is gone. No way. But as we age, I think the emphasis could definitely shift away from it.

          Evolution is an interesting term, and accurate. LP to 8-track to cassette to CD to digital (and a rebirth of LP). Survival of the fittest? Or a matter of convenience?

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          • Just compare and contrast the release of a big new game like Wolfenstein or GTA – these are major cultural events with millions spent on their development, promotion and reception. Players get lost in them weeks, savouring them, exploring them, enjoying them, talking about them – remind you of anything?

            Contrast the midnight openings for Use Your Illusions, with U2 just frisbeeing away their new LP. If things are too easily got hold of, people don’t attach value to it, don’t imbue it with cultural weight.

            I’m old, I’ll stop now.

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            • I don’t know from video games (I don’t play them, own any or a console of anything, nor do I have a TV – sorry, Sarca!) but I do remember people being really into that stuff. The analogy stands well.

              I stood in line at midnight for a few albums… Tragically Hip, Pearl Jam Vitalogy… Yeah, it’s a sickness. Giving an album away for free truly devalues it. radiohead was at least interesting about it. I know Public Enemy gave one away but I think that was a middle finger at their label… anyway, no value, you’re right.

              Also, at this point, it’s not like U2 needs the money from record sales. And besides THAT, Apple will surely have paid them a mint to pull this stunt.

              I’m old too. Wanna complain about the weather or politics now? 😉

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  2. In too deep for sure. No turning back now. I will always buy physical product until it’s no longer being made.

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  3. SARCA Seeecrets:
    The last new CD I bought was probably Snakes and Arrows by Rush when it was first released – 7? years ago…I buy used CDs if I see them, but haven’t collected anything music related in a while. I rip the CDs and that’s it. I haven’t ever bought a song on iTunes, predominantly because of the fact they have the monopoly on the digital music market in Canada.

    My CD collection is being stored in rubbermaid containers right now. Lack of space because of my husband’s bulging game collection.

    I still collect DVDs though!

    Like

  4. I more a digital guy now. It’s just convience for me and price as well as were a family of 5 with 3 teenage daughters. So the funds have to stretch but I will still buy Maiden physical product. Exemptions to the rule!

    Like

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