Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thoughts on Physical versus Digtal media

A blog post by Louis Gray on physical media extinction in his life made me think briefly about my own media consumption habits of late. While I'm not as far along the physical media path, I am getting there. I'm still holding out on some things though, particuarly books. A summary:

Music - I can't remember the last time I bought a physical CD. It was a while ago. I do download from iTunes from time to time but I'm really not as big of a music consumer as I used to be. I have some CDs sitting in a closet somewhere that I really need to get rid of. But this seems like more trouble than it's worth. What do I do with it? Try to sell it to a used CD store? They'll probably take very little of it. Do I just throw it out? Donate it to Goodwill? This is why it sits in my closet. I think most of my physical collection is digitized, and the stuff that's not can probably stay that way. We listen to Pandora a lot in our household, and I've given Rdio  and similar services some consideration but I don't think I'd use them enough to justify.

Movies - We have a young child and it's hard to find a block of time to watch a movie. We have enough TV content on the Tivo to keep us satiated most of the time. When we do rent movies, it's typically from redbox. We'll occasionally splurge on an Amazon rental downloaded to the Tivo if we're too lazy to go out and get a movie. But still very planted in the physical world here, and that's mostly because of price. I wound up buying a blue-ray player because our DVD player was on its last legs. I could see these going away in the next few years, but not until a few more things happen in the industry.   We had Netflix but were not using it enough to justify the monthly subscription, especially once Abby was born.

Books - I don't have a dedicated e-reader yet. I do have an iPad now and have a couple of free books saved on the Kindle app and iBooks, but I've been reluctant to buy anything else. I have a backlog of probably 30 printed books going, one that I continue to feed with used book purchases from Amazon, which with Amazon Prime is cheap and painless. I'm not in a huge hurry to get a kindle or other device, and as I commented elsewhere, I suspect I won't do so until stuff is only digital that I want to read (and is longer than 40-50 pages, otherwise, I'll hit it up on my iPad) or the price of the Kindle drops to be virtually nothing. I believe the latter will probably happen before the former does - and more likely is that the latter will drive the former to occur. If I were to buy one today, it'd be the Kindle and one more reason has fallen for me to consider not doing so. I've heard a compelling case for the Nook as well, and either seem like they would be a viable solution. However, I'm already ensconced in the Amazon world, so I tend towards that.

Magazines - I'm down to two subscriptions from a high of probably a dozen 10 years ago. The Atlantic and Fast Company. I think I'm letting them both expire. I get most of my magazine-type content via the web. I'm using Instapaper quite a bit now. I'm a huge fan of long-form pieces and follow several sources of longform journalism on Twitter. I've found that it's broadened my horizons into a number of things that I probably wouldn't have otherwise read. For other things I used to read magazines for, I have a variety of Twitter lists and sources fed into Google reader and use tools like flipboard and Reeder on my iPad to browse.

Newspapers - I actually subscribed to the paper edition of the Star Tribune for 6 months with a groupon deal back in November. It was something like $25.00 for 6 months of 7 day delivery, which is basically giving the thing away. Definitely a come-on to get new subs that will eventually pay the full rate after the trial period is up. Problem is, I don't consistently read the thing every day. The new publisher may doing good things (some of which have translated to a better product) but it's still not something that's compelling enough for me to read daily anymore, and certainly not at full price. The papers tend to pile up during the week where I browse through them on the weekends, but I've even lost interest in that lately.

I've given the Star Tribune e-edition demo a test drive on my iPad and it's something I'd consider subscribing to at $1.99 a week (there's a come-on for existing subscribers that I might try to latch on to which is $14 for a whole year). I'm going to cancel the paper version when my sub is up and see how it goes after that. There's a plethora of paper machines around my hood when I feel like buying an individual copy, usually of the Sunday paper.

I've toyed around with getting a digital subscription to the Wall Street Journal, but I feel like that's another thing I wouldn't consistently read and it would be a waste of money. I do like that they sell individual issues digitally and have bought the Saturday version a few times, but I'm just as likely to take a walk and buy the paper copy, which is $.50 cheaper.

Economic Incentives for consumers are still lacking in the digital world - Sometimes I find it hard to believe that the media titans of yesterday and today (but probably not tomorrow for some of them) are still fighting digital content so hard well after a lot of these technologies have been introduced. The pricing economics of it still aren't in a good place, and they should be better. There's trade offs - I can go rent a top 100 movie title blue ray disc at Redbox for $1.50 but the same rental on Amazon or I-tunes costs me $3-$5.00, double or nearly triple. I can get access to Netflix's catalog of streaming titles for $7.99 a month, but it's missing a lot of movies that I have to pay double that to get access to their much broader disc collection. Pricing versus physical varies greatly on books but for back-titles, you're better off buying used.

I realize that I am probably more frugal and price sensitive than some, so take everything you read here with that in mind. But it seems as though a lot of people are price minded on this stuff, and if they don't perceive value in what they are buying, they will skip it altogether.

I'm sure this will evolve over the next few years even more than it already has, and it should be interesting to see what happens. I'm of the mind that eventually the big media titans will figure this out.