Imagine, for a moment, that you want to buy The Complete Works of Primo Levi edited by talented translator Ann Goldstein. If you were to buy a new version of the hardcover collection on Amazon, the price is $58.40. If, however, you decided that rather than adorning your shelves with Levi, you wanted to download it to your e-reader, saving yourself paper and time, you would need to pay $59.49. It would cost you more not to physically own the books.
Of course, it’s just a difference of $1.09. But spend some time on Amazon and a trend becomes clear: Many (though certainly not all) digital versions cost more than their physical counterparts. The Blu-ray Disc of the Christmas classic Love, Actually costs a very reasonable $8.68, but to download and buy the HD version on Amazon Video costs $14.99. (To download and rent it costs $3.99, while a used version is only $2.37). Download Beyoncé’s Lemonade from Apple to your iPhone for $17.99, but get the CD on Amazon for just $15.76.
Certainly this is far from the case in every instance—there are lots of examples of the digital version being cheaper than the physical. But the list will only get longer, raising the question: Why are we increasingly paying more money to notactually have the thing we’re buying? Amazon and Apple acknowledged receipt of but did not respond to requests for comment.
. . . .
For one thing, we’ve reached a point at which it’s the digital version that won’t let us down. Mark Dean, assistant professor in the Department of Economics at Columbia University, surmised in an email that while he could try to create “some clever behavioral econ explanation,” he thinks the real answer is that we are paying more to download because we are learning to trust the digital, easily available version. It used to be that to have the physical copy was to have reliability and consistency. But that isn’t true anymore, he said. The internet is now reliable, and with it Amazon and Netflix. In fact, they’re more durable than thephysical copy, as anyone who has scratched a CD or had a package get lost in the mail or misplaced a beloved book would likely agree.
. . . .
Physical formats, on the other hand, so quickly become outdated. Richard Wilks, anthropologist and co-director of Indiana University’s Food Institute, noted in a phone interview that millennials (of course it’s the millennials) have seen their parents lug VHS tapes to Goodwill. In other words, they have seen, and are currently seeing, the technologies with which they themselves grew up become obsolete. Why pay extra for the DVD when you know your next computer probably won’t have a DVD drive?
This is true, of course, true of movies and music, but not of books. What is true of all three, however, is that the digital version is often more trusted and more convenient, and that the digital is an accepted part of the way we live now.
Link to the rest at Slate and thanks to Dana for the tip.