It’s Time to Embrace Physical Media Again

This content has been archived. It may no longer be accurate or relevant.

From LifeHacker:

It’s finally time to admit streaming apps and digital distribution have ruined most creative media industries, and maybe physical media was the right choice all along.

Okay, that’s a tad dramatic. But it’s not exactly wrong.

To be fair, streaming apps aren’t all bad. Streaming services and digital storefronts make it easy to access our favorite shows, bands, and video games on just about any device we own. And they give us legal ways to support legacy media without succumbing to greedy scalpers or shady piracy sites. But what started as a way to “cut the cord” and stick it to cable companies and record labels has only birthed a new corporate overlord—one that does not respect its customers, the media it distributes, or the people who make it.

The issue with streaming and digital media

One could argue annoyances like The Office leaving Netflix or that the first Mannequin film is unavailable digitally while Mannequin 2: On the Move is readily available are just part of the reality of the new digital landscape.

But that impermanence is starting to seem a lot more like a bug than a feature. This past week, we learned Warner Bros. Discovery unceremoniously delisted TV shows from the HBO Max app for no reason other than it wanted to stop paying residuals to its creators—sorry if you ponied up your $14.99 per month expecting HBO Max Originals content to actually be available on HBO Max. Meanwhile, digital video games are regularly delisted from digital shelves, making them impossible to purchase or redownload, even as inevitable server shutdowns render multiplayer modes—or even entire games—unplayable even after you’ve purchased and downloaded the game.

It’s not just music, movies, and games—even ebooks and comics are in peril due to streaming and all-digital platforms. Just look at the backlash against Amazon’s recent Comixology overhaul, which made purchasing new comics almost impossible for certain users, and rendered some comics and manga unreadable thanks to unwanted layout changes.

All streaming apps, regardless of media, revoke your access to their free libraries if you unsubscribe, they experience a sudden service outage, or they permanently go offline—not to mention streaming business models notoriously screw over the artists and creators that distribute their work through these apps.

These issues and more make it increasingly difficult for customers to enjoy their purchases, and make media preservation virtually impossible.

You know what doesn’t have those issues? Physical media.

Link to the rest at LifeHacker

PG doesn’t want to go back to printed books. On rare occasions (once per year or so), he’ll purchase a pbook, but he finds the percentage of those which are set aside after reading the first part is quite high.

23 thoughts on “It’s Time to Embrace Physical Media Again”

  1. To be clear, digital content going away is something of a strawman.

    You mean they are not out to get me?

  2. To be clear, digital content going away is something of a strawman.
    It happens…at smaller distribution sites.
    It used to be common in the last century and early in the 21st., ca 2003.
    Not anymore, not at the majors. No producer looking to make money is going to remove ebooks from Amazon, music from Apple, games from STEAM. Music is typically DRM free, ebooks it depends on the publisher, video has a universal DRM that works on most platforms.
    These days losing access to purchased content is a black swan.

    Also: a lot of folks, the OP included, misunderstand how the subscription services work.
    Content on the servers typically falls into two categories: licensed and owned. Every silo (except Apple) has a mix of exclusive owned content that will always be available (barring cancelation via public “outcry”) and term-limited licensed content. An example of tbe latter is how Paramount is slowly pulling back all the CBS shows it had licensed to Hulu and Netflix. Or how YELLOWSTONE is produced by PARAMOUNT but streamed only via NBCUniversal. So yes, if you watch by subscription it pays to keep an eye on who owns the content. Service owned? No problem. Term licensed? Most services let you know how long they have the content to stream. Once it’s gone, you will have to go to the owner’s site. Just like It has *always* been with “appointment TV”.

    There is nothing new is having to know who distributes which show. And shows jumping channels are hardly unknown, right.

    Term licensed shows and non-exclusive shows will be with us as long as the smaller producers endure. The likes of Lionsgate aren’t big enough to sustain a dedicated service so they are forced to licence to the majors. Until they are bought out, which most will.

    Finally, digital is tbe mainstream in video, music, and gaming. (74% of US households have at least one streaming service, 69% have two or more, 51% have three or morem)
    It is only in trade publishing tbat tbe establishment tries to pretend otherwise, mostly by conflating distribution numbers from other publishing markets.

    Mass media in the 21st century is digital and increasingly subscribed, rather than owned.
    The OP may try to pretend otherwise but the nunbers don’t lie.

  3. As a datum, my teenager actively prefers paper books to ebooks. They also are going through a classics phase. The result is stuff like ordering Wuthering Heights through my local bookstore, after pointing out the ease with which it could be downloaded for free. Oh, well. I have no idea how widespread this preference is within the age group, but it definitely is to some extent a real thing.

    • Ouch.
      Like I said, that preference might change when the price of those classics comes out of their pocket.
      At least they’ll have you around to tell them: “I told you so.” 😀

      • Recession spending by book type will be interesting. I’d like to see eBook unit sales of publisher vs independent.

  4. I encourage people who want physical media to buy lots of it. Go for it.
    And then think about your digital bank account…

    • I do and I do. I have 300+ movies sitting in binders that I never have to worry about chasing across streaming platforms or being taken down altogether. I raid sales and the $5 bin at WalMart on a regular basis, or buy them used off Redbox kiosks. And I’m happy to do so, because I trust digital media companies (even Amazon) about as far as I can throw them.

      • If it works fot you, no need to change.
        There is an increasing number of (excellent) productions that only exist in digital. Both movies and series, as well as games and books.
        One example is the Disney Vault™ of classic movies that they used to release on tape or disk for a limited period every five years or so, to create artificial scarcity and charge higher prices. These days the content is always available but only on digital to drive subscriptions. The same applies to all the signature content of the silos across all genres: whether SF, fantasy, romance, anime, or action thrillers. Just last week, the first good movie in the PREDATORS franchise in decades came out. Digital only. GOOD OMENS is a brilliant adaptation of the Pratchet&Gaiman book; only on PRIME. Ditto for Gaiman’s SANDMAN that dropped last week on Netflix. BRIDGERTON and VIRGIN RIVER are romance classics. Best written series this year, period, is ARCANE. Netflix only.
        The video business is changing in the age of content overload. Direct to DVD has been replaced by direct to digital and while some content is available for purchase it is digital only. Increasingly physical is reserved for theatrical blockbusters and lowest common denominator content, like broadcast TV. The best content is bait for the subscription services.
        The time when physical content had greater/guaranteed availability is over. It’s all about maximizing ROI and digital distribution is frictionless and cheaper. And not subject to first sale. So naturally savvy producers favor it.
        All about the money.

  5. I have a large box of kids games that ran on Windows 95, CD format. They are physical media that I got to keep. They are useless.

    Last year I bit the bullet and took an entire SUV of books to my local HPB, books I had been keeping around longer than I want to admit. I got $48 and it bought a bag of groceries from Whole Paycheck.

    This is a “debate team” article, where you try to make an argument for the unpopular side in order to get attention. Meh.

    But the odds of acceptance of the meme are way lower with Millenials and Zoomers

    Actually, I disagree. The younger people I know refuse to read long form text on screens.

    • Those CD games are not useless.
      Unless you no longer have anybody to play them. 😉
      But in that case if you have documentation to go with the CDs, eBay will find them a new home.

      There is can entire subculture built around retrogaming, playing classic games going all the way back to the first ATARIs. PCs can still run old games and there are (free) emulators for PC, Android, and XBOX that run vintage Nintendo, Sega, Atari, Commodore, Sinclair, and Sony at modern resolutions and framerates. Mileage varies, of course.

      Over on the XBOX you can buy for $3-10 digital copies of vintage game from the older XBOXes going back to 2001 tweaked to run at modern resolutions and framerates, with AI provided HDR to boot. MS believes there is money in digital preservation of classic games and tgey’re not too proud to accept it.

  6. The OP whining is a (final?) rear guard action by the luddites as they pine for the “good old days” of LPs, BETA, games on floppy disks, and $5 paperbacks. All are gone, never to return. Whining achieves nothing.

    Each content business has its own challenges and “solutions” that are driving changes. And in most cases the new normal is simply incompatible with the old ways.

    Gaming is a clear example: the most popular games today are online communities, with tens and even hundreds of millions of daily users spread the world over. Sony just dropped $6B to buy up BUNGIE, one time creators of HALO, because they realized they majorly screwed up by divesting the old SONY ONLINE ENTERTAINMENT division and with it EVERQUEST and a full catalog of online massively multiplayer games that even today, starved of investment and updates, still host millions of daily players. As in ebooks, they zigged while the market zagged. Now they are trying to catch up by buying up the tech behind DESTINY and create 6 new “SOFTWARE AS A SERVICE” games over five years. Given how modern game development has evolved, that is more likely to become 3 games over 7-10 years. They also added a game subscription service at $20 but it only works on Playstation consoles without day one new games.

    Today’s most popular and most advanced games are simply incompatible with disk based deliveries (100GB day one downloads and quarterly 10GB updates are common) and some aren’t even available anywhere but on digital stores.

    Many games only work online, often out of necessity: the latest, and by far greatest MS FLIGHT SIMULATOR renders its vitual world with realtime weather data and obscene amounts of server storage holding real world geography and structure data. Roads, bridges, buildings, are rendered with recognizable fidelity at 4K resolution 120 frames a second on high end PCs, and HD or better on XBOX consoles.

    In the latest ongoing development, online games require neither PC nor Console or, in the case of Industry leader FORTNITE, not even a subscription. Just a 2022 Samsung TV or any browser equipt device that supports gaming controllers.

    There are multiple subscription services that allow access to entire libraries of games for a monthly charge of $10 to $20. No actual game purchases required. And like KU and the likes of Netflix, discovery of new to you games is unrestrained and cost-free in libraries of hundreds of games. No need to drop $70 on a game based on reviews or trailers to disciver it isn’t your cup of tea.

    None of that is possible on physical media.

    Simply put, the industry is evolving into selling *gaming* rather than specific games. The leader, by far, is Microsoft’s GAME PASS with the largest catalog, lowest price, and broadest range of access channels, including discrete downloads for offline games–not everything is online only–on PC, console, SmartTVs (Samsung is just the first brand, GAMEPASS is coming to others soon. Everything but Sony, of course.) and in fact anything with a browser, including phones, tablets, set top boxes, and LINUX boxes.

    The latest development in GAMEPASS is currently under subscriber testing in Ireland and Colombia: a family tier plan for up to five simultaneous players for US$25 a month. And MS is currently buying ACTIVISION for $69B to add their entire catalog to Gamepass, including new releases as they come out, on day one.

    The luddites want physical media $70 sales to compete with that?!

    Not on this planet.

    • Obviously this isn’t for everyone, but just like KU it targets avid, exploratory gamers.
      And since it offers sales on the side (at a discount) it also serves gamers looking for their next long term game. (Sales of third party games in GamePass actually go up while on the service.)

      In the process, like KU, it hollows out the market for full cost games.
      Like KU, it isn’t going away.

  7. This line stood out: “streaming business models notoriously screw over the artists and creators that distribute their work through these apps…You know what doesn’t have those issues? Physical media.”

    Given how many horror stories came out of the entertainment industry before you could just download music/movies/TV shows, the OP is either clueless or being disingenuous here.

    Either way, they are not to be taken seriously.

    • Disingenuous.
      How much do creators make out of used books/CD/DVD/BD?
      How much off Redbox $1 rentals?

  8. What I would like is a legal way to download the streaming content to store on my own hard drives. A for movies and TV shows. is DRM free, and when you buy the games you can download and own them.

    I use streaming in a way similar to how I use libraries: for discovery. Book anthologies introduced me to new authors, whose books I would buy. With streaming, I stream shows I either missed on their first run, or never heard of before. I’m not going to buy the blu-rays without knowing what I’m getting into.

    Crunchy Roll (for example) is a way to see if I like an anime series. If I do, I’ll buy the discs to watch at my leisure, commercial free. That’s only because there’s no GOG-type option from CR, let alone Netflix / Prime / Hulu. iTunes is dead (on Apple), but I still have the music, so I’m not worried on that angle.

    As it is, for books I’m culling a lot of dead-tree novels from my library because I realized several of them don’t pass the “will I re-read this” test, and the others have tiny print. For the tiny print ones I have alerts for their authors on BookBub so I can re-buy them on Kindle when they’re on sale. Otherwise, there’s always collectible editions of my favorites from places like the Folio Society. Their version of “Dune” looks great.

    Outside of dystopian scenarios, I don’t see a case for physical media gaining priority again. In the event of an Orwellian regime, we’d pass media around via flash drives or whatever the equivalent of Napster is today. In case of a Carrington Event there’s always the potato-as-battery tactic 😉

  9. Right.
    Because the time to bet the farm on physical distribution is when the cost of the physical media is going up by 10% annually and so is the cost of transportation. Labor by even more.
    And that assumes the materials are even avaiable and not stuck in a queue waiting to unload.

    Do these guys even know what year they live in?

    And the distorted view they have of HBOMAX is equally clueless. What WBD is doing is cancelling development of new direct to streaming *movies* to prioritize theatrical release movies. HBOMAX with its 91M subscribers will continue to get new WB-owned series and miniseries and access to the tens of thousands of old movies and new movies *after* they exit theaters. This past week there has been a lot of hyperventilating FUD that was put to rest on the 4th with the corporate investor day presentations. HBOMAX is making north of $10B a year. And its not done expanding globally. They will be focusing on content they own over content they license from other studios because they need to trim the debt load inherited from all the mergers. Hardly the end of the streaming world. If anything, they are adding a cheaper ad-supported tier to limit defections due to inflation-reduced discretionary spending.

    The OP is still trying to peddle the old “digital is a fad” narrative. A hopeless cause with anybody but boomers. Digital natives know better.

    • while a phrase like. “These issues and more make it increasingly difficult for customers to enjoy their purchases, and make media preservation virtually impossible” is over the top.

      For a brief period I enjoyed Driver: San Francisco but as I understand it even I still had my physical media, they are turning off the licence servers.

      Trying to enable always online on games to keep them playable tends to be a good way to get in trouble legally.

      As for movies/books while I have never had anything that I cared about disapear. It has definitely happened. Want to watch Star Wars exactly as you watched it back in 1977?. Good luck with that.

      Not that physical is better, I do have a 1990’s vintage videotape of Star Wars that’s close to the original, but no player:) I chucked out a box of paperbacks last time I moved as too damaged.

    • Oof, careful with the aspersions. This silliness is also a hopeless cause with this boomer (1952) and most of the others I know. I personally love digital, especially ebooks, as would anyone who would rather look (and move) forward than live in and cling to the past.

      • Another late boomer (1953). I don’t care about streaming for non-permanent materials (except for the rural internet & streaming services expense), but things I care about (Music, Film) are things I buy physically. I did sell most of my vinyl and all cylinders, 78s, and tapes years ago, but I have a very healthy CD & DVD library the technology of which I expect to outlast my lifetime at this point. (Almost all of my remaining classical/ethnic vinyl has never made the transition.) I retain good audio gear for LPs.

        Books… Like a snail I drag around an absurd (many hundreds of boxes) quantity of books. One significant chunk is “genre collectibles/resellables”. Another is “otherwise unavailable”. All the rest (vast majority) is… unjustifiable based on “not wanting to buy/borrow it as ebook if needed again”, and I’d get rid of it if I physically could (requires going through it once with physical assistance, a process that will take space and weeks. While the rate of acquisition is unabated, I swapped over at first availability to ebooks (acquired/backed up/irrevocable by vendor) for everything I can with only a few physical book exceptions and, being HTML based, I expect that tech to last my remaining lifetime. My husband’s ebook volume, on the other hand, is too large for me to add him to my acquisition process (and get anything else in life done), so he remains vulnerable to the revocation process. And “best as physical” books remain an incoming stream, though very much reduced.

        It’s not the “clinging to the past” or “digital is a fad” that is the point (although music quality remains a genuine vinyl vs CD issue — as my hearing ages I care less) — it’s the permanence of ownership. I may lament the physical burden of ordinary books, but that’s really only a matter of scale — if it were only the “justifiable” books from our horde, it would still be a big issue. If CDs were as good in musical quality as LPs, I’d swap over the vinyl I have left in a heartbeat (if it ever became available in CD format) [MP3s are non-starters — horrible audio. I’d never use that format as the only version of anything. I’d rather rip my own from better media if I need the convenience.]

        Granted: games are in a separate category.

        All that said… we are very much NOT the demographic that matters in this arena. We’re only along for the ride (and we have a long memory of changes). At least we’ve learned how to surf through it.

        • Valid points.
          Won’t argue your preferences. I have a hoard of physical myself; 5000 books, 500 CDs, 500 DVDs, 300 LPs.
          I’m not mainstream and never was.

          The mainstream majority went to blockbusters to rent. To Netflix mail instead of buying.
          They listened to radio. They borrowed and recorded friend’s LPs.
          They resold their books (every suburb in my county had multiple two for one used paperback places. I bought, not sold.), CDs and games.
          All those folks are now on KU; NETFLIX, HULU, ETC; Amazon Music and Spotify. MTV used to be the place for music videos, catch as catch can, now it is among other places: Youtube, on demand.

          Record stores are history. LPs are the stuff of collectible shops. CDs are typically a half row at Walmart or Best Buy. Ditto for DVDs and BDs. Current CD sales are down to 1985 levels, if not lower.


          Video clubs? I doubt even millenials know what those were. Zoomers? “Duh, what?” ; ) Video producers are reorganizing into exclusivity silos and taking content out of other channels. An ongoing reshuffling until existing contracts expire. The video streaming evolution still has a way to go. Biggest problem is churn.

          Gamestop is still around only because a horde of internet scammers used its stock to rip off a bunch of short seller speculators. Otherwise it’d be gone the way of Tower Records.

          Half-price books is still around for now but B&N had to sell out to private equity or they’d be short seller prey, too.

          If anything, gaming is the laggard. AAA games are tied to hardware like PCs and consoles although casual “arcade” games are more often found on mobile. (One big reason MS is buying Activision is they own CANDY CRUSH.)

          Everybody likes to think they’re typical of the rest of the world but the OP folk are letting their biases blind them to the reality of the past 40 years ‘ worth of digitalization. Content ownership is in general overvalued, especially in tough economic times like we’re been in since 2008. In general the big bucks in digital are moving to the experience rather than ownership. Listening, reading, viewing, gaming over CDs, DVDs, game disks, and yes, books.

          There will still be those that champion ownership of tangible containers but year by year they will be less and less. It’s simply cheaper to subscribe to a Silo (even for just a month) and have access to on-demand content, old and new, enmasse than to buy it and house it.

          Want to watch CASABLANCA or NORTH BY NORTHWEST? DVD or BD will typically run you $15 each. Or you could get a month of HBOMAX and watch both, plus GONE WITH THE WIND, (all of AMC, really) plus newer jewels like WATCHMEN, THE GILDED AGE, the very Hitchcock-ian FLIGHT ATTENDANT, and 25000-plus hours of movies and complete series. Similar cases can be made for Disney+Fox, NBC Universal, and even Paramount. At latest, Netflix, Disney, and Prime had 150M subscribers, WBD 100M between HBOMAX and Discovery, NBCuniversal 60M, and Paramount around 40M. None looks to be gone any time soon.

          Music hasn’t gone silo, but it doesn’t matter who you give you $9 to Apple, Amazon, Spotify, or Pandora, you get access to pretty much all available music in any genre from the 50’s and even earlier. On demand in instants. Singles and albums.

          No, you don’t own it.
          But you enjoy it as often and as much as you have time for it.
          And, if you really must have pride of ownership, you can. But it will get increasingly expensive as the pool of buyers declines.

          In the streaming world the limiting factor is the user and tbeir time.
          21st century rules are different and not going back, barring the asteroid impact. At that point the preppers get the last laugh.

Comments are closed.