The future of physical media: DRM, the poor, and more...

So in my local comic store, there was a brief discussion on physical media like comic books, CDs, DVDs, etc. The general consensus seemed to be that pretty soon, they would be nonexistent, in favor of online/data-based forms like Netflix and iTunes.

This produced some mixed feelings, as well as questions. Would computer-based (only) music, movies, comics, and so on give too much power to media companies? There are companies out there that will cut off your access to bought music forever if you drop their service, after all. Will this create a “bottleneck” of access (OTOH, I acknowledge that the big media companies haven’t been too successful so far in stopping music or movie swapping)? Is this destruction of the secondhand physical media market a good thing (after all, I don’t have to worry about viruses and Trojans when I buy a used CD at a store)?

Even disregarding the media companies, it puts a lot more “pressure” on computers and their health. Getting a virus or a hard drive crash suddenly becomes a disaster on par with your house burning down (when it comes to your music and movies). I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

What about the poor? Are we cutting off their access by going online-only? It’s one thing to listen to music when you can go to a store and buy a CD. It’s quite another when you’re required to buy a computer, buy a high speed Internet connection, and THEN buy the music. (OTOH, both are becoming cheaper and more a vital part of modern life every day.)

So I’m kind of undecided on whether this whole trend is a good or bad thing. Thoughts?

I’d say quite the opposite.

When you had to get published (i.e. physical media) the creator of whatever was at the whim of the media companies. The Average Joe does not have access to printing presses and distribution channels.

With the computer that world is thrown wide open. Take news for example. You used to be beholden to a handful of media organizations to provide news to you. Now anyone can report on anything they want (witness the millions of bloggers out there). This has actually weakened the media organizations. Newspapers are going out of business left and right, magazines too.

Music has been changed dramatically too. The music companies are fighting tooth and nail to maintain their monopoly (consider how they sue people for a few hundred thousand dollars for downloading 20 songs…and they are suing people left and right for this). While artists may hate illegal downloads (understandably) most will tell you of the horror of dealing with the music industry. Musicians who wanted to get their music published were beholden to them and the music companies had them over a barrel and took advantage of them. Now there are many avenues that musicians can get their music out.

Poor people who cannot afford a computer can go to a library and access a computer.

I’m not a fan of a shift to 100% virtual delivery of intellectual property. it makes it far easier to dictate usage and license contents.

if i buy a work of literature, i want to be able to read it when and where i want, on whatever presentation system i choose (given the boundaries of the medium), and i want to be able to re-sell it if i want, lend it if i want, etc.

virtual delivery is all about having the content-providing middle-man dictate who what where when and how the content is presented to you. i’m not a fan.

basically, no, i don’t want to fucking download your proprietary application to read a book for a limited period of time.

I think you’re overlooking two things: piracy isn’t going away, and computers are cheap. A brand new cheap netbook costs less, in real dollars, than a CD player did in the mid 80s. You can buy a USB-stick mp3 player big enough to store 20 albums for less than the cost of a single CD in the 80s. Those are the only purchases many people need to make to use digital media files. They can, but don’t have to, pay for the files. I’m not even thinking piracy, here, I’m thinking about all the music and video that’s just available, free and legal, on the internet.

Or, skip the computer entirely. Buy an iPod touch, which can connect to the internet, download music and video, and play it. You can buy a brand new one for $200, and it even comes with headphones.

Or, of course, you can still buy a cheap disc player and cds for even less. So, we shouldn’t really worry about the poor being cut off until CDs are no longer being produced. Considering that vinyl records are still being produced, that might be quite a while, but let’s assume that they’ll be completely gone in 10 years. That’s about 5 iterations of Moore’s law, which suggests that the cost for your computer will be well into the sub-$100 range. iPods might not ever go that low due to Apple’s market strategy, but some low-cost competitor will offer you more than you can get today for about $50.

I am not too concerned in the long run with DRM. It didn’t win out in the music stores, and, given enough time, it’ll lose out in the video delivery markets, too.

When I stop being able to buy a hardcopy of a CD or DVD or a book, I will stop buying new music or movies or reading material. I have a strong (irrational/emotional) preference to actually owning things, so I can run my hands over the covers and coo if I want. If it’s digital-only, then I do not feel I own it and do not feel I’ve gotten what I paid for.

Fortunately I’ve already amassed huge libraries of hardcopy against the day when they stop selling real things.

I have access to over 15,000+ films on netflix streaming. Also no matter what song I want to listen to, chances are I can probably see the music video on youtube.

I remember about 15 years ago reading about Kim Jong Il (dictator of North Korea) and reading that he had the biggest personal video collection on earth of about 10,000 films. My $9/month netflix subscription gives me a bigger collection than he has, and it is far more portable (I only need my laptop and internet access). I also have millions of music singles at my disposal via youtube.

Even if my computer crashes, I will not lose my ability to check out netflix or youtube on a different computer. Besides, I recently bought a 600GB external HD for $69, and the prices are going to keep going down. So I could easily back up all movies, books and audio (which are not stored remotely on youtube or netflix) I have on that if I wanted to.

I don’t think physical storage will totally go away. I wouldn’t want to get all my comics online personally. The texture of comic books is part of the appeal. With music I am perfectly fine with an MP3 player over a casette player, but with comics I’d rather have a physical comic book over an LCD screen. However if they perfect or near perfect virtual paper I might switch to that.

The poor are being screwed a bit, but computers keep going down in cost. A used desktop is about $150, a used laptop about $300 on craigslist. And libraries have free computers. DSL is only $15 in some areas, and wifi is free in various commercial and public buildings.

So they aren’t being screwed that badly.

How have public libraries been affected by the new media? Have audio or video budgets gone down due to lower demand? I assume book budgets are roughly the same.