Software guru Chris Heric ponders what the digitisation of media, that is content without a medium, means to the printer, and says it could prove problematic for us
The march to eliminate the medium from the media people consume is well underway, in a world where content is now expected to be downloaded and streamed instead of purchased and owned, and it is somewhat scary. This is a revisited discussion of a similar column I authored some time ago, and as several happenings have come to light it is now a topic that it is even more appropriate to pay attention to.
When I was a kid, and I wanted to buy a record (a 33 1/3rpm 12” album) I mowed some lawns, and I went to the store and bought a record. I began to build a library, or collection of albums, and I built what we now term a media library, but what we used to call, mundanely, a record collection. If you took good care of your records, they would sound fabulous for years and even decades to come (I still have my records), and I have been able to translate my collection into my modern formats. I was able to tape my records in the 80’s and 90’s, and able to digitise it into iTunes/iPod today.
I bought the content once, and I was able to move it from medium to medium as technology progressed. Enter the age of the CD, where the quality and skip-free digital clarity and convenience of digital audio compelled me to buy a lot of the content I had purchased before on an album, now on a CD. The Beatles CDs gave me an excuse to re-purchase all of the albums that I had on 12” vinyl, and have the digital, pristine re-mastered digital Beatles, This opened up a new world, high-quality reproduction of the music I had loved on vinyl, and was worth buying again to hear all the subtle nuance you could hear on a CD without a $500.00 phonograph stylus on my turntable. It was worth re-buying my content because it was so much better than I had previously had access to.
This emergent market of digital reproduction and a personal computer meant also that even after a bit of abuse and misuse, a CD (or a copy of a CD) can sound as good as it did the day it came out of shrink-wrap, 10-20 years earlier. I began to haunt the used CD stores. This meant significant savings to me as a student, and it was worth searching through bins of someone’s foolish purchases, and taking advantage of that to buy content that sounded as new, but in reality was second-hand cast-off. This meant good news for the used CD store, but bad news for the artist and record distributor because I was not buying new content, I was buying content that had already been paid for to the publisher and artist, and they got no further piece of the pie for the re-purchase of that content.
Combined with the propagation of the internet as a means for savvy users to file-share and pirate large quantities of digital media, and it looked as though it was going to be then end of the salad days for the music industry. The same history begat the video game industry, and many users would buy the game, finish it, and then sell it to a used video game store. Once again, the store was the big winner here, and the software publisher was the loser, by people who would just wait for it to hit the used rack, and so take the publisher out of the revenue stream. Keep in mind here, that the publishers are what we in print might have referred to as clients for the actual manufacturing of the content they were selling.
Then came the internet, and downloadable licensed content became something that the publishing community looked to in order to recoup a business model that put them back in the revenue stream, by eliminating the used market completely. iTunes proved it could be a success, and now we are beginning to see devices that intentionally have no media input/output. The Sony PSP Go was a network-only handheld gaming system that was released in the autumn of 2009, with no media bay, so no UMD, no CD-Rom, no cartridge. You had to download content to it, and once you did, it was your content to use (under the End-User-License-Agreement.) It cannot be re-sold, and it cannot be transferred to another user or account. Once you buy a download license it is yours and yours alone. While this does not impact a guy like myself, who purchases my content anyway, and never sold anything to a used store, the concept of ownership of media is a changing mindset that is now under the assumption of an always-online, wired universe of internet and digital rights management.
We can learn a lot from the video gaming industry. They have been the ones that have been most likely heavily impacted by the used-game-store business model, and they are the ones to take bold moves like requiring an internet connection, and to offer download-only full-retail pricing. (Microsoft charges the same $59 retail pricing for the digital download of a new game on the Xbox live network as they do the physical implementation of the DVD, with a literal production cost of pennies versus dollars in cost to deliver the media.) We can also learn a lot from the history of the success and evolution of streaming services like Netflix. This month, Netflix surpassed bit torrent traffic, claiming the seat of the largest amount of internet traffic used by one solution, which is a sign that consumers will pay to not even own their content, but to just be able to stream it on-demand. This proves people will pay for media that is just streamed, and never owned.
When you buy a book on your Amazon Kindle, you do not own it, you just have a license to use it. This is a huge sea-change in the way people use, purchase and consume media, and we in print will be wise to keep an eye on this. In the traditional purchase-model, where the consumer owns the printed and physical product, we printers got some revenue for producing that media. Every DVD, CD, 33 1/3rpm album, and book/magazine, was printed. Every digital download and iTunes song had no printers used in the sales chain.
It is not a new topic to my columns to look towards differentiating oneself as a printshop as a means to bring the value of using your facility up. We are in a war trying to keep ourselves pertinent in a world where every effort is being made to get our print fulfillment role out of the revenue stream. We cannot stem the tide of digital delivery, but by making ourselves flexible and notable for other reasons, we can keep ourselves viable but we need to watch with interest the happenings of other media; it will directly impact our bottom-line sooner than later.