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How digitalisation is stealing from us

Jasmine Birtles 22nd Aug 2023 One Comment

I was talking to a musician pal of mine recently about streaming. “Oh, it’s pretty much killed the indie record industry” was his reply. These are not words to be taken lightly.

I recalled teenage Jasmine, cross-legged on her bedroom floor, waiting for the weekly music charts – fingers braced to record my favourite songs on cassette. My mum came in and yelped, “that’s stealing, darling!” and I cried. I hadn’t meant to steal.

I often think about that moment now. I struggle to know how to support artists at all without the physical media – where do we place our money? It nearly all goes to the streaming platform. What would my lovely mum make of how we obtain music today?

Is the demand for music and film simply decreasing?

Whilst artists get paid less and less, and the amount of sales to get to number one in the charts hugely decreases, is our demand for music and film somehow less? Absolutely not!

It is estimated that there are over 517.69 million Spotify users worldwide in total as of 2023, with approximately 229 million premium subscribers. So, we are still parting with our hard-earned cash – what have we got to show for it though? If the platform disappeared tomorrow – would we have access to any of the songs we paid for?

There is also a lot to be said for the work created in manufacturing the physical copies: the pressing plants, the artists, the printers.

There are only a handful of vinyl manufacturers left in the UK, and whilst this is said to be slowly rising to meet a new demand for ownership, how come there are so few of us who actually want to own what we pay for?

As audio distribution platform Bandcamp told Mixmag recently: “Around half [of our] sales consist of physical merchandise, led predominantly by vinyl, and during Bandcamp Fridays in 2020, physical sales increased by 107%.”

Whilst the rise in sales is good – and highlights people waking up the joys of ownership and the physical property – they are still a tiny percentage of what they were.

The joys of pro-digitalisation of our collection

I spoke to Jemma Lawson in Essex about her love of digital: “I got sick of the constant upgrades. It felt like the industry got greedy and no sooner had I upgraded from VHS to DVD, I was being told Blu-Ray was the better format. As I toyed with starting again, I just felt fed up. I am now pleased I didn’t, because 4K is being touted as the one true medium to watch movies.”

Jemma said she went on to sell her entire collection for peanuts and subscribed to multiple streaming platforms. She added: “I love the space it made in my house but do admit that in spite of the millions of films now at my fingertips. I do get annoyed when I go to watch an old favourite and can’t find it.”

I know what she means – it’s great to have more space in your home and not to have to bother with piles of plastic boxes with plastic discs inside them.

But then with the ‘convenient’ streaming services it gradually dawns on you that you’re paying for something that you never actually own. At any time the service could drop out or kick you out and that’s it…you have nothing.

Also, at least with the plastic bits and pieces you had something you could then sell on or give away. It’s under your control, under your ownership.

Right now we own nothing and, as far as I’m concerned, we’re not happy!

This is what I can’t get past. Whilst we pay for services and films, a) Who is benefitting? and b) Does it really mean we can watch what we want?

Why we should own what we pay for

A pal of mine quipped, “if you can’t touch it, you can’t own it” and while I hasten to quibble that this isn’t the case for the stock market, it is the case for physical media.

Our streaming investment gets us no shares in the product, no security of ownership and very rarely do we even have access to what it is we want.

This month, however, even Disney is cottoning on to the fact that some of their much-streamed titles like Prey and The Mandalorian are in demand for physical releases: people want the case, the disc and the artwork, and not just a digital streaming version of the title. And they’re prepared to pay to essentially double-down and own these titles.

So perhaps a tipping point has been reached, and physical media is experiencing a resurgence in light of streaming services chopping titles willy-nilly (Disney themselves cut their own show Willow from streaming mere months after it was premiered)?

It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the coming year.

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9 months ago

Jasmine is well fit!

Jasmine Birtles

Your money-making expert. Financial journalist, TV and radio personality.

Jasmine Birtles

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