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Why digital downloads are a rip-off

Marc Crosby 27th Dec 2015 4 Comments

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The digital world is taking over our lives.

We download music rather than buy CDs, we choose Netflix over DVDs and we can even give up our yoga classes at the gym for free videos on YouTube.

Over half of Brits were given ‘virtual gifts’ at Christmas!

But have you stopped to question whether this digital development is a good thing?

In fact, the move towards the digital and virtual might just be robbing you of potential money-making opportunities…



Why are downloads so popular?

digital downloadsFor some people (myself included) there’s no substitute for owning a physical copy and compiling a collection, but there’s no denying these new digital services can be a benefit to the customer.

For example, if you rarely watch a film more than once it makes sense to pay £5.99 a month to watch several films rather than buy a physical copy that you’ll have no use for afterwards.

People download music for convenience, after all it’s easier to type an artist’s name into iTunes than to trawl through HMV only to find out they don’t have it in stock.


…the most insidious ‘download opportunity’ is the ever growing trend of ‘digital download’ video games.

For a long time the idea of downloading a video game to a console was something of an impossibility – the hard drives were too small and the download would simply take too long for it to be a workable business model.

However, particularly with the next-generation video game consoles, digital downloads are very much a reality and instead of going into a video game store and buying a disc, you can instead download it from an online store straight to your console.

The only real reason to do this is convenience – you can now buy a game without having to leave your home and you can start playing before it’s fully downloaded. It may also result in quicker loading times.


So what’s the problem?

digital downloadsWhenever you download something rather than buy a physical copy it means that you can’t sell the item on.

We’ve got a whole article on how to make money selling old DVDs, CDs and games but this only works for physical items, not digital ones.

With CDs and DVDs, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be losing money. You may well be able to buy or listen to music cheaper than from a store, and you might be getting more value for money by paying a subscription to Netflix rather than buying DVDs.

However if you never purchase physical copies it does mean you’ll never know the joy of buying something without much thought only to find out a few years later that it’s rare and could make you a few bob.

Plus there are some films you really should be buying if you’re a fan (and a smart one at that) – for example Disney classics are only released every seven to ten years, so you can make money buying and selling at the right time. Find out more in our article on making money from the Disney Vault.

Downloading video games on the other hand… well that’s much more problematic for consumers.


The truth about digital downloads the video game industry doesn’t want you to know

digital downloadsUnlike DVDs and CDs, video games can be really expensive and the pre-owned market is very important – both for making a little money back and for getting games at a reasonable price.

Without a physical copy, however, there’s no way you can sell your game on. With a disc you can buy a game and if you complete it or don’t like it you can sell it on. You might not get a fortune for it, but you’ll get something.

With a digital download you can’t do that – once you’ve downloaded it you can’t sell it on again.

Given the huge market for pre-owned video games, which not only allows people to get some money for their used discs but also makes games affordable to people who couldn’t buy them new, it seems that the push towards the digital download is very deliberate. Indeed Sony has been very open about its intention to move more and more towards downloads.

There have already been moves to make pre-owned games less appealing. For example EA often sell their new games with ‘online passes’ which can only be used once. If you buy the game second hand you’ll have to pay to get a new online pass.

But digital downloads appear to be the biggest push towards eliminating the second hand game market.


…and there’s more…

What really rubs salt into the wound, however, is that digital downloads are more expensive than physical copies!

You pay, on average, an extra £10-15 when you buy a digital download rather than a disc.

Directly buying from an online store means there is much less competition, so you can be charged extortionate amounts.

But why should we pay more? After all, downloads are cutting out the middlemen so really they should be cheaper. But it’s not.


How much am I losing?

digital downloadsLet’s take two examples to see how much you could be losing.

At the moment you can buy a copy of the recently released Grand Theft Auto 5 for the PS4 from Amazon for £42.99. If you buy a digital copy from the Playstation Store, however, it will set you back £54.99. Straight away you’re paying an extra £12 just for convenience (with no option to sell it on after you’re done with it.)

But it doesn’t end there. CEX will currently pay £40 in cash (or £44 in voucher) for a secondhand copy.

And what’s worse, let’s say you bought the game and found you didn’t like  it – well you could get most of your money back.

If you’d downloaded it, it would be a complete loss.

Using an example of a game that came out a few months ago, you could get Watchdogs for the Xbox One from Amazon for £26.86.  If you download it from the Xbox Store, however, you’d pay a staggering £59.99. That’s a saving of over £30 straight away!

If you want to trade it in, CEX will give you £8 cash (or £12 voucher), or you could sell it for more on Amazon or eBay. But with a download you wouldn’t even have the option of selling it.

As you can see, you could be losing a fortune by buying a digital download instead of a disc.

This isn’t even taking into account the fact that certain games may become rare and be worth a fair bit.

For example, if you managed to get your hands on a PS3 copy of Afrika when it came out you could easily be selling it for more than double the price you paid… if not more!


So what can I do?

At this point in time we should be making a stand against digital downloads because

  • they don’t benefit us, the consumers, at all,
  • we pay more
  • and all it does is further the agenda of wiping out the pre-owned market – a market which allows us to make some money selling on our unwanted discs and makes games affordable to people who can’t pay full whack for a new copy.

What do you think about digital downloads? Do you agree or do you think the convenience is worth the cost? Let us know your thoughts below and please share with your friends!

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Roger Calderbank
Roger Calderbank
6 years ago

Whilst I don’t buy, or play, video games myself, I agree with everything you have said. I am guilty of buying the odd music album or film digitally but only when I absolutely have to. I nearly always buy physical CDs and DVDs and take pleasure in having a physical ‘library’ of films and music and also being able to give them as gifts. One thing you haven’t mentioned is that High Street shops are slowly, and in some places quickly, disappearing and if we all bought digitally that would mean more High Street shops having to close down and… Read more »

Jasmine Birtles
6 years ago

Yes, agreed. We need to fight for our high streets – and use them – or we will lose them!

Jesse May
Jesse May
9 years ago

I both love and hate digital. I love ebooks for the fact I can keep them and read them over and over without overflowing shelves, but I also love real books for the smell, you don’t get that with a tablet or kindle etc. I love Netflix. £5.99 per month for TV shows and films beats £12 for a TV license for live content we rarely watch. Still I own a handful of blu Rays and DVDs for the films we will watch over and over like iron man, Star Wars and Disney films. I don’t like digital purchased films… Read more »

Jasmine Birtles

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

Jasmine Birtles

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