Long-suffering readers will be aware that one of few things still left on my old blog, now retitled Walt, Even Randomer, is the series of brief reviews of old movies, done each time I go through a disc from one of the Mill Creek Entertainment packs (typically 50 movies on 12 discs).
Mill Creek Entertainment does a remarkable job of mining the public domain and other areas where they can license movies or TV for very small sums–including TV movies–to create large sets of VHS-quality movies, typically four or five to a DVD, sold in genre packs at extremely low prices.
I’d been using the movies to “stay on the treadmill” for the past five+ years–going through more than 300 movies in that time, including some true classics and a few total turkeys. Of late, I’ve been alternating discs from two sets and watching two movies in a typical week, so it takes about a year to go through a 50-pack.
End of background. Start of foreground.
So last week, I finished an unusual 20-pack (early Alfred Hitchcock), alternating with a comedy 50-pack (I’m on disc 9)…and, instead of starting another 50-pack, I started something a little different: the 250-movie Mystery Collection.
Two hundred and fifty movies on 60 DVDs…
And suddenly thought, “If I watch movies at the typical rate, I’ll finish this box in about five years.”
Which then suggested musing a little about five years on–particularly where media are concerned.
If you believe some pundits, physical media will all be gone in five years–we’ll rely on that great digital jukebox in the sky for everything, when and as we need it. I don’t buy that for a minute. For a variety of reasons, I firmly believe that many of us will be buying physical media five years from now, enough to make for healthy industries.
On a medium-by-medium basis? I’m deliberately not a futurist, but here’s my best guess:
- Music: Even though CDs have already reached the 25-year mark (over the history of recorded music, a given medium has typically been dominant for about 25 years), they still represent the majority of music sales (about 2/3), despite widespread assumptions that CDs are already dead. There are two reasons for that: First, every DVD player is also a CD player; second, no replacement physical medium has succeeded (and those that have been attempted were, by and large, CD-equivalents). I’d bet that there will still be a multibillion-dollar (per year) CD industry five years from now, although it will probably be considerably smaller than today’s industry. But I’ll also bet that vinyl will still be with us five years from now, even though I’m not among the “digitization destroys music” brigade. (Not even close: The day we purchased our first CDs was a bit after the day we purchased our last LPs.)
- Films & video: I’m nearly 100% certain that there will still be a large (that is, multibillion$) commercial market for DVDs five years from now–and almost certainly a decade from now. Unlike music, the infrastructure for a truly workable universal video jukebox isn’t in place–and, as with music, there are millions of us who actually prefer a physical object. I’m about 90% certain that Blu-ray Disc will also be a multibillion$ market five years from now. Will Blu-ray become dominant over DVD? Short of a forced conversion, I think it’s unlikely–not because there’s anything wrong with Blu-ray but because most people either don’t notice the difference or don’t care about the difference. (By all accounts, a very large percentage of people who own HDTVs never actually watch high-definition TV. Those people aren’t going to pay $1 more for a Blu-ray version, much less $5 more.) I think Blu-ray will do just fine, but for some people, anything short of market domination is a failure, in which case I think Blu-ray will fail.
- Print magazines: Not going anywhere. Of course some are failing. Some always fail, and recessions aren’t great times to start magazines. It’s a tough time to start Yet Another Business Magazine (sorry, Portfolio); it’s a tough time to start Yet Another Any Sort of Magazine. I’ll still be subscribing to print magazines five years from now and ten years from now, and probably still paying absurdly low prices for some of them.
- Print books: Do I even need to discuss this one? Unless you believe that an 0.2% dip in sales in the midst of the worst recession in decades means Books Are Doomed, there’s really no sensible discussion here. I hope ebooks, done right, take a few $billion of the book market where ebooks do it better–but I don’t happen to believe that ebooks are likely to “do it better” for most long-form narrative fiction and nonfiction in my lifetime, much less the next decade. (I plan to be around three more decades, with luck, and my family history suggests that’s on the short side.)
- Print newspapers: I believe that hundreds of small and medium-sized print newspapers will still be around five and ten years from now; they’ve generally been doing better than the huge metro dailies. I hope that the better metro dailies will still be around–but I’m a little less sanguine. (Will we renew the San Francisco Chronicle next year at more than $400 a year? Hard to say…but I’d sure miss it, even though most content is available at SFGate.)
So, there it is: My personal take on what I think’s likely as regards physical media. I know some hotshot futurists say Everything’s Going Digital Real Soon Now. I also know the history of new and old media–and the wonders of DRM aren’t really helping. (Yes, Amazon probably did what it had to–but it also waved a Big Red Flag about the mutability of that big celestial jukebox. The book you “purchased” yesterday may or may not be the book you’re reading today…)
I could be wrong about any of these. I could be wrong about all of them–but I’d be very surprised. Heck, I’m hoping I’ll find interesting new Mill Creek 50-packs or 100-packs to buy in 2014. (The 250-packs appear to have been short-lived phenomena: you can still buy them from Amazon and elsewhere, but they don’t show up on Mill Creek’s website. That may be sensible…)
So, is this enough of an information science hook? The Future of Physical Media, from one reasonably informed perspective…