Five years on

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…

10 Responses to “Five years on”

  1. First, congratulations on keeping up the treadmilling for five years. That’s a real accomplishment in the exercise world.
    Second, I just wanted to say a “me too” about your media predictions. As a now frequent consumer of Netflix “Watch Instantly”, I want to especially second the idea that optical discs (DVD and/or blu-ray) will be around for awhile. Why?
    – Optical discs don’t vanish from your personal library like items in your “watch instantly” queue.
    – The video on demand solutions that I’m aware of make no provision for commentaries, subtitles or other special features. I don’t need those for “Dragnet 1967”, but do for many movies.
    – There are still about 1/3 of Americans who do not have home internet access. According to Pew Internet most of these offline people don’t plan to sign up for broadband anytime soon. So it would be foolish to abandon a potential market of nearly 100,000,000 Americans.

  2. Daniel,
    Unfortunately, it was five years & out–not because I wanted to stop exercising, but because the new treadmill broke our DSL. We’re doing lots of walks for now… And I certainly give credit to the old movies, of all qualities, for keeping me on the treadmill.
    Your comments all add substance to the discussion. As to that last, despite Pew’s constant evangelizing, I’d guess 20% of Americans feel their lives are just peachy-keen without broadband (or any home internet access). I’d also guess they’re right.

  3. ileneh says:

    Please let me know when you find The Rat Race and Goodbye Charlie, both with Debbie Reynolds and Tony Curtis! I can’t find them anywhere. Also, don’t miss A Song is Born, with Danny Kaye. It came out on DVD recently and is priceless for its inclusion of some of the top jazz artists of the day!

  4. ileneh: It doesn’t really work that way–I’m not out looking for specific films (and am unlikely to be buying any more collections for a while). I think you could search for those films at the Mill Creek Entertainment site, to see if they’re on any of the sets–but it’s unlikely.

  5. Tom says:

    Ah, Mill Creek Entertainment where you get get Capra’s Meet John Doe and George Hamilton as Evel Knievel in the same set. What a phenomenal leveling effect public domain has.
    I agree with your observations. Too many people have an either/or attitude about formats. I comfortably bounce between buying music on iTunes and buying cds and watching Netflix online and getting the dvds. There’s a simplicity about having a disc in hand and sticking it in a machine to play. It’s not a broken paradigm.

  6. Gerry says:

    It’s always 5 years from now, Walt! Our patrons are always surprised when we can’t get everything in the world downloaded for them right now (of course that’s why they come here, when they find that out…), even Overdrive (gasp!) doesn’t have everything and it’s not as simple as put a disc in a player.

  7. Teague says:

    I’m in agreement with you 80%. I have two reasons for disputing your music forecast:
    1. The Costco test: The only CDs available in the warehouse shopping icon are oldies collections and reissues of some sort, and a very few top hits. The whole selection fills about one quarter of a media display table. Perhaps not a very rigorous quantitative test, but the sales space devoted by the chain reflected the end of photographic film and VHS tape fairly closely.
    2. A little more scientific may be the observation that portability and ease of use seem closely linked to music consumption. Wax cylinders and shellac discs displaced sheet music and actual instruments. Vinyl LPs and singles offered a little more durability in use, before displacement by magnetic tape, which was smaller and cheaper. CDs offered similar portability with better fidelity, but cannot compete in either ease or portability with digital formats.
    Before the end of the coming decade, I expect to see music in physical media only for serious audiophiles or collectors of the various physical media.

  8. Teague: Well, if you’re saying “by 2019,” that’s a lot different than “five years from now”–and I’m saying multibillion$ business, not necessarily anywhere near the current business.
    As for #2, though: Sheet music and actual instruments haven’t gone away. Vinyl LPs haven’t gone away entirely–and audiocassettes certainly didn’t put LPs out of business (or close to it).
    You might be right. I wouldn’t even begin to suggest what the case might be by 2019…

  9. Scott says:

    >the new treadmill broke our DSL
    (Visions of human-powered DSL modems are dancing through my head 🙂

  10. Scott: The treadmill motor was generating large amounts of radio frequency interference and was badly shielded. RFI at that scale knocks out DSL–the modem gives up on trying to correct the problem.