The Digital Switch

The Long Tail claims consumers, given more options, will reflect their widely varied interests. Physical stores cannot fill all of the demand, so bytes stored on disk are the fastest, cheapest method for getting stuff to consumers. We see a mostly example of this shift in the shift to digital music.

Vinyl records were the first physical music media form I used. Later, cassette tapes (1980s) and compact disc (1990s) achieved dominance. In 2001, I started the transition to digital music. There were some stumbles along the way because of technology changes and trusting vendors saying Digital Rights Management is good for consumers. At present, I only listen to digital music when using my own collection.

Digital video seems more complicated. Web sites streaming and on-demand television have the potential to fit the Long Tail model where consumers have access to insanely varied content when they want it. DVRs neither fix the when (just shift the airing to another time) or the insanely varied content. Movie rental distributors like Blockbuster and Netflix are moving toward distributing digital movies and TV shows in setups similar to on-demand. Nothing has even come close to winning.

Digital books may yet get some traction. Computers screens cause eye strain. Laptops don’t feel like a book. PDAs, Blackberrys, and other handhelds with small screens require a ton of scrolling. A recent solution to this is “epaper” which doesn’t constantly refresh. The Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, and Sony Reader are the biggest players. (The Long Tail is not available for the Kindle but is for the Reader. WTH?)

Remaining issues for me:

  1. Ownership is dying.
    • I really like the idea of playing music on my iPod or from CDs. I play DVDs on my computer because I can’t play my DVR stuff in a hotel. So streaming and on-demand only solutions bother me as long-term solutions. If it is easy for distributors to store it because it is just bytes, then it is easy for me to do so as well.
    • I have books from 20 years ago I can still read. Technology changes too much to depend on something I buy today working tomorrow. So maybe “renting” is a way better approach for digital media?
  2. The black markets for music and movies prove consumers want everything any time. Companies must embrace consumer demand and make it easier for consumers or suffer. I think companies changing to accommodate consumer demand is the only reason the music companies have survived. Litigation cannot solve it.
  3. Hardware investment gets expensive every few years.

My solution? Wait and see.