Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

Pride of Ownership Is Becoming a Thing of the Past [OPINION]

Whether we’re downloading the latest New York Times Bestseller to our e-readers or streaming the latest blockbuster to our TV sets, we’re indulging in a wonderful new system of content delivery. Thanks to this system, the content we want is only ever a click away. We have instant access to the entertainment we crave, but there’s a cost:

The most significant casualty in this emerging system is our good ol’ fashioned “pride of ownership.”

Brands and retailers left and right are retooling their business models to allow for more and better digital distribution options than ever before, providing us with easy and affordable access to all sorts of media. At face value, it’s an ideal system, as it means less time spent at the retail stores and more time spent in the comfort or our own homes; less time searching for entertainment, more time enjoying it.

We delight in the convenience of it all, but we tend to forget that such convenience is a double-edged sword.

Kindle on a Bookshelf

Why buy the paper when the download is cheaper?

As of now, the hard copies of our media (our music, our books, our movies, etc.) might as well be on the endangered species list. To be fair though, there are a number of reasons for this. For example, why pay 10 to 15 bucks on a CD when we can stream all the same songs online for free? Likewise, why pay for an individual movie rental when we can subscribe to a huge catalog of films and stream them at our convenience from the web? And books? Well, why buy the printed version when the download is cheaper?

Before we know it (and perhaps sooner than we realize), hard copies will be gone entirely, and we’ll have only our “playlists” and “queues” to keep us occupied.

Will that be enough? Will we miss having our movies, music, and books line our living room shelves? In years to come, will we really take as much pride in our digital media as we once did in our physical media?

Playlist on a Cell Phone

Not much to be “proud” of.

Think of it this way: it’s easy to take pride in a collection of 100 or more books, albums, or movies — especially when they’re on your shelf, waiting to be enjoyed. It’s tougher to take pride in having a list of options in front of you and simply choosing the best one to read/listen to/watch.

But it’s a new era of consumer culture, and it’s inevitable for us to part ways with notions that belong in the previous era. As the trend toward digital distribution gains more and more support, pride of ownership, sadly, may prove to be one of those notions.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments!

Images by: London Brad, arj03 and goXunuReviews.


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  1. Mandy Kilinskis

    It’s just so sad. I have a huge collection of DVDs/Blurays in my room. And while I seek out combo packs that include a digital copy, I have no interest in just owning a digital copy. There’s just this wonderful feeling of “Hey, go pick out a movie to watch from my massive collection” that I don’t think could ever be replaced by “Oh, scroll through my movies on iTunes and let’s huddle around my smaller computer screen. Blah. And as much as it would be nice not to have my bookshelves cluttered with books and have them all on a Kindle, I think the empty shelves would just be way too depressing.

    I will fight this to the end. I’ll be that one person that has to special order a Bluray in 5 to 7 years, but I’ll do it, dang it! I love my pride of ownership. I’ll fight you, digital age!!

    • Joseph Giorgi

      As much as I’d love to fight the inevitable digital takeover along with you, Mandy, I just don’t know if I’ll be able to say no to the sheer convenience of digital distribution in the years to come. Why does it have to be so darn easy to stream nowadays?! 🙁

      Don’t get me wrong, I take a great deal of pride in the movies I watch and whatnot. And while it would be great to have the physical copies to back that claim up, it’ll probably be much cheaper just to rent the streaming versions — for the most part. That’s not to say that there won’t be a handful of copies worth owning though. I couldn’t imagine not owning at least a few. Like you said, “empty shelves would just be depressing.” I’ll have to keep a few choice copies on display just for my own sake.

      • Amanda

        Yeah–this is a hard one. I think that even though they digital copies are taking over, the physical ones will be easy to come by for quite some time. The older generations still have not all moved over to digital, and I think they’re some of the biggest readers! Plus, for nostalgia value, people won’t be letting them go all together for a long, long time. Thank goodness. I think the two worlds can coexist. I love having the choice between digital and physical copies. =)

    • Jill Tooley

      I’m with you, Mandy! I will also fight this to the end. Want to join forces? We could totally do some damage together with our canes and our bitter attitudes on the subject. “Come over here, digital age, and I’ll show you what a REAL media collection looks like!” 😉

      Seriously though, this makes me really sad as well. I know that digital is the future and blahbity-blah-blah, but that doesn’t mean I have to embrace all aspects of it with open arms. You know what scares me about all this? Computers fail. External hard drives fail. I’d be ragingly upset if my entire collection was taken away because my computer decided to croak! I shudder at the very thought…

      Awesome post, Joe!

  2. Juliette

    Nice post, Joseph!

    I might be one of those weird folks who wants to own both a physical and a digital version of everything. For example, I wouldn’t trade my library for the world. I love sitting in that room, surrounded by books I love. I love pulling a book off the shelf to curl up with for awhile. But I also love being able to get those books for my Kindle so I can travel with them. The same goes for my movies. Digital copies are all well and good (and I like having them on my ipod) but I want my shelves reflecting my crazy film taste.

    Music is a slightly different story. I love to collect CDs, particularly when I get them autographed or if they are imports or hard to find. Otherwise, I LOVE my digital music. You see, I’m a murderer of CDs. Somehow whenever they’re around me they get scratched. I swear I can just look at one and it cracks. So digital music has saved my music collection.

    But then, I’m a collector. Though I like having copies of my media in digital format, for me nothing can replace the joy of holding the physical object in my hand.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      I share a similar sentiment regarding traditional, physical media, Juliette. I suppose that’s why I’m fascinated (and disquieted) by the whole digital takeover we’re witnessing these days. I agree, it’s nice to have digital copies for backup and for portable devices, but the real thing is just so much more gratifying. And yes, it’s always a good feeling to see rows and rows of our favorite films and books lining the shelves in our homes. I think it’s going to be a sad day when I look around to find that people have transitioned to an “all-digital-all-the-time” mindset. Admittedly, I’m getting there myself, and I’m feeling more and more conflicted because of it. I love my DVD/Blu-Ray collection, and I plan to always own physical copies of the movies I care about the most. On the other hand, it’s just so convenient and tempting to embrace the “dark side” of digital. Not sure if I’ll be able to resist.

      As always, thanks so much for commenting. 🙂

      • Juliette

        The upside is that as more people switch to digital, they’ll probably start selling their physical libraries which means…

        More physical copies for folks like us!

        I don’t think it’s a bad thing to embrace the dark side (after all, they do have digital cookies). And for some folks, especially those who move a lot or having limited space it might be the better option.

        • Joseph Giorgi

          Very true! Eventually, there’s going to be plenty of physical copies out there in the wild — they’ll probably be relatively inexpensive too. It’ll be a veritable feast for connoisseurs of traditional media! 🙂

  3. Cybernetic SAM

    It is so strange. I am somewhere in the middle. I love my huge collections of movies and music, but I have just as much (and more) when it comes to the digital world. There is something very satisfying on both ends. Nothing says character like walking into a room full of books, movies, and vinyls/CDs. But it also satisfying to have a simplistic, minimal lifestyle with just a computer, Kindle and iPod. I love having physical copies of all my media for that “just in case” moment. But life is so much easier and my bag is so much lighter thanks to digital! 🙂

    So, I have to say that I will always want physical copies of the most important media that I hold dear, such as collectible books and music. But with movies and other music and books, it will be kind of nice not having so much stuff around.

    But my question to you, Joseph: what are you gonna do when you can’t sell all your games and movies anymore?

    • Joseph Giorgi

      “…what are you gonna do when you can’t sell all your games and movies anymore?”

      Cry. :'(

  4. JPorretto

    I’ll agree and disagree. I’ll agree that there’s nothing to point at and say “I’m so proud of all that.” Which gives people warm fuzzies. I’ll disagree because…. have you ever seen the show hoarders?

    I LOVE the space that not having physical objects provides. I can’t fathom going back to carrying my binder of CDs around trying to pick one while driving on the highway. Now it’s all on a USB drive and I can just SAY the name of the band or song I want to play.

    With that said, I just don’t think physical media will be going away anytime soon. For all the hub-ub of downloadable video games, 50% of consoles still aren’t online. And the download only system (the PSP Go) was a colossal failure. There is still a staggeringly long way to go before physical media goes the way of the dodo.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Video games are definitely an interesting case when it comes to digital distribution. While the PSP Go was a huge failure, the “Steam” network (for PC game downloads) has been a runaway success, prompting GameStop and EA to develop their own online download services.

      Physical games will probably be around for at least another console generation (roughly 10 years, give or take), but if the download services continue to gain momentum, the hard copies may not be around as long as we’d hope. And it’s going to be a very sad day when they’re gone. There’s nothing like that new video game smell.

    • Amanda

      Agreed! I have only moved a few times in my life, and I dread packing and having to lift the heavy boxes of books I’ve accumulated (Well, I dread for my husband and his friends to have to lift them, lol). But I just hate to part with them. I suppose though, unless they’re really sentimental, I should get rid of them. I very rarely re-read a book.

  5. Jana Quinn

    I think the word “ownership” is what’s in contention here. If you subscribe to Netflix, do you really own anything? You’re renting it, and if you decide to discontinue the service, you are left with nothing. You have paid for a service, not a product. But buying specific digital files gives you a physical copy in the sense you will (in theory) always have access to it based on a one-time price. In this sense, it’s not digital versus physical; it’s buy versus rent.

    However, for me, the experience of reading a book is not limited to absorbing the words: it’s actually feeling the weight of the book, the smell of the book, the way it looks next to others in its series or on its own. The inscription from my grandma on the inside cover. The hot chocolate stain from that one time I was laughing too hard and the drink sloshed over the edge of the rim. Like the chambermaid in EX LIBRIS by Anne Fadiman, I believe a book is more than the content within its pages:

    “When I was eleven and my brother was thirteen, our parents took us to Europe. At the Hotel d’Angleterre in Copenhagen, as he had done virtually every night of his literate life, Kim left a book facedown on the bedside table. The next afternoon, he returned to find the book closed, a piece of paper inserted to mark the page, and the following note, signed by the chambermaid, resting on its cover:


    True ownership, in case of books – for me, at any rate – is an experience worth paying for.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      “…the experience of reading a book is not limited to absorbing the words”

      Very good point! At the end of the day, can it even really be called a “book” if there are no physical pages to flip through. Isn’t that part of what defines a book? I’d argue that if it’s not in physical form, it’s not technically a book any longer — it’s just words on a screen.

      Movies and music are a different case. It’s still a “movie” even if you don’t have the physical copy. It’s still “music” even if you didn’t insert a CD or place a record. But it’s not a “book” if you’re not holding it — it’s just an imitation of a “book.”

      It probably doesn’t make sense, but that’s my opinion.

  6. amy

    My mom has a Nook that she loves reading from, but I just can’t seem to jump on board with it. While I love the convenience of clicking two buttons and having that “must-read, best seller” appear on the screen, I love wandering through bookstores a lot more. It’s kind of sad, but I wonder if our generation is the last one that will enjoy these “mundane” tasks. It seems like younger generations want the product now and instantly, which they’ll be able to achieve with these devices; Nook, iPhones, iPad, etc.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      That’s a strange thought indeed: members of our generation being the last to meander through the aisles of a local bookstore. Seems so surreal!

      But you’re right, the instant gratification of downloading media on the spot seems to be paving the way. I’m as guilty as the next person for succumbing to the convenience of it all, but I’m definitely feeling more and more torn about it.

  7. Amanda

    Whoa! This is an excellent and thought provoking post Joe. Well done! =)

    Where to begin? I am, like the other commenters, somewhat on the fence on these kinds of issues. I use both physical/digital and owned/rented materials and love them all!

    For music, I prefer digital copies through Rhapsody. Yes, I am only renting the collection — but for me, for now, it’s all worth it (About the cost of one CD per month). We pay for a subscription with them to listen to all the music we want and put the music onto our mp3 players. That has been wonderful!! I have a huge collection of CDs, but haven’t bought more than a few in the past several years….they scratch easily, the case to hold them all is heavy, etc.

    For movies, we don’t like to spend $20 a title, but for our favorites, it’s well worth it. I have subscribed to Netflix two times in the past, and have enjoyed it…but there’s always been the point when we stop using it as much as we’d like to, so we cancel. I think it’s a great service, just not always worth having I guess. We’d always get frustrated with them not offering certain titles, or waiting for the discs, etc. With satellite TV, we find there are lots of movies there to be watched, and they keep getting more new releases. Plus, we like to use Redbox once in a while. I only like to re-watch certain movies…so owning tons of them isn’t worth it to me.

    And finally, with books I am somewhat on the fence too. Surprise! When I was younger, and had more money to “blow” or my parents paid for my books, I was all about owning lots of them. Now I’d say I love the digital copies more than the physical books. In the past couple months, I’ve gotten into listening to audio books, and I’ve enjoyed that SO MUCH!!!!! I do enjoy reading/feeling/smelling/holding the copy of the book very much, like many of you. But, I never find the time to read. At home I’d rather watch TV…so although I love reading, I never get around to it. Until recently. You could argue that listening to a book is not the same as reading a book, but to me it’s the same. I value the story itself over the print on paper. I listen to the books on my commute to work and back, am on book 8 I believe. I would never have gotten to read these otherwise — so I am entirely in love with audio books. They are the exact words at the written version–so I feel that I get the entire feel for the book. Plus, I’ve been borrowing them from my local library….so they’re free! Yes, I’m not owning them, but they’re there anytime I want them. I just hope that physical libraries won’t go away anytime soon. =)

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Thanks so much, Amanda! 🙂

      I agree about Rhapsody. I actually use Spotify, which is basically the same thing — and I totally love it! A monthly subscription is definitely the best way to go. So much music! Such a great deal! I used to have a decent CD collection, but I’m not too big on collecting music anymore. My CDs just ended up taking up space, and I never really developed much of a sentimental attachment to music anyway.

      Now, as for movies, I don’t like to spend too much on individual titles either, but I do like to watch a lot — and I mean a LOT! Netflix is pretty much my most cost-efficient option, so until something else comes along that’s cheaper and offers more content (which is doubtful), I’ll just stick with them. Same goes for my television programming through Hulu Plus (cable and satellite services just aren’t for me). I pretty much rent or stream everything these days, but I collect physical copies of the movies I enjoy most. I can’t imagine not having at least a few hard copies around to consider part of my collection.

      Books are an interesting matter though. I’ve never been an avid reader, so again, I don’t have the sentimental attachment to books that others do, but I’d hate to imagine a world where we no longer have to flip physical pages. I read from time to time, and since I’m already sort of nostalgic by nature, I’d like to have the option of reading a physical book over one of those newfangled e-book contraptions. 🙂

  8. Eric

    I think the biggest question remains…what are locally-producers commercials for lawyers going to use for backdrops now that the bookshelves are irrelevant?!?! What will they do without being able to dramatically close a half-foot-thick book to punctuate their points?!?!

    Back to being on-topic: I like books. Used books, even. You can purchase them on Amazon – sometimes – for only a penny, $3 with shipping to your door.

    Neatest one I bought was a copy of “The Cider House Rules” from a decade or so ago, and someone left their train ticket from Germany in there as a bookmark.

    Personally? I like being able to flip ahead and see how much of the chapter I have left, or glance at the book, and simply by the bookmark alone, know how much progress I’ve made. E-books don’t give much a sense of accomplishment, either.

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