Opinion: The digital distribution future



Matthew Bertovich

Matthew Bertovich

Matthew Bertovich is a junior psychology major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].

Remember when it took a solid two minutes to boot up the Internet? You had to deal with that ear-piercing collection of screeching dial tones until you were finally connected. Then you were lucky if that MySpace page didn’t crash your computer, or the neighbor didn’t call the landline and knock you off. Fortunately, we’ve come a long way. For many of us, we’re constantly connected via computer, cell phone or mobile device. This has given industries an efficient means of getting entertainment into the hands of consumers through digital distribution. But is this a good thing?

It’s already happened to your music. When was the last time you purchased a CD? Probably a while ago — and soon, people will actually wonder what a CD was. Now, iTunes and other digital distributors own the market. The number of music downloads rose from 160 to 795 million between 2004 and 2006. Revenue boosted from $400 million to $2 billion.

It pains me to admit it, but digital distribution can be great for artists. Shipping and handling costs are minimized. Not requiring discs, cases and booklets eliminates manufacturing costs. This gives emerging indie artists a better opportunity to market themselves. It also allows artists to better control their material in terms of ownership, rights, pricing and more.

The switch to digital is also happening to the TV and movie industries. Netflix and Hulu both give consumers convenient access to your favorite movies and television shows. Most DVD and Blu-Ray purchases even come with a digital copy to take with you anywhere.

Call me selfish, but I don’t like it. Is it wrong for me to want a physical representation of my purchases? Adding to my collection of video games is a sensational feeling for me. Putting another title on the shelf and expanding my library is part of the price I pay for my entertainment. Nobody can explain why the actual price for a digital copy is the same as its physical counterpart. I’m literally spending more and getting less. Additionally, I don’t like to depend on an Internet connection to stream or download entertainment; that’s probably my landlord’s fault, but still.

What if a company went out of business? If Apple went under, would my music still be available? At the very least, my physical copy is a safe and reliable backup. This switch to digital distribution quite effectively cuts out the middleman as well, but not in a good way. It costs jobs. Netflix single-handedly put Blockbuster stores out of business, and we wouldn’t need a GameStop or Best Buy either if their markets switched to primarily digital distribution.

Maybe I’m being old-fashioned — I hope I haven’t already reached the “in my day” age — but I feel like digital distribution only benefits developers and takes away the liberties a physical copy offers businesses and customers. Sure it’s convenient, like a Wal-Mart or a McDouble, but at what cost?

Contact Matthew Bertovich at [email protected].