Virtual goods or hard copies?

By on September 14, 2011
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Convenience of ‘clouds’ over ‘feel good’ of physical media.

So our mutual friend Mufaddal finally decided to bite the bullet and buy a Kindle for himself. Showing it to his dad and informing him how he can buy books from the Kindle itself, his dad’s response was that he would rather buy “real books” and then exchange it for others. I’ve personally heard this from many people, whether it’s about MP3s rather than CDs, buying games online rather than having a physical disc, and now it’s the same story with books as well. People really like having physical media rather than the virtual equivalent.

However, having something physical in your hands isn’t the only issue here; as Mufaddal’s dad pointed out, he can use that physical book and trade it in, or donate it, or exchange it with friends for another book. You simply can’t do this with virtual goods. I can’t let my friends borrow my copy of games or music or books I have purchased online. Of course, this whole issue of not being able to ‘share’ virtual goods becomes moot when piracy comes into the picture, but for arguments sake, let’s assume this is a perfect world and that piracy doesn’t exist. Or that people don’t know how piracy works.

Pirate this, fool!

In such a case, it becomes a matter of changing your personal taste. The music industry fought hard, and failed harder, in trying to stop piracy; now they have adopted that same model of distribution and we see stores like iTunes and Amazon’s music store flourish. The same for online gaming stores like Steam, or even Xbox Live Arcade or the App Store for iOS devices. It’s extremely easy to buy whatever form of media you’d like to consume, online.

Yes, I certainly don’t have any physical discs of my songs or games or books, but I always have them with me, wherever and whenever I want them; as long as there’s an internet connection. That in itself is a very interesting topic of discussion, of how much we’re dependent on the internet, but today I’ll just stick to virtual vs physical goods.

Which version would you read?

Thing is, I can’t trade-in these virtually purchased goods, but the idea is that I am getting them cheap enough, compared to high-street retail stores, that I don’t mind not having the ability to sell off one item to get another. I know this is a difficult pill to swallow for students and people with a low budget assigned to ‘entertainment expenses,’ but as the economies of the world keep on changing and the online distribution model becomes cheaper for companies, we will all get used to this way of purchasing things.

When that convergence takes place fully, whether 5 or 10 years from now, physical media will be relegated to special editions or other novelty items (like vinyl records nowadays). Every purchase we have ever made will be saved in a cloud somewhere, only for us to consume anytime, anywhere we want.

It's all in here!

As other people take their time to adjust to this new way of consuming media, and the industry itself sorts out how to do this more easily and economically, I’ll sit at home on my comfy couch, Kindle in hand, knowing that once my current book finishes, I’ll just get a new book with a few clicks. No need to drive all the way to Kinokuniya or hunt around shelves in Borders or ask uninformed store clerks whether they have a certain book in stock or not. There’s no ‘sorry sir, we don’t have it in stock,’ or ‘we simply don’t import that series,’ or ‘it’s banned’ anymore with Kindle, or iTunes or Steam. I can buy whatever I want from the comfort of my home. My book shelves can remain empty, but my hard drive shouldn’t.


From auditing to editing, I now test and analyze the latest gadgets and games instead of the latest financial statements. Both jobs are equally intense and rewarding. When I'm not burning up hardware in the name of science, you'll find me nuking in DOTA 2 or engineering in TF2.

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