Monday, February 8, 2010

Digital Downloads Are A Scam

As far as I am concerned, digital movies, books and music, sold sold as downloads, in the current pricing structure are all a scam and we need to tell the industry to stop scamming us.

When I buy a DVD for $14.95 or a CD for $13.95 I am getting more than just the media. No, I don't mean the special features and the lyrics even though that is also true. What I am getting is a HARD COPY. A disc in a box that I can put on my shelf. When it sits on my shelf it is in a suit of armor. For all intents and purposes it will last forever as long as my house doesn't burn down. Pass a magnet too close to it? Who cares. Drop it while looking at the cover? No biggie. Once upon a time it was also legal to make a copy of this DVD or CD for my own purposes. This allowed me to have a "working copy" that could be worn out and my original which was nice and safe on the shelf. These things, to me, are a big part of what I feel like I am paying for when I buy media in a hard copy form.

When I buy a digitally downloaded movie for $14.95, on the other hand, I am getting only the movie and it must be stored on one of the most unstable and temporary places: the hard drive of a computer. According to the new law, I can't even make a backup of this file to a different place without the seller's permission. Assuming I can even get permission to make a hard copy, then I need to jump through the technical hoops they usually create. I need to pay for my own equipment to make it with, pay for the media I need to store it on and I also need to have the knowledge to do it. All of this just to get it where I would be already if I just buy the DVD. If I want anything but a flimsy temporary form for the download, it adds considerable time and cost on my part. Did I mention the quality also isn't the same? What's more, I could only buy the movie this way in the first place because I am paying for access to the internet. So here we have a vastly inferior product with a vastly more fragile and short life, access I need to pay for and/or a great deal of extra labor and expense on my part if I want it to last. . .being offered for virtually the same price (at best $1-$3 off which is the standard big store discount anyway) .

Now we are moving into digital books with the efforts of Amazon and now Apple. Publishers want to present me with a small fancy device with a technology life of about 2-4 years, a battery life of a day or so worth of use at best and the ability to loose my whole book collection at once without taking additional steps to make hard copies myself. They want me to believe that a file downloaded to this this widget is totally worth the same price as a real book that I would own for the rest of my life even if a truck drove over it. . even if I never owned a separate widget. . and even if I was without power for more than a few hours. .

. . and they don't want me to laugh at them.

What I resent even more about all this is that the ones really getting the convenience here are the distributors. DVD and CD distributors no longer need to pay for printing discs, printing covers and inserts, making special features or providing lyrics. Book distributors no longer need to worry about the expensive printing process. They no longer need to pay for large real world warehouses to store the media in, or trucks to move it across the country. The sellers don't need to pay for stores set up all over the region to allow people access to the material and employees to handle the storage cataloging and sales. Now they just put one copy on a server somewhere, duplicate it a zillion times through an automated sales process and zap it across the internet infrastructure that WE pay to have access to. This is a HUGE savings on the distributors end. We the customers suffer very tangible losses by accepting this new trade off, yet they expect us to accept that the very tangible savings should belong almost entirely to them.

If I am going to buy a movie, book, or CD I'll drive to the store because the price is virtually the same (sometimes vastly cheaper) and the hard copy gives me permanence. Apple helped "soft" music get cheaper and it was a wild success because it made a pretty good deal. By that standard, the studios and publishers look pretty greedy and when they start trying to leverage nearly the full hard copy price out of soft digital downloads of movies and books. What I loose is a little travel time. What I gain is a permanent copy without the need for a backup and, in the case of books, without the need for a separate device to access them with.

It's the same with rentals. If I have to pay $4.95 for a movie rental no matter where I get it, I will go to the rental store where there are 99 cent specials and HD movies cost the same as SD movies. There are people who I can talk to and get recommendations from while I am looking for the rental. If I don't feel like going to the store I will pay even less money and use Netflix. They are about the only digital distribution model that makes sense in today's market. They give unlimited access to thousands of on demand movies similar to the ones movie channels show just for being a member. They also offer tons of old TV shows and even some current ones in the same way. If I want the more current titles I can also order up the hard copies that are also part of my membership. I think even on my laziest day I can manage the trip to my mailbox for the DVD version.

It is wrong to download things illegally but I can't help but wonder if more people than me see this ridiculous digital download system we are expected to accept and feel like being activists against it. People sometimes act out on their resentment in inappropriate ways but that doesn't mean the people who act in appropriate ways shouldn't also feel resentment. DVD sales are going down industry wide. . but I doubt it's because everyone is rushing to download movies for the same price. There are a lot of other factors at play. Hollywood needs to rethink it's strategy here because it obviously learned nothing from the music industry.

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