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The Importance of Physical Media by Anthony Abarca


As technology continues to change, our consumption of media and entertainment does as well. Long are the days of discs, cartridges, and tapes to view our home entertainment on, instead, convenience has taken over with streaming and monthly subscription services. But is this method in the consumer’s best interest? In today’s age, most forms of media have gone digital, with most content being locked behind a paywall. But even while paying monthly for all these subscription services, do we truly own any of the content they provide us? 


Services like Netflix and Spotify provide all our favorite shows, movies, and music through licensing. The subscription we pay is for the right to consume it, not to own it; the provider doesn’t either. Once we click that we read through the terms of services, it’s stated that we do not own the content. For example, AMC holds the license to Breaking Bad and agrees to show it on Netflix for a certain amount of time. Once that agreement ends, the show is taken off, now free for AMC to put it out on any other service they want. This is why streaming services decide to create their own shows and movies to create customer loyalty.  


With the world going more into a digital landscape every year, we also see the decline of physical media. In 2023, it was reported that Best Buy is ending physical sales of DVD and Blu-ray discs, with a photo going viral in 2024 showing the DVD and Blu-ray rack completely empty. Earlier in the year it was also reported that Microsoft’s Xbox division would be terminating the department responsible for physical copies of games which housed over 1,900 jobs. In gaming, the loss of physical media has been a big discussion. In 2020, both Sony and Microsoft released digital-only versions of their consoles, the PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X respectively, with no disc drives. In 2017, Microsoft launched Game Pass which is a monthly subscription service that provides a rotating library of games. While the service has seen success with over 30 million users, it pushes a digital-only model, which like other services, when buying a digital, it’s the use of the license you’re paying. This has caused the want for more backward-compatible titles and the rise of game emulation. 


But is there hope with any forms of media still being available in a physical form? In the past decade, music sales have seen a rise in sales when it comes to being sold in physical form; that being vinyl records. Introduced in the Great Depression and popularized in the 1950s, vinyl has seen a resurgence since the mid to late 2010s when cassettes and the more popular CDs took over music sales in the 80s. According to Luminate, every year within the past decade, vinyl sales have continued to grow, starting in 2017 when vinyl sales were at their highest since 1991 with over 14 million units. Since then, they have continued to grow with over 2 million records sold in the week of December 22nd alone this past holiday season and just shy of 50 million for the entire year. Some of those numbers are attributed to Grammy award-winning artist Taylor Swift whose sales of her albums within the U.S. contributed to 7% of vinyl sales.  


While records are back and outselling CDs, are they really being used? As weird as that sounds, most records are being bought and not being spun. One would assume that the rise of vinyl records would contribute to the rise of record players, right?  Wrong. A recent study has shown that over 50% of people who buy vinyl records don’t own a record player. This can be attributed to the fans themselves, attending live shows and buying merch as a means of supporting their favorite artists. 


In this probably never-ending digital age that we are in, we see how companies are ready to shift to an all-digital space focusing more on convenience and ease of access. With a hike in vinyl sales over the past decade, it’s clear that consumers still want a hands-on experience with a product to form a connection. However, with formats like vinyl that bring a more tangible feeling to music consumption, consumers may be blurring the line between consumption and utilization with the demand for record players not rising. Is it more of a nostalgic act despite its rising popularity, is it here to stay, or may it bear its welcome in the coming future like the CD?


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Works Cited:


Carey, Sean. “Xbox Physical Games Departments Reportedly Shut down as Part of Microsoft Layoffs.” TrueAchievements, 26 Jan. 2024, www.trueachievements.com/news/xbox-physical-games-departments-microsoft-layoffs.


Caulfield, Keith. “Weekly U.S. Vinyl Album Sales Surpass 2 Million for Only Third Time in Modern Era.” Billboard, Billboard, 28 Dec. 2023, www.billboard.com/pro/weekly-us-vinyl-album-sales-pass-2-million-third-time-modern-era/.


Digital, FOX 26. “Best Buy Stopping Sales of DVD’s, Blu-Ray Discs.” FOX 26 Houston, FOX 26 Houston, 5 Jan. 2024, www.fox26houston.com/news/best-buy-phasing-out-sales-of-dvds-blu-ray-discs.


McIntyre, Hugh. “Taylor Swift Was Responsible for 7% of All Vinyl Albums Sold in 2023.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 18 Jan. 2024, www.forbes.com/sites/hughmcintyre/2024/01/17/taylor-swift-was-responsible-for-7-of-all-vinyl-albums-sold-in-2023/?sh=1d3fdec2513b

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