Hard or Soft (Media)? That is the Question

By Ryan Howatt

Physical media is over. Why waste your time and effort? There are actually very good ethical and market demand-related reasons to stick with it. The supply of physical media dried up over the years as streaming services and subscription-based models took over the entertainment industry. There’s no denying that having television, books, and video games beamed straight into your living room is far more convenient for the consumer and a lot cheaper for the production company. They don’t have to press, package, and distribute anything, and you don’t have to go anywhere. Win-win, right?

Yet, physical media was in the top 15 overall best-selling categories on eBay in 2023. As more people continue to lose confidence in streaming services and subscription models, I foresee the hunt for copies you can hold in your hands increasing dramatically. By physical media in this context, I am referring to: video games, DVDs, records, and books.

Why are people “losing faith” in streaming services and subscription models? Much like cryptocurrency and NFTs, people are realizing that when they buy into digital media, they don’t actually own anything. We see it all the time when TV shows pop up on streaming services and are later taken away due to lack of demand. Then it’s pretty much gone forever unless you had it pirated (and even then, which version?). Media distribution companies skyrocketed up the mountain and bought out their competitors, like when Disney took over Fox and gained rights to their catalog. Well, in doing so, they gained the authority to edit and pick what they wanted to present. However, the “re-release” of a lot of these programs is incomplete or heavily edited.

This is problematic for quite a few reasons, aside from your favorite episode of something not being available at your fingertips. The sugar-coating and watering down of enormous aspects of our collective culture is destructive and damaging to our history as a society.

Part of our responsibility and passion as traditional publishers is our conviction to a finished presentation. If you buy books from us, it’s not ours to take back or undo. We have presented a product that holds us accountable for our choices and our actions, and we stand by it. No monthly subscription with the threat of pulling the plug. If you want more of what we have to offer, we will try to be accessible to you, but we can’t take back what we’ve already agreed on. That book, CD, tape, or DVD is yours, not ours. No matter how we evolve or change as people, the fact that we felt, did, and said what we did, is written in stone, and you can proudly display the evidence of it.

Digital media is not without accountability, but with its dynamic nature and the pace at which projects are rolled through, it’s all too easy for people to flip on their decisions, say “oops,” and just undo it. I don’t think this is a good thing. It has removed all sense of permanence and conviction from the art we’re expected to love. It’s hard to separate nostalgia from criticism. Most of what’s out there has always been mediocre at best, and we generally only remember the good stuff fondly. But there’s a noticeable lack of passion in our modern times when the general attitude is “We’ll just fix it later.”

The collector’s market is essentially left with an empty bag, picturing a dystopian world where nobody owns anything. I sort of get it—I’m a millennial myself, and it’s easy to feel that. The internet has opened up a huge can of worms in how we communicate, and a result of that is how money moves. It’s always been easier for people with more to acquire more, and now they have even easier access to you, but here’s a small beauty in that: you have control. The flip-floppy media giants that continue to present subscription models and endlessly modify what they present to you until they’ve shaved it right down to please the lowest common denominator (which usually ends up being nobody in the long run) need your money. If you don’t give it to them and find nourishment for your soul elsewhere, they’ll cut the crap and go back to serving their audience instead of the other way around.

Buy indie, speak up for what you believe in, and remember physical media has resale value.

Editor’s Note: Starting in 2024, Best Buy will be ditching the sale of physical DVDs both in-store and online, as streaming services have rendered physical media more and more obsolete. (Source)

Ryan Howatt is an Eastern Canadian underground cartoonist living in Fredericton, New Brunswick. His self-published series Badger has garnered international acclaim and is available on Amazon.com. Ryan is a passionate advocate for indie publishing and a business mentor to fellow cartoonists.

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Ryan Howatt

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