A friend of mine was astonished to discover that I bought a physical copy of something this week. Of course, it was a video game, and he has a bit of a video game problem and doesn’t really want to store fifty or sixty games he’s never actually played. That’s fine. But I also own a bunch of DVDs that they got rid of a while back, because they were making the shift to purely digital media. (I cannot guarantee this shift was completely legal.) I have several friends who’ve done that, and I just can’t.
Maybe it’s because I’m old. I freely acknowledge this possibility at the start of any discussion where I’m out of step with a lot of people. (Actually, I consider myself middle age, as it happens, but I often feel old, and that’s close enough, right?) But the fact is, I buy my media in hard copy. I have won a few digital rewards from the current Safeway contest, and I’ll probably mostly use them to rent movies from Amazon, because I wouldn’t be keeping those anyway. I don’t want to own digital copies of things. I want to own hard copies, that I can keep and use and have. Every time someone talks to me about the death of physical media, I’m dismissive but secretly afraid that, this time, they’re right.
Part of it, of course, is that no one can come into my house and take away my discs and have it be seen as anything but theft. I know of at least one occasion where something people had legitimately purchased from a reputable vendor was taken away from them, because it turned out the vendor didn’t have the legal right to sell it to them. And, yes, I’m pretty sure refunds were issued, but still. There was an incident with a Mystery Science Theater 3000 box set where they issued a collection with a movie they didn’t technically have the rights to, and they’ve had to reissue the set with a different movie. But the people who bought it in its initial incarnation still have the original movie. They didn’t lose a product they’d paid for because of someone else’s screw-up.
Yeah, okay, all those people got refunds. Fair enough. But if I bought something, I don’t want the refund. I want the thing I bought. What’s to stop a situation where a rights-holder withdraws consent and I lose the thing I’ve paid for? I’m sure there are contracts and things, but pivotally, they aren’t with me. In fact, the contract you have when you buy a download specifically says you don’t own it. They can take it away from you at any time. A lot of people don’t know that, because of course no one ever reads their terms and conditions.
I have to admit there’s a more sensory pleasure involved as well. I even still leave my movies in boxes on a shelf, because I like the physical sensation of looking over a well-stocked DVD rack. (I prefer well organized, but that hasn’t happened since Simon got old enough to start pulling things off shelves.) With the exception of my own MST3K collection (in a binder in chronological order by air date), I find it easier to decide what I want to watch by looking over the shelves than by flipping through the bare discs. Full bookshelves and movie racks give me a sense of satisfaction. They are a more tangible joy to me than code in my computer.
Do I own some digital things? Yeah—for one thing, there’s no non-digital version of my kid’s apps for the tablet. I thought about buying the Moana soundtrack digitally with those prizes I mentioned earlier, but it turned out the physical copy was half the price, which I don’t even understand a little. But, yes, I’d rather keep a paperback in my purse than read digital books. I’d rather keep a Netflix DVD plan than hope that everything I want to see will eventually be available streaming, especially given how regularly things stop being available streaming. (I hope that new MST3K season is for sale in a physical copy at some point!) I simply don’t trust that everything I want will be there digitally, and the evidence suggests that I’m right.