The future isn’t what it used to be.
When the future was imagined on shows like ‘Tomorrow’s World’ or in speculative magazines, it always showed single systems that would change our lives. Nobody mentioned that these single systems would be subdivided into a complex maze of ringfenced copyright systems.
This morning my phone notified me that my partner’s best friend’s husband’s daughter’s birthday was coming up. It notified me on four different devices. I don’t know her. So I turned off my notifications and missed a meeting. This, I accept, is the price of working entirely online. You won’t find bits of paper in my gaff, thank you.
But you may find CDs again soon. I’m of a generation that still likes physical objects, so until recently I kept my books and movies in physical formats like CDs and DVDs and books. A book is a single-system device. You can read it, lend it and resell it. This upsets a lot of capitalists, so they looked for another way to introduce regular revenue streams by stealth.
Phone games are a good example of this; the Angry Birds franchise has now split into a dozen revenue streams that suck small amounts out of kids every time they want an upgrade. I thought I wouldn’t be susceptible to such obvious extortion, but then I was already involved.
I had quite a few books on my Kindle that I would never place on a shelf – the ephemeral stuff one might read on vacation and not wish to keep could remain as e-books, not paperbacks. Next I found the same things was happening with my music – I wasn’t keeping so many hard copies of albums I liked. And film companies are encouraging us to stream rather than own DVDs.
Which is where it all starts to go wrong. Yesterday I downloaded an album on Amazon and watched as it diverted to their Cloud, a system incompatible with iTunes. Which means I paid eight quid for an album I can’t upload. Worse, the European Cloud page that opens automatically from Amazon UK is, for some unearthly reason, in French – Amazon clearly assuming that Europe is one big country and it doesn’t matter whether you list tracks in German or Turkish. So I won’t be downloading music from Amazon anymore.
But it’s messier than that because iTunes is a/ more expensive and b/ more restrictive. Many of its albums cannot be downloaded track by track. The result? I’d rather pay extra for going back to a physical format that I can upload wherever I please. We’re seeing the storage of intangibles divided into separate incompatible brands, and very soon we’ll have to rent them year by year, or watch them vanish. Let’s not get into what happens when a company goes bust or loses its market share.
Maybe by continuing to stock physical formats, HMV will see a revival in fortunes.