A few years back, the idea of having all your music in your pocket was revolutionary. This was the game-changing thought behind the iPod, of course. But at the time, it was not a zero sum game. You’d also have everything on CD, and possibly vinyl. Maybe tape. For a few weeks in 1995, you might also have it on mini disc, DAT or god knows what.
The record labels loved the idea of selling you the same music over and over again, remastered, remixed, repackaged with a couple of dodgy extra tracks, and perhaps – as Morrissey had it – a tacky badge.
And for music fans back then there was more to the physical item than the means of playing the track. In this CNET piece, Eric Carson says you can rip his CD collection from his cold, dead hands. But even reading the article inspires a sort of mild sorrow for whoever has to share Mr Carson’s house.
Last week, I shipped the last of my – once extensive – CD collection to the highest (not very high) eBay bidder. Earlier in the week, I took the copious remainder of the collection of CDs and DVDs that just wouldn’t sell down to a charity shop on Walworth Road. It wasn’t a difficult decision, they’d been in my attic for a decade already. A friend from a nicer part of town tells me his charity shops won’t even take shiny discs any more. No one wants them.
I have to tell you, it didn’t make me feel sad. Not at all. It made feel liberated. Shedding physical possessions, reducing the amount you’d have to load into the transit van if you ever moved again, just feels good. A bit like acquiring them did in the first place, when building a collection was not a curse.
A few photos, some old letters, a phone, some junk in a box, clothes, furniture and a car. Now, everything else can be uploaded to One Drive. But in truth most doesn’t have to be, because it’s on YouTube, or iTunes or music match or some other service.
Our children will never know of the magic madness of jewel cases, gatefolds, CD cleaning spray, scratches, reeling the tape back into a C-90. And in some ways they’re a little poorer for it. But the freedom of not having to cart all this stuff around, that’s a decent swap.
Carson tells us that 51m Americans subscribe to a music streaming service. That’s 1 in 6.
In the same week, Microsoft announced the end of their ebook service. As the BBC points out, when the service closes, any books you bought there vanish. This is a bit like the argument against putting your money in the bank – much better to store it under your mattress – in case the banks go bust. Or in this case, have everything printed on paper and use it to line the walls of your house, in case one of the world’s largest companies bites the dust.
If Amazon goes under, I will loose 100s of books on Kindle. But I’ll just buy them again from someone else if I ever need them. The same with the music and the films. A subscriber’s life may feel more expensive, less secure but when you know every piece of content is a few clicks away, who cares who owns it?