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Physical media vs. files: And the winner is?

If you can't touch a book, music, or movie file, will you care about it in 10, 20 or 30 years?

Steve Guttenberg

In 20 or 30 years, how will you feel about the downloaded music, movies, and books you buy today? With physical media you may have written notes on the books' pages or spilled coffee on them. You might remember the day you accidentally ripped page 202 of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," or lent an LP or CD to a friend who put a small scratch on "OK Computer." I have literally hundreds of LPs I bought in the '60s and '70s, most of which I never replaced with CDs. Just holding the LP jacket or CD jewel box in my hands brings back memories associated with the music. The records' imperfections and defects make them mine.

Will a music or movie file have that emotional pull in the coming decades? Most of the records I bought ages ago still sound great. I'm an audiophile, and when I play these things on a very high-resolution hi-fi, the occasional pop or click doesn't detract from my enjoyment. In some cases, the pops have been there so long they've become part of the music.

Physical media takes up a lot of living space, and I do live in a New York apartment, but I like being surrounded by my music collection. I have thousands of LPs and CDs, and a much smaller number of movies on tape and disc.

A media server and an e-book reader would eventually reduce the amount of stuff filling my apartment, but that doesn't appeal to me. I like almost all of my LPs, CDs, movies, and books, just the way they are. When I play a LP, CD, DVD, or Blu-ray that doesn't move me anymore, I give it away or sell it, so I'm no hoarder. It's the same with books.

Then again, from a business point of view, why would the movie companies expect you to buy the "Inception: 10th Anniversary Special Edition" file in 2020, when you already own the file? Without the deluxe packaging, a file is just a file, isn't it?