Digital Entertainment Means Innovation, Not Extinction
It was a few weeks ago when it happened. I was perusing a local bookstore one evening, when I came upon a large section of used records. People were leafing through them, and seemingly embracing the scent of dusty cardboard and vinyl. Among them, there was a twenty-something couple on opposite sides of the display. Every so often one of them would pause to proudly hold up their find, laugh, and then tuck it under their arm into a short stack.
Let’s examine what people have been saying for years, though: Panic-stricken prophesies, warning the death of newspapers, magazines, and CDs in the tangible form. More recently, books have been lumped into this category of paranoid concern. After Amazon announced that e-books had surpassed their print sales in January 2011 people started to wonder: With all these available digital options, what’s keeping entertainment from existing purely in megabytes and pixels?
These record store happenings offered some insight into this question. Here there were people creating an experience out of shopping. While one could recognize the increasing trend in vinyl sales, the parallel to any form of entertainment is the same. Collectors and enthusiasts simply want to hold something in their hand, and have a visual representation or multi-sensory way of enjoying what they love. Yes, perhaps it’s cheaper, faster, and enables you to legally shop in your underwear when making digital purchases, but is it truly fun?
By no means, is there a way to underscore the convenience of Omni-functional, endlessly accessible, media devices and shopping channels available today. However, it is impossible to imagine a world in which any traditional entertainment mediums become extinct.
I have this reoccurring nightmare where I wake up, and all of my music, books, video games, etc. have been lost. Either by being inexplicably wiped from existence, or the computer falls victim to various diabolical situations. The fact that I have a copy of my favorites offers some comfort in alternative.
Enthusiasts aren’t the only ones keeping things alive though. These forms of “dying media” are learning to adapt and change the formula for entertainment delivery. Magazines are a great example of a form of print that has learned to innovate in message delivery methods. More and more magazines are becoming interactive. QR codes have found a place among pages, offering informational links, advertising, and contest participation for readers. These delivery formats work alongside print material as they generally engage the reader to seek more information. This method saves print space, cost, and helps with audience retention.
Even traditional music magazines such as Spin and Rolling Stone have started becoming more innovative in engaging their readers. For example, Rolling Stone has developed an online music database where readers can stream featured albums from recent reviews. This allows the reader to read what’s being said about specific tracks as they listen to them, which is a great example of supplemental media creating a more complete experience for the consumer.
While some delivery forms of media are evolving, a fair amount of attention is paid to digital album sales. According to Nielson, consumers purchased over 100 million digital albums for the first time. Furthermore, digital sales are up 15% as of August 2012. With the explosion of tablets and smartphones accessibility is at an all time high. So with all the new convenient options, why would anyone seek a physical copy? Though perhaps a better question to first address would be: “If the physical CD were to disappear, what would we be missing out on?”
Oh skeptical reader with immeasurable intellect, I implore you to consider the most basic of basic situations: Pass along readership, a tradition as old as print itself. Never mind the ancient magazines that ended up in waiting rooms by the dozen. It’s more like when your friend says: “Hey check this out, it’s awesome sauce”, and hands you something. The same rules apply to music. You can tell someone to check a band, but there’s a better chance they’ll listen or even remember if you simply hand something to them.
Obviously the same situation applies to the girl under a tree, outside somewhere reading a book at this very moment. Though there’s a large majority of people who still enjoy the feel of a book, some sense of identity would also be lost by choosing an e-reader. Some people may not like to admit it, but they want to be seen reading a book somewhere in public. It opens up that rare possibility to strike up conversations and make connections.
Businesses such as Barnes & Noble seem to recognize the opportunity to grow alongside the popular and successful electronic reader. The Nook allows customers to purchase online books through a Barnes & Noble database. The online shop accepts the store’s gift cards for purchases as well. This adaptation technology change has carved a niche for Barnes & Noble as a forward-thinking company. With popular bookstore chains such as Borders going out of business, innovation seems to be the way to secure a future.
There’s no question that sales are declining for tangible media. It’s simply going to happen as more options become available. The point is that innovation is going to open more possibilities. The quality and collectible nature of these products are going to improve and become more appealing to enthusiasts. Successful traditional media is going to continue to adapt and become more interactive. There may be more options, but there will always be a place where a couple sorts through records. There will always be a girl reading a book under a tree somewhere.