Business Unusual

To buy or not to buy? That is the question

You should remember getting your first album. I say "getting" because it is possible you did not buy it. Be that as it may, if you did buy it, it may have been an LP if not, it was a cassette.

Odds are you now neither have a record player or even a cassette player. In fact, your video recorder (VHS or even Beta) is probably long gone too. You probably still do have a CD player, but it is getting long in the tooth.

You probably use your DVD player or BluRay player for CDs now. Perhaps you use your laptop, assuming it still has an optical drive.

All these things were pretty cutting edge tech less than 20 years ago. How could we be talking about them like they are relics already?

Books are pretty much exactly the same, and they are centuries old.

The problem with owning physical, digital content

Tech moves quickly. That is great for innovation and improvement, but it is hell if you try to build a digital library in the same way you may do with your book library.

The content may not date, but the players and the storage media certainly do.

It suggests buying content is a wrong way to go digitally. It would be better to buy access to the content and then use it via whatever the latest gadget is to play it.

Subscriptions you say?

That makes sense until you hit a few lean months and need to cut back on some expenses. You may have curated an epic library of playlists, artists and albums on your Apple Music service, but the day you end your subscription, it is all gone.

You may have splashed out on the latest DStv decoder with plenty of room to record all your favourite shows, but the day you end your subscription, the decoder is just a paperweight.

Put it all in the cloud!

Right, so the answer is to buy and store your data in the cloud! Not bad, file formats change less often than physical media and generally are backwards compatible. Assuming your storage service is not a fly-by-night service that is not about to go bankrupt or get hacked you should have a pretty good solution.

But unless you plan to watch those old episodes of Airwolf or listen to the "Now that's what I call music Vol 3", you are paying for storage you are not really using.

If you had a significant content library then storing it all in the cloud could take up space and become costly for how often you use. Saving it on a backup hard drive is the cheapest and most convenient option, as long as nothing or no-one decides to remove, damage or delete it.

It might seem like this is just all too much effort, but it is still better than your options in the past. The issue is to understand that a side effect of things changing and for the most part getting better is that you are likely to lose things along the way.

What about the games?

The same dilemma applies to games. Your favourite and expensive PS3 game will not work on your PS4 console. Initially, Xbox One owners could not use their old Xbox 360 games. As games move towards online versions, compatibility may become less of an issue, but then you can’t sell, trade or lend your game to anyone else.

Please say it can’t get any worse.

If you consider that you probably store more of your life memories on social media than physical photo albums then yes, it can get worse.

You are unlikely to lose access to your Facebook, Twitter or YouTube content, but you don’t really control it either. Should your account be found to have done something in contravention of the rules, you could be banned and access to your content lost. You may get hacked and see your content removed that way. You have probably allowed whatever service you use full access to your content in the terms and conditions that you did not read at the beginning, handing over the rights for your content to be used in ways you have not thought of on platforms you did not know about.

And if you think at least it will end when you die, wrong. Don’t be surprised to see a dead relative or friend recommend a service or product just because they once liked the page when they were still with us.

In some respects, it is deeply unsettling, and it is little comfort to know we are all in the same boat, but in time we will come to appreciate what can become of our digital content and measures will be put in place to take better care of it.

Until then we walk a tightrope of buying versus subscribing and may have to actually read the terms and conditions to services we sign up for (although this service Tos;DR does make that a little easier).

Good luck with that.

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This article first appeared on 702 : To buy or not to buy? That is the question


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