Skeletons in your closet: dead physical media

No one was surprised by this month's admission by HMV that it is dying a slow death. The closure of 60 stores was announced immediately after the New Year, as people race to buy media online rather than visiting their favourite bricks and mortar. I recently had my fingers burnt trying to buck the trend. Wanting to send my father a physical copy of the Fisherman's Friend album for Christmas, I went to HMV. The salesfolk couldn't find the one copy that was meant to be on the shelves, but wasn't in the right place, and navigating the shop was like being caught in a hot, sweaty game of Labyrinth. My dad got a jar of marmalade instead.

We want music digitally because it's easier, but also because everywhere across the UK cobwebs can be found in the under-the-stairs closet covering untouched DVDs, software discs, CDs and games. There is no good use for the physical media that goes completely untouched once the media or application has been uploaded onto a computer, mp3 player or iPad. Herein lies the problem for all high street retailers.

The interesting question is not why this is happening, or whether it will continue (of course it will), but rather whether digital media sales will ever add up to what physical media sales did in its heyday. Many argue that the music industry will never enjoy the sales it once did, especially in the age of piracy (and in my opinion, the age of Simon Cowell). In 2009, total album sales fell 7 per cent, according to the Official Charts Company. Though digital sales rose more than 30 per cent, the physical sales shortage was greater. (Source: FT.com)

We think that just like with music, when it comes to software, the newest trend is not buying discs, having them posted to you (thereby paying delivery fees) and uploading them onto your computer. Rather, downloading directly from the internet enables users to bypass the entire discs-in-the-post, discs-to-discard loop. Though most major software manufacturers still haven't gotten in the game, insisting on sending discs in the post, smart online retailers are jumping on the trend. It is a way for online retailers to give back to the customer in the form of convenience and lack of delivery fees, and most importantly, saving the planet. But analysts agree that retailers must offer special features and a never-ending cycle of moneysaving deals to entice the customer in shark-filled waters.

For those readers wanting to know how to recycle old DVDs or CDs rather than feeding the nearest landfill, this blog post by ReduceReuseRecycle mentions a few ways, including the gardener's favourite: turning them into digital scarecrows. Maybe someday physical media will disappear altogether rather than losing its value in such an unsavoury fashion. I passed a charity shop in Birmingham the other day that advertised "£1 for a carrier bag of videos (VHS)." We're not too far off seeing the same loss in value of CDs and DVDs.