Audio Edition Coming Soon!
My brother Daniel had to do a sanity check while I was perusing Ebay: “Sis, are you sure you want to buy that? I mean, you did get to watch it online already… Are you going to ever watch it again?”
The item in question was a new DVD copy of an anime from 1996 called Master of Mosquiton. It’s an OVA with only 6 episodes and the price was about $70. And Daniel’s question made me pause. It’s true that I did find an English dub online, although it took several very frustrating hours to find all six episodes in full and in English. Why was I considering spending so much money on something I had already found for free?
That got me thinking about hard copies and why I am so dedicated to filling up my home with tangible media. Why take up all this space with row after row of books when I could keep an entire library on an e-reader? Why spend $20 to get a Blu-ray or DVD when I could stream them on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime? As digital storage gets cheaper and cheaper, and the number and quality of online streaming continues to rise (not to mention the ubiquitous Cloud), why spend valuable resources collecting and maintaining hard copies?
Three reasons: Availability, Preservation, and Tangibility.
Let’s say that a piece of media, like a television show, is in fact digitized. That doesn’t automatically mean you’ll have access to it when you want it. Just last week, I was invited over to a friend’s house for a marathon of Young Justice. However, they were already six episodes into their rewatch of the first season. I didn’t want to make them watch it for a third time, so I suggested that I could watch the six episodes at my home on Netflix before coming over.
Except that Netflix doesn’t have Young Justice anymore.
Now, I understand why this happens. Streaming services have to essentially rent shows and movies, temporarily purchasing the license. When the license runs out, they (or the lending company) may not choose to renew it, depending on the popularity. Even servers have a finite amount of space. You’ve probably seen those lists entitled “What’s coming to Netflix in such-and-such a month” or “What’s leaving Netflix” etc. Obviously there are Original Series for Netfix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime among others, but a large amount of their catalog is rented. It’s temporary. And as someone who doesn’t always check the internet to see what is and is not available on a service, it can be a little annoying to finally be in the mood to watch, say, the new(ish) Captain Harlock movie, only to find that Netflix doesn’t have it anymore.
Plus, more and more shows are migrating to their own parent company platforms. DC Comics just started a streaming service called “DC Universe” and that’s the only place you can find the third season of Young Justice. Star Trek Discovery just returned for a second season, but that’s restricted CBS Access. There’s going to be a Loki television show (YAY!) but since Disney owns Marvel their back catalog and any upcoming shows will probably become exclusive to their own streaming service “Disney Plus.” And of course there’s already the current slew of Netflix Originals or Hulu Originals that, you guessed it, can’t be found anywhere else. (To be clear, I totally get why they are doing this. Scattering shows across platforms may be annoying for the consumer, but makes perfect business sense for a proprietary company with an addicted audience willing to pay. It’s frustrating, but not really new.)
Contrary to how it may appear, not every piece of media has been digitized. There’s a lot that has been and I understand why. As hard copies break down due to age or wear, the contents of the media are at risk of being lost entirely. Crumbling manuscripts, too delicate to be handled regularly, are scanned and saved. Once that’s done, they are easier for more people to access because you don’t have to worry about causing irreparable damage to the original. You can’t scratch a digital music album the way you can with a CD. But despite projects like Google Books and Archive.org, there are also a lot of things that have never been digitized. There are some movies I remember from childhood that I would love to at least have digital copies of, even if I couldn’t get them on DVD. But to my knowledge, Dragonworld, Magic Island, and Prehysteria! were never transferred off of VHS, and trying to find decent, intact copies to watch, let alone digitize, is uncertain at best. When those tapes finally die, the films will be gone. Granted, they aren’t masterpieces, but they are a piece of my own history and creative makeup that I’d rather not see disappear, especially if members of the next generation may get something out of it. The same reasoning goes for books, especially older or more obscure ones.
Lest I sound like a Luddite, let me assure you that I am not opposed to digitized media. I like having digital copies as backup. They don’t take up space, are easy to transport or make copies of, and, as I mentioned before, are unlikely to be damaged by the regular wear and tear of use. But what happens if we lose the originals and then something happens to the servers storing all that data? What happens if there is a massive power outage or a virus? What if the data is corrupted, deleted, or altered? Without an original, tangible source, the media may be lost forever. (Yes, part of me is always preparing for a Fahrenheit 451-style apocalypse. So sue me.)
With hard copies, I know that they aren’t going anywhere. I know exactly where they are when I want them and what condition they are in. They are “real” in a way that a stream of ones and zeros is not. Call me old-fashioned, but I really do prefer to hold the actual item in my hand. However, because I am limited by space and funds, I’m definitely more selective now when it comes to buying physical copies of media. For a book, I have to rate it 4 stars or higher to keep (unless it’s an installment in a series and the series overall gets 4 stars.) The movies and TV shows on my shelf are ones that I know I will rewatch multiple times or that have a special meaning for me. And anything that I get that is digital, I try to keep on my own servers so I’m less dependent on companies and infrastructure that could vanish without warning. Just because it’s on the internet now doesn’t mean it always will be. I’d rather not be at the mercy of someone else’s profit margin… or bound by their interpretation of what is considered important enough to save.
~ * ~
P.S. My friends did end up having to rewatch those first six episodes of Young Justice with me… but we all had fun anyway.
P.P.S. I still haven’t bought that DVD. ^_^