The Physical Versus The Digital

I don’t want to buy things twice. I’m even more hesitant to pay again for intellectual property, which costs little or nothing to clone. I don’t want to buy Angry Birds for my iPhone, Kindle Fire, PC, and Xbox 360. I’m even crankier about buying digital goods when I’ve already bought the IP via physical media. I want the convenience of reading my old college text books on my Kindle without buying them again, and I shouldn’t have to. I hate the dilemma of trying to figure out whether to order my grad school textbooks digitally (because it’s lightweight, convenient, and portable) or not (because the pictures render properly, it’s handier to browse, and looks cooler on the shelf). Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I’m also too lazy to consider buying and setting up a DIY Book Scanner.

Anyone who reads, plays games, or listens to music has shelves or boxes of books, NES cartridges, or CD’s that they probably don’t use often and don’t know what to do with. I would love the option to fire up RBI Baseball or reread Storm of Swords on modern devices with the push of a button, but it’s not worth storing the physical media and/or keeping obsolete devices around.

My frustration has caused me to conclude the relatively obvious: some company needs to offer a way to send back physical media along with a nominal fee in trade for the digital version. The physical media could be resold second hand or donated to charitable causes, and the folks ditching their physical media could access the things that they have already paid for in a more convenient format. Amazon is the one company that seems poised to make this happen given that they deal in both physical/digital and they have efficient content delivery mechanisms in place for goods of both kinds. Is there a financial model that makes swapping physical for digital work for all parties involved, and is it something that will ever happen?

  1. Jesse

    I’ve heard about a few of these… not sure how well they work or how well they’re doing. Some stuff here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303836404577474521428263852.html

    • Tyson Trautmann

      Nice, although I wonder how much “owning” the actual ripped music matters in the Spotify era. Would love it if this existed for books!

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