Digital will never replace my physical media

As a long time collector of different media (video games, music, movies, etc.), I think the most concern for me, regarding digital media, is the uncertainty that what you collected has the potential of one day unexpectedly disappearing on you.

This can be somewhat mitigated if you have control over where and how it’s stored. Like, if the digital content is a complete package that you’ve downloaded to a hard drive, you can at least back that data up onto different storage devices/locations. However, if the digital content is something that you cannot store, but rather something you must stream from a third party service, then you really don’t have any control of that data. So, in this case, do you really own (or collected) anything?

Having a physical copy of the media in my collection is so important to me. Once I buy a game title, music album or movie, I want to be able to access that content any time I want. I don’t want to be at the mercy of a service provider or publisher, who can deny me the content I’ve purchased when ever they see fit to do so. I want the content I’ve purchased to be mine and mine alone, to do with (at a personal level) as I see fit.

My Intellivision game cartridge collection

Now don’t get me wrong; I do see the value of digital forms of media, as long as I retain control of the data. In fact, in order to play many of the modern gaming consoles today, software stored on a mass storage device is the only option. There are not many consoles being made today that actually support cartridge or disc based media. So, i realise that there are definite advantages to digital content, and I do use it when I want to do things like play games between my PC with VICE, GP2X and C64Mini. And I am appreciative for the fact that there are disk images out there for the games that I actually do have floppies for, as it saves me a lot of trouble trying to convert them to a digital version myself. I feel this even more so with my Intellivision games, as I have no way of taking the many cartridges I have and convert them to play on my portable devices.

But, I guess the collector in me feels a little “short changed” when I can just go and download any game ROM I can think of, play for a little while, then just move on to another one of the thousands I have on the SD card. Even as a teen, trading C64 games and copying them to floppies had a cost associated with it. I only had so much money to spend on floppies and they could only hold so much information. So, I had to pick and choose what I copied (aka collected).

Besides, I always feel better having an actual legitimate license for the games in my collection. I think the best way to ensure this by having a physical copy in some form. And the collector in me really likes to look up on my bookshelf to actually see that game I bought sitting up there, where no one can take it away from me. Although, lately I’ve had to settle for digital downloads of my C64 games from, but that’s just because of budgetary limits I’m facing right now.

In the past, I purchased quite a few digital licenses for games on my Nintendo Wii, via the Wii Channel. But, that was such a waste of money, as now that Wii is not functioning properly. So all of those games are unplayable for me, which really sucks, which is why I will no longer support such content distribution models in the future. If I can’t at least copy the content I download to my own storage device and use on another system if I need to, I’m not interested.

Another thing that bothers me about streaming content is the potential of censorship and post-editing by today’s overly paranoid “nanny state” mentality. Without owning physical copies of your favourite media, those in control can go in and edit what’s stored in the cloud when ever they want. We’re discovering that many of the icons and pulp culture we remember from the past has now been erased by people who think they know better. It’s not right, in my opinion and we, as collectors, need to do our best to preserve the past.

What’s the point to this long winded blog post? I guess it boils down to my opinion that physical media is more desirable than digital and we collectors should support those companies and individuals who provide such content when ever we can. We should not let this digital “in the cloud” age convince us to give up our right to own the content we pay good money for. And, we should be encouraged to hold on to and cherish the physical media we already have in our possession, doing what we can to keep it from going into landfills and being lost forever.

Join the Conversation

  1. 100 Percent agree. The days of retro-video gaming will probably be old console units that are currently the new ones. More and more the current systems are becoming computers without keyboards. I intend to sell off my entire collections which range from most of the original 80’s models up to the PS3 being the newest. One thing that comes to my mind, is how almost all of the original retro games have been ripped and ported to bin files playable on almost any computer. I have an old laptop that has all of my Sega Genesis carts on it, and it’s got only a tiny hard drive. The actual computer runs on Windows XP plus the emulator. Runs at full speed. To me, I guess the thing that is most important, is the actual games surviving with their original art, audio and gaming style of years past, rather than the nostalgia I have for the actual hardware.
    Love your Intellivision Game Image. That was my first personally owned system. Before the we had Pong II and Atari 400 and Atari 800 computers which had some nice games. Still love that Atari 800 computer game called Dandy, which was the game before the latter following Gantlet

    1. Thank you for your comment and taking the time to share your experiences. I’m glad to learn that I am not the only one who feels that preserving the history of these early days of computer gaming is important. Hopefully, if you do get around to selling off your collections, they go to fellow collectors who will continue to value them and take good care of them.

  2. I feel the same when it comes to books. Finding the shelf space gets harder the more I own, so for a lot of my books I get the digital copy (DRM-free where possible, of course). But particularly for things like graphics novels and illustrated books a physical copy feels and looks better to me.

    As for games, I’m happy owning a digital copy – I would gladly pay if companies had the rights to re-issue digital only ROMs of older games. This is providing I can actually own that copy. Sadly the only place I ever heard of selling older games decided to provide it “as a service”, and I don’t want to get into a subscription system just to play old games.

    1. Yes, books are another medium where having physical is better. My wife is an avid reader and she always prefer reading from paper, rather than a screen. Of course, on the rare occasion she does download a book (like something off of Gutenberg), it’s a PDF that she stores on her computer, so it cannot be taken away from her by the publisher later on, like on one of those subscription services.

      Thanks for your comment!

  3. Ah, another kindred spirit! Yes, I have always taken issue with DRM and streaming services. I think it’s really DRM that I have the biggest issue with.

    For instance, I had a friend who “bought” lots of books from Microsoft’s e-book store. He chose them deliberately because Microsoft were so large he couldn’t see them ever going out of business. A short while later, Microsoft closed their e-book store and he lost access to all the titles he’d “bought” as they were DRMd and Microsoft offered no unlocking or refunds. They just abruptly closed the service and the books vanished. With DRM-free books, this wouldn’t have happened – and just like a physical copy, he’d have been able to read it anywhere he liked, or even loaned it to a friend. Not everyone who receives a copied CD, bootleg MP3 or ebook is a pirate; some people discover stuff they love this way, and it spurs them to buy that artist’s work. That’s the effect it had on me, anyway.

    I also had another friend (a musician) who had obtained or ripped various obscure and rare versions of songs to digital files, and some of his own songs were themselves were covers. Unfortunately his Apple device misread the tags on his MP3s and helpfully decided to delete them from his device because “we have those songs in the ITunes store so you can stream them whenever you want.” His rarities and own performances were wiped and replaced with the “official” versions of those songs because Apple know best and want you to “buy” all of your music from them.

    Also – the Amazon kindle has a backdoor in it whereby Amazon can add and delete books as they see fit, without your permission. This famously came to light when, somewhat ironically, every single copy of George Orwell’s “1984” was accidentally wiped from users’ Kindles without their permission. It was restored after Amazon discovered what had happened, but it still doesn’t make it acceptable. It’s like deliberately running-over someone’s pet dog and then thinking it’s acceptable because you can just buy them a new one. It just shouldn’t have been possible in the first place.

    My Mum has a Kindle, but I have actually extracted the ebooks from it, cracked the DRM and saved as PDFs to ensure that she actually “owns” a copy of everything she’s “bought”.

    In short, if you don’t have either a DRM-free digital file or physical media, you’ve been ripped-off, and you’re at the mercy of both your own internet-connection and the “service” that swindled you. Cloud storage is cheap. I have literally days’ worth (if continuously listened-to with no break) of MP3s, OGGs and FLACs on my Nextcloud, which I can “stream” from anywhere, although as physical storage is so cheap I also have these locally on my devices too.

    But to be honest, I don’t “consume” digital media much anymore. I’m no luddite, I embraced it around the millennium, but something’s missing. Nothing beats opening a gatefold sleeve on an LP and looking at the artwork, lyrics and notes. Nothing beats the aesthetic pleasure of that disk spinning, and the need to turn it over after about 20 minutes. The tactile feel in your hand, and the fact you need to treat it with care to avoid scratches, makes you value it and enjoy it that bit more. Even the artwork on the games that I had on Cassette for my Sinclair Spectrum, added to the gaming experience in their own funny way. And to this day I can still play Bruce Lee and Atic Attack on my 48k. How many streaming services will still allow you to access your “licenced content” in 3 or 4 decades’ time?

    1. You’ve hit the proverbial nail on the head there, James! You’re so right; DRM lock-in is such a detriment to the digital download model. You should have a right to do what you like with content you’ve legally purchased; digital or otherwise. And you bring up another good point with longevity. As your friend’s experience with MS e-books, content providers are not held accountable if they just decide to shutdown their servers tomorrow. Both your money and your content are gone and you have no recourse. And I have also gone out and paid for many things digitally after the fact. Not all of us who share digital content are pirates and thieves.

      Like you, we do have and use digital content, but it’s DRM free. We control the files and use them on the devices we choose. I’m not getting myself wasting money on locked in services again, like I did on the Nintendo Virtual Console.

      Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with me. Always a pleasure to hear from you, James!