Friday, August 17, 2012

Digital Media

One of my good friends, who happens to be a writer, recently had his first work published. I've been trying to think of a method by which I could help to promote his work that would be relevant to this blog. Sure, I could have just written a post to promote it because he's my friend, but I wanted the post to be applicable to those interested in simple living, even if they have no interest in my friend's work. It finally dawned on me that this fits in perfectly with a post about digital media in general.

The particular work I am promoting is a comic story entitled Star-crossed, which is part of the Shakespeare Shaken Anthology. This particular story was written by James McGee, with artwork provided by Mark Mullaney. The Shakespeare Shaken Anthology is a collection of comic stories based on the works of William Shakespeare. Star-crossed, specifically, is a modern day vision of how Romeo and Juliet's relationship may have turned out, had they, and their marriage, survived.

The interesting thing here, as it pertains to sustainability, is in the way the stories are being released. The individual stories are being released digitally, in phases. The entire anthology will also be made available in print at a later date. While I plan to purchase a print copy of the anthology, this release approach has allowed me to purchase a digital copy of my friend's story, at a much lower price than if I had bought a digital copy of the entire anthology. For those who want to support his project, or are specifically interested in the story, or one of the others, it works out even better as he/she can simply purchase a digital copy of the desired story(ies). The out of pocket expense to the consumer is less than buying the entire anthology, and the resources used for generating and transporting a digital copy is far less than that of creating and transporting a print copy of the entire anthology.

The same model is used in other media as well, especially the music industry. While I most often like to buy an entire album, I do find that there are situations in which I only really like one or two songs from a given album. In these situations, it is much more cost effective to buy the one or two songs I want, instead of paying for the entire album, of which 80%-90% I really don't care about.

While there are certainly individual exceptions in each industry, most media is being made available digitally. This includes movies, tv shows, music, software, games, books, magazines, and of course, comic books. Each type of digital media has it own advantages and disadvantages. Of course they all share one requirement; they all require some device for (dis)playing the media.

Digital Video

Our consumption of digital video can primarily be divided into two categories: streaming video and downloadable video. We stopped subscribing to a cable tv service around 3 years ago. Streaming video services such as Netflix and Hulu have made giving up cable tv much easier. Not only are we able to watch our favorite tv shows via one of these streaming services, but we have discovered many new shows that we would never have been exposed to otherwise. Previously we were playing approximately $80/month for cable tv. Now we pay $7.99/month for Netflix, and recently began paying $7.99/month for Hulu Plus. Even when you add in our $25/month DVD budget, which we haven't touched all year, we're looking at a savings of nearly $40, or half, of what we were paying before.

There are some inconveniences to relying on streaming video. The first is that you must have a device that will play the content. For a long time we used an old laptop with an S-Video connection to the TV. While this worked it was a bit cumbersome to use. Recently we invested in a Roku LT Streaming Player. While this did require a small investment, it was still less than we were paying for  a single month of cable tv service. Many gaming consoles, and some newer tvs include the ability to stream video, so some people already have everything needed except for the monthly subscriptions.

I actually find that I often prefer streaming video, because of the convenience. I've caught myself watching a movie or tv show via streaming instead of from the DVD that we own. However, we have yet to really embrace downloadable video content. We've tried it a couple of times, but when buying a specific title Andrea and I both prefer purchasing an actual DVD to downloadable copy.

There are cases where purchasing downloadable content has advantages. The obvious advantages are the decrease in resource usage and storage requirements. It is also possible to purchase digital copies of new releases before DVDs are available, and often the price for digital copies is less for new releases as well. DVDs, along with all physical media, offer the ability to buy used, however, which can be a big advantage for some. Even if you do not wish to purchase used, it is sometimes possible to find a physical copy of an older video title cheaper than a digital download of the same.


We are not big music consumers. I like to listen to music while I work, but its not a big part of my life. When I'm driving I tend to listen to NPR, rather than music, so have never been drawn to digital radio, such as SiriusXM. I do, however, find that I prefer digital music, either streaming or downloadable content, to having music on CDs. In fact, when I do purchase a CD the first thing I tend to do is to convert it to MP3 format, so I can access it from multiple devices, including those without cd-rom drives. I've also recently started using one of the cloud services for storing my MP3s and am really liking this method. This allows me to access them from any device with an internet connection, without having to keep my desktop PC where they are stored turned on at all times. I was initially using Amazon Cloud Drive, but they enacted limits that I wasn't happy with so I've switched to Google Play.

Like video, one downside of digital music can be the cost. I've found that I can often find a used copy of an older album cheaper than I can buy the same album in digital format. Lately I've been buying, or trading for, some older used CDs, then converting to MP3 and uploading them to Google Play. For newer albums it sees cheaper to buy the digital copy, which of course has the advantage of less resource usage.

Print Media

I'm not sure how accurate the term print media is, when referring to digital media, but that is likely to be how I'll always think of books, magazines, comics, newspapers, etc. The advantages and disadvantages to consuming digital versions of print media are similar to that of other media types. I have found that, for the most part, I prefer physical print media to digital. I certainly prefer reading a physical book to reading an e-book. I also find that the way in which I browse magazines is more suited to physical magazines than digital copies. I have purchased a few cheap e-books that were not available in print form. I can't ever imagine replacing books with e-books. I do know, however, that some people with extensive collections find that the reduced storage requirements of e-books are a big advantage. I have a friend who has been liquidating his comic book collection and switching to digital comics for this reason.

Ultimately, I think it is clear that digital media is the more environmentally friendly option. The reduced resource usage and transportation requirements are big advantages for digital media. Of course, the downside to digital media is that they require a device for (dis)playing the media, which also requires electricity and often an internet connection. For most people this isn't a problem, but for someone who would not otherwise have internet, or who is trying to minimize electricity use, this probably outweighs the advantages. Personally, while I'm a big fan of certain forms of digital media, I can't see myself ever switching over completely. I just hope that the expansion of digital media doesn't result in libraries and other useful services to become obsolete.

One more thing I would like to add is that digital media provides a fantastic opportunity for artists and content creators. It is no longer necessary to find a publisher for a book, or go through the expense of self-publishing. An e-book can be created with minimal expenses. Musicians no longer have to create demo takes to peddle to radio stations and record labels. A video uploaded to YouTube can often provide more exposure than more traditional methods of getting the music out there. Regardless of the other advantages and disadvantages, I believe that the ability for works to be produced and distributed independent of traditional media publishers is reason enough to support digital media.

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