Digital vs Hard Copy: Notes From A User

Warning: this post may come off a bit curmudgeonly. It may sound more like a complaint than a solution but I think that users can and will consume more digital content if prices go down and the limitations are addressed.

After a short price comparison between hard and digital copies on current best-selling “content” on Amazon, Apple and Google Play I’d like to offer the following insights:

1. Prices for digital content are surprisingly similar across all three stores.

2. Prices for digital content are really not that much cheaper than the physical edition and in some cases are identical. When users look at identical prices for something that is clearly “less” they’re not happy. The price for the digital copy seems too high.

3. For music, Amazon offers the “auto rip” feature, where you can instantly download MP3 files of each song of the CD you just bought. This clearly defines the price of the physical item though surprisingly it isn’t identical for different CDs. Why does a plastic case + printed sleeve cost $2.50 for Lorde’s “Heroine” but only $2.00 for Kacey Musgrave’s “Same Trailer Different Park?”

In addition to a perceived, relative high price, digital downloads suffer from two other disadvantages compared to physical products:

1. Sharing and loaning are impossible, even within a family. When my husband buys a book or a CD he has to give me his device in order for me to read or listen. This has to change. I realize that the line between “piracy” and “loaning” is thin but there could be some creative solutions here. One idea is to designate “household” groups of 2-4 people at a time that allow content to be shared between its members. Another solution could be a sort of transfer of ownership, where a book can go from one device to another.

2. Limitations on devices where the content can be consumed. Amazon’s digital books are only readable on a Kindle while Apple’s are limited to Apple devices. What if I want to go on vacation with only one device and it’s an Android tablet? I can’t take my book with me, even though I paid good money for it. Apple limits all digital purchases to its devices. Amazon allows movies to be viewed on other platforms (but not Android) and music to be listened to anywhere. This drawback is easy to solve, but it requires Amazon, Apple and Google to step away from their currently successful business model of locking in the user and their content to their devices.

It’s not that digital content doesn’t have advantages. Instant access and extreme portability (take a hundred books on your next flight!) are advantages that hard copies can’t compete with. But the high relative price of digital content and the disadvantages are working against it.

Which is why we are still killing trees.


Edit: Amazon does provide a Kindle Reading App for Android and Apple devices. Books can be read across devices.

The Cost of Digital Content, Compared.

The Cost of Digital Content, Compared.


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