/ Technology

What if we lost access to digital media libraries?

Many of us rely on digital libraries for our media in this day and age, but what about the concept of ‘ownership’? What happens if we lose access?

This is a guest post by Mike Paul. All views expressed are Mike’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?. 

Many of us rely on digital libraries for our media. Long gone are the days where you’d go outside and rent a movie from Blockbuster; in fact, going outside at all is at a premium right now, but let’s not stray off topic lest we get arrested for spending too much time outside (the point).

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Netflix is the new way to watch movies and Amazon Prime also has some great content available depending on where you are.

Spotify leads the way for music, all controlled from your mobile phone. Kindle Unlimited gives you access to more than a million books and you don’t even need to own a shelf. In fact, to interact with almost any media in your arsenal, you needn’t get up from the couch.

And although I know you’re wondering what that bloke who writes about gaming is doing talking about clever things like books, the same goes for my day-to-day hobby.

Entire game libraries are made available to those who are prepared to pay per month for access, and if you stop? Poof, they’re gone, and so are your excuses not to socialise (well, except for the obvious).

Regular renting?

So the question begs: what happens if one of these companies suddenly goes belly-up, or you decide you don’t want to or can’t continue a regular payment ? How will you get by now that the digital copies of the things you interact with so regularly are unavailable?

This is a relatively new issue. Before online libraries we’d ‘own’ our media. Once we’d bought it, it couldn’t be taken away.

My Spotify playlists have taken years and years to curate despite being about 50% Backstreet Boys. If the company went bust, the service was taken down and I lost all that work, I would spend no fewer than ten full minutes with my head in my hands.

A similar situation actually happened last year when Microsoft’s ebook store closed down.

However, let me try to alleviate the anxiety of anyone who has this fear inside them. For when those ten minutes were over, I would simply go online and find another way to listen to Nick, Brian, Howie, Kevin and AJ.

Perhaps I’d queue a bunch of my favourite Backstreet Boys songs into a YouTube playlist – sure, it’s more clunky than Spotify since it’s designed for video rather than audio, but it would work.

Finding alternatives

Netflix is a tougher one to replace, but you can still rent streams online and, believe it or not, could still buy an actual physical DVD or blu-ray.

Nowadays there are also plenty of other ‘plus’ services that you could use to tide yourself over until you found a more permanent solution. I’ve not subscribed to Disney+, but I’ve read a few decent reviews of the service.

If your Kindle spontaneously combusts and Amazon somehow ceases to exist, there’s still a roaring trade in actual, wow-it’s-dusty books. Your friend’s 15-year-old son might be shocked to hear it, but they still outsell ebooks.

In fact, unless your life is pretty transient and you spend most of your time on the move, I’d recommend finding space for a sturdy shelf and supporting your local second-hand bookshops. For me, it’s the same feeling as vinyl records – you just can’t quite replace the real thing.

Could you cope without streaming?

If you ask me, there’s no service that I’d be too worried about suddenly losing. All my digital libraries are backed up in a way that I could access them from elsewhere.

If that’s not an option – like for Spotify – there are other ways to listen to music. CDs do still exist, it seems!

Netflix is great, but I did without it before, and I’d do so again. I might have to order a few more DVDs, then buy a DVD player, then a television, but in the end I’d still be able to deal with it.

The only way I can really imagine loss of access being a problem is if the internet went down globally. Now there’s a question – how would we all react to that? Though for that to happen I’d imagine the robot uprising may have started, in which case I’d be more concerned about where I left my cricket bat.

Back to the point in hand: how would losing access to a key streaming service, such as Netflix or Spotify, affect you? Do you even use them at all?

This was a guest post by Mike Paul. All views expressed were Mike’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

Robert Chandler says:
11 May 2020

I was a user of a relatively unknown service from HMV They did MP3s you could buy ‘online’ in the very early days of streaming. They allowed you to stream the MP3s you bought (no backstreet boys in my collection) but also download the MP3s to your own storage, which I did luckily as HMV seemed to close down this service due to lack of take up. But then my personal storage died one day and I lost ALL my digital music! So I started again with a Microsoft Zune subscription which became Microsoft Groove. But guess what! Microsoft closed that down too! Microsoft was good about it though and allowed users like me to ‘transfer’ their online collection to Spotify so I still have them. Digita music definitely brought an anxiety to me with these experiences and as you say a physical ownership is something harder to have taken away from you

Em says:
11 May 2020

In my secure digital vault (a.k.a. basement), I have a number of 78s, EPs and LPs I cannot listen to, Betamax and VHS movies I cannot watch, some 8mm film and Hi8 camcorder tapes of family and friends, and 5 1/4″ and 3 1/2″ floppy disks containing backups of God-knows-what. Just because content is stored in the Cloud and rented, rather than owned on physical media, really doesn’t make any difference.

Is tonight’s entertainment going to be Netflix, Amazon or Spotify? Damn, Internet is down! Now where did I put those wax cylinders?

Em says:
12 May 2020

Whilst hunting for the wax cylinders, I forgot I had a drawer full of 1/4″ reel-to-reel and Philips cassette tapes I have no way of playing, plus the deceased Apple iPods that I have no means of charging.

I’m not sure what the archaeologists will make of our historical legacy. How will they work out the truth from all the digital noise and detritus left behind? Was our civilization really wiped out by Covid-19 spread through G5 mobile signals? Was Donald T Rump, able to save the world by outsmarting and defeating the virus using just Twitter?