How much is that song worth to you?

In an age when our Canadian currency flirts with US dollar parity, the abstract qualities of value reveal themselves.

It shows that how we measure the actual worth of anything is difficult to explain in a coherently logical manner.

Take currency, for example. Its value is based on some arcane mix of commodities prices, interest rates, economic performance, and pixie dust.

But at the end of the day the buck stops with the consumer.

The Canadian dollar is only worth more than the US dollar if people believe it is.

Value is therefore in the eyes of the beholder. This is an important thing to keep in mind when we consider the future of digital media.

Historically, how we enjoy music or movies has arguably had as much to do with their physical representation as their content.

If you’ve ever suffered through a hippie’s soliloquy about vinyl LPs you know what I mean.

That physical side of media, however, is soon to be gone.

We’re halfway there already, having made Apple the topmost seller of music in the world.

After all, consider what we buy in iTunes: digital files.

In a true physical sense, that’s nothing.

You can’t hold an MP3. You can’t throw it in the glove compartment of your car. You can’t hang it on the wall.

But it suggests a sense of physical value by virtue of what seems like a transfer of goods when you purchase it and download it.

The song, the file that takes up space on your computer or iPod, becomes a thing that you “own.”

But what if there were not even that file transfer?

Because that’s where we’re going.

Over the next few years the digital media market will migrate totally into the “cloud.”

When you purchase a movie or song, you’ll receive no goods – physical, digital or otherwise.

Instead, you will only receive the legal right to consume that media content, and it will be streamed to you over the internet.

It sounds sort of crazy.

In a sense, though, that’s the way it’s been all along.

Really, if you ever bought a CD and thought you owned the music that was on it, you were wrong.

You owned the CD. You owned the case that the CD came in. But that’s about it.

The ownership of the music remained with the music publisher.

Part of the price you’d paid simply covered a legal agreement between you and that publisher, granting you the right to listen to the music, and that’s about it.

The CD, cassette tape, DVD, the MP3, whatever physical object the media content was delivered on was just that, a delivery mechanism.

Publishers will soon just begin to swap out that mechanism for the internet.

It will give them greater control over how we utilize the media, of course.

But it will also give us more flexibility in terms of when and where we consume it. Even better, it will free us from the obligation of managing it.

Pricing will become more variable. The cost of a song, say, will depend on how many times you want to listen to it and over what period of time.

And dumping responsibility for having to cram all those music and movie files onto a hard drive and then back them up will be incredibly liberating.

Because once it’s all in in the cloud, managing that stuff is someone else’s problem.

Perhaps the best thing about the cloud though, is the freedom of accessibility it grants us.

Since your media will lose its former aspect of physicality, it is no longer anchored to one location.

At a friend’s house and feel like watching a movie you own?

No problem.

Just hook your iPod up to their TV and pick whichever movie you want from your library in the cloud.

The cloud represents, of course, a tremendous paradigm shift.

If you’re one of those people who loves to alphabetize plastic cases on IKEA shelving units or boast about the terabytes of movies you’ve downloaded from BitTorrent, you’re choking on what I’ve written here.

That’s okay, you’ll get over it.

You’ll soon realize that the physical aspect of media that has historically identified a significant portion of its value wasn’t worth anything. It was actually an encumbrance.

The Age of Cloud Media will enhance our enjoyment of music and movies. It will remove their distracting physical element and allowing us to focus on the media itself.

All the same, even though the cloud storage is a tremendously improved model of media consumption over what we’ve had to date, most consumers will resist it, failing to see its value.

Humanity, it seems, just appreciates stuff over all else. I know some people who don’t even watch the DVDs they buy. They just put them on a shelf to collect dust because it makes them feel like they own the movie.

So, like currency, the commodity aspect of media contributes to its value.

Maybe someone should call Tinkerbell for an assist on the whole cloud thing, then.

Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, March 19, 2010.

2 thoughts on “How much is that song worth to you?

  1. I was thinking about this same thing the other day when a friend mentioned I had no movies. I don’t have a large collection of VHS and DVDs because it was too much trouble to move all that across the country.

    I take comfort in the fact that my iTunes library requires no packing and easily travels with me to new homes and new devices with no hassel.

  2. You are right, I buy CDs at the Vancouver Folk Festival put them on my mac book and leave the physical CD with Jenny when I leave for Macao.
    But living in China, I wonder will any governments be able to block the cloud of music and movies as they do now with Facebook and other things?

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