Opinion: The importance of physical media in a digital world

By Farah Bassyouni Feb 25, 2022
Graphic by Liam Killian
Graphic by Liam Killian

In a world where streaming is the easiest, most accessible way to engage with the content we love, physical media has been pushed to the wayside. Unfortunately, physical media is more important now than ever before even though it is slowly becoming less relevant.

I think the easiest   argument on behalf of physical media is the feeling you get when you truly own something. I have to be honest— I own digital copies of plenty of movies and music. But looking at a screen that says “purchased” doesn’t give me the same feeling as going to my bookcase and picking up a Blu Ray or vinyl. 

More importantly, streaming also doesn’t benefit the artists who created the content as much as physical media does. According to Forbes, musicians earn less than a penny for every time their song is streamed. Artists make hardly any money from streaming services, forcing them into tours to help them stay afloat. With COVID making touring virtually impossible, many artists who may not get a mainstream following have struggled. Not everyone can design and release a $200 listening device to earn their profits from streaming. Buying physical media, however, supports the artist much more and allows them to continue to make the content you like. 

Buying physical media also usually offers special bonus features. DVDs and Blu Rays will usually come with deleted scenes, behind the scenes content and director’s commentary. Those bonuses allow you to engage more with the content that you enjoy, and can help you gain a better appreciation for the work as a whole.

There’s also the matter of streaming services not buying the rights to music and movies that you might enjoy. I’ve stumbled across some of my favorite movies browsing through DVD and Blu Ray sales, and I never would have found them on Netflix or Amazon Prime. 

There are niche, independent films that could truly impact you, but aren’t carried by major streaming services because they wouldn’t attract larger audiences on the streaming service and thus wouldn’t bring in enough revenue. Streaming is meant for the masses, but a collection of physical media can be much more personalized.

I urge you all to seek out movies and music that move you and support those artists and filmmakers by going to theaters to see movies and buying physical copies of their work. The independent, non-corporate art world is shrinking because of companies trying to appeal to everybody.

In the process of buying that media, you can also support local Bloomington-Normal businesses. Bloomington-Normal has many thriving vinyl sanctuaries: Reverberation Vinyl is just across the street from Funsell, Reckless Saint is tucked into Downtown Bloomington, and both Waiting Room Records and North Street Records are in Uptown Normal.Almost anywhere in town, you’re a quick walk away from being in an incredible environment of music lovers. The owner has even given me free records before since I come in and support his shop so often. 

As physical media slowly loses its relevance, it’s up to us to keep this important medium alive. Of course streaming is convenient and accessible, but if you want to stand with your favorite artists, go buy a vinyl or a DVD. You might find something you truly connect with.

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