52 thoughts on “Physical media is dead — long live the app”

  1. “Apps” are still somewhat static containers with well-defined boundaries. “Streams” maybe the primary way we get content in the future, a constantly changing amalgam of all types of media tailored to our constantly shifting preferences and in many cases curated by us, not by “publishers.” For example, a Netflix “movie” will have many different versions, with different combinations of media from different sources, including giving users the tools to assemble their own preferred version. The more these “streams” will be curated by the users, the less chances for traditional advertising to survive.

    1. Not completely sure about that… it’s worth bearing in mind that many new media sites/streams are going very old-school towards sponsored advertisers and more product placement.

      Hulu was headed that way until the studios got even more involved. Stopped using Hulu when they started showing more than 3-4 ads for an episode. People don’t like advertising, so having something that brings you in (sponsorship or product placement) is a better path in the near future. Since Hulu/Netflix are looking forward towards original content, I think things will flow more that way… which is how early TV worked.

    2. Hmm…

      I think some level of stability is beneficial not only for distribution but for consumption. I’m not sure how happy people would be if all of their content was delivered through a set of “constantly changing amalgams”. We should not have to think about getting content, but we should also not have to think about the content we may not be getting because of a non-transparent decision by some algorithm based on some preference-indicating action.

    3. Gp

      That might be true but you also have to understand that the metaphor is something most people actually understand and can relate to. In the future streams might work, but for now the biggest stream of them all is failing as — Facebook.

      Thanks for an awesome comment by the way

      1. Thanks. Indeed, people will continue to respond to what they are comfortable with which is packaged and neatly-served content/information. But the increased content fragmentation in the last decade and the rise of easy-to-use content development and delivery tools for the masses (such as the platform on which we conduct this conversation) may indicate a more user-driven, “stream-like” future (Facebook notwithstanding).

  2. One thing I’ve learned about the advancement of technology: it doesn’t matter whether you think it’s a good thing or a bad thing…it absolutely *will happen*.

  3. Your title should read “Physical media is dead — so are your fair use rights.” The thing that every commentator on this subject fails to see is that as the public clamors for streamed content, their rights to use it as they see fit — even in the privacy of their own homes — is now subject to a license that typically goes well beyond the bounds of copyright law. Look at the Kindle terms of use. It basically says that if I physically lend my Kindle to someone and they read a book on it that I “purchased” for myself through Amazon.com, then I am violating the terms of use. The only legal way for me to lend “purchased” books is through their app’s functionality, which would then require my friend to also be hooked up to Amazon, etc, etc. Now is Amazon going to come after Joe Sixpack for lending his kindle to his friend? No, but they could and it would hold up in a court of law because he clicked “YES” to agree to and get past the terms of use without ever looking at it or understanding what it really means. I, for one, am a fan of knowing that if I buy a DVD, then it is mine to keep and to use as I wish as long as I maintain it.

    I do also find it interesting that when you look at the raw numbers for music for 2011, which most would argue is a fairly “mature” download industry given the prevalence of iTunes and the like, physical sales of CDs outpaced digital albums more than 2 to 1 (223.5 million vs. 103.1 million – Nielsen SoundScan). Granted, those CD numbers are down 5.7% from 2010, but it just goes to show that physical media is still very much alive.

    1. Absolutely true. Everybody’s going for downloaded content instead of physical media. But that means everybody’s going for content which has all kinds of restrictions attached. Does anyone care about that?
      If they do, it isn’t stopping them from buying!

  4. I got into mobile identifying that the iPhone would need sophisticated tools to support app processes. In 2007, I said that everything would be an app if they were developed properly. As Steve noted, apps are verbs. Content is the adjective, and you are the noun. Om listens to rock music.

    We devised a set of technologies that would allow us to auto build albums as music from databases of content, but of course Apple was not interested in diluting iTunes. We also devised numerical control mechanisms for the interface itself, understanding that the application would need to adapt itself to metrics, feedback, behavior, and novelty.

    Most of the mobile world is still not there. But, apps need to be like constructs that adapt to our behaviors rather than containers. A shopping app needs to understand why I am there and my history with the company, and with other similar companies if necessary. I have some ideas around that, so I’ll stop there.

    Streaming is actually a bad methodology for feeding content in a world where we mostly do not have instantaneous response. HTML5 technologies will suffer the same fate for the foreseeable future. Caching will be the savior. Gaming has so much to offer in terms of behavior control relative to content and shopping experiences, because we are looking for novelty not certainty in the world around us. Our art is ever in motion and forever conversing with us. Our first experience with music is the reference point for its continual exploration not its encapsulation.

    Apps are like conversations. In the future, we will interact with devices and apps that understands us perhaps more than we do. I always say that the glistening devices are my biggest problem as a mobile designer. We design behavior.

  5. Absolutely false. This is what the living in silicon valley will do to you, make you think that the universe revolves around you and your thinking. No one (outside of silicon valley) cares about any of the companies mentioned in this article.

    1. Well you are reading a site that literally owes its existence to the technology created in the Valley over the past decade or so. You shouldn’t be surprised by the myopia.

      As for a criticism of Om’s point that apps are the way to go, I certainly don’t see it from the examples he provides.

      Montblanc and Cartier offering their catalogs as apps?

      What would I care–even if I care about these companies and their offerings?

      Why wouldn’t I be better served by seeing a tweet (or getting a text) announcing their new catalog, and then visiting their website to view it?

      How many platforms will developers have to target when building their apps? Montblanc and Cartier certainly aren’t going to hire a multiple developers to build apps for iOS, Android, Spotify, etc.

      And why would they? A web app is all most companies need to deliver really good content in a unique way to their customers and other interested people.

      1. Because it isn’t about content, it’s about service. The user could care less about the package as the relatively rapid switch from vinyl to CDs to MP3s to iTunes has shown. iTunes is an app. And, while plenty would like to think that alternatives exist, if you talk to the artists, you find that they feel iTunes is the about the only viable alternative for making money.

        So, the services contain a connection from producer to consumer and mediate the exchange as well as continued relationship. The app is a service model, or at least it will be. Frankly, I am having these conversations in business, and the web models don’t suffice to manage the complexity we have to simmer down to an excellent experience.

      2. I’d like to add, that people are missing the larger picture because of the current state of apps. The web should have become an app platform, instead it became Internet Explorer.

        Apps are a construct. An app should adapt to users and needs fluidly. They should use data to drive interaction patterns and data presentation. Apps should be so closely tied with the business itself that it is indistinguishable from it.

        We will not recognize mobile interfaces or app constructs in 5-10 years…

      3. Good points Mr. Cooper (okay I will play along with that name 😉

        My argument is that these “apps” regardless of the platform are replacing the old way of distributing and consuming information/data/content. And this could include web-apps, except these apps will be very different from the web apps in the past.

        We have defined the Internet experience via the browser (IE/Firefox ex) and instead now the browser is becoming embedded inside these apps that use Internet to create experiences based around information/content etc.

    2. Fascinating — Instead of having valid criticism (like the gentleman below using the handle, Sterling Cooper) an empty comment from someone who pretends to be someone else.

    3. @Nicholas… “if you talk to the artists, you find that they feel iTunes is the about the only viable alternative for making money.” As a recording artist, I have to tell you that you could not be more wrong about this. Artists by and large detest the iTunes model. I literally bank $0.11 for every $.99 song I sell in iTunes after Apple and their partners take their whack. And the listeners hate that the content is saddled with DRM. By comparison, a service like Bandcamp lets me earn 100% of the cost of the downloads, it’s DRM-free, the file quality is higher and the site is more artist- and listener-friendly. Those examples aside, artists across the board will tell you the money is all in touring now, not music sales. Many bands will give away their music to get enough reach to make a tour viable.

  6. Great piece, Om. I don’t know whether Apple will ever fully pursue this, but they are remarkably well-positioned to skim more and more of the ‘jobs’ that folks currently hire USPS for (note: they have already dipped foot in with Cards and Catalogs).

    Armed with identity, payment, curation, distribution and availability (via iCloud), how could they transform the direct mail business, for example, taking what currently is a hugely, inefficient financial liability for direct marketers and a pain in the ass for consumers, and turn it into an asset for both constituencies?

    Think about it. From intent to in-box to engagement in a couple of clicks. To me, this path seems even more compelling than the tired meme about re-inventing email.

    Re-think the message, the payload and the stamp, and the opportunities are limitless.

      1. One other issue on adoption is the age group of the adoptor. Us ‘older’ folks still tend to want physical media. It is what we are familiar with. I think that the under-30 crowd is so used to virtual everything (money, possessions, media, even work…) that using apps and getting all entertainment streamed is preferrable.

  7. Go to a good indie record store and pick up some good stereolab, pere ubu, sonic youth etc records cheap. You’ll see why rock and roll is destroyed by this brave new world of which you speak.

    1. Tinyvox

      Not sure I agree. I buy a lot of music, mostly small indie labels. I buy it from amazon and apple. I subscribe to Spotify and spend a ton of money on music. I just don’t spend money of marginal albums and videos that don’t have an amazing appeal that I want to own them.

    2. Rock and roll has been destroyed by the money in the larger system and the unwillingness to adapt. None of the artists you mention ever made much more than a record store salary ever if easily. Sad, but true. The music industry never pays much to artists, so allow them to control their own output…

  8. Movies on Netflix and Hulu? What planet are you living on OM? The selection of movies on Hulu is pathetic. Even with a Hulu+ subscription I’ve yet to find anything on there that has been released in theaters over the past three years. As for Netflix, I have maybe 5 movies out of the 25 in my DVD queue available for instant streaming.

    Making the statement that physical media is dead is the ultimate ignorance. Unless of course you want to suggest a more convenient way of getting the latest movies in HD than walking into a Blockbuster and renting a 0-day Blu ray. As for streaming, the only guaranteed device that can do that is still the PC, as everything else (smartphones, tablets) requires licensing before it is made available. More often than not, I’m streaming content through my HTPC and netbook, either because it’s not available to watch on any of my handhelds, or would eat into my pathetic data cap when outside of wifi.

  9. Cd sales outpace digital album sales because you can purchase individual songs digitally. In other words you do not have to purchase the whole album if you only want a few songs on it.

    1. Which is exactly why artists need a curated package. This exactly why we created the tools that we did. An artist picks a template, populates the music, media, and app assets through a web browser, and automatically builds an album experience. Release the music later.

      Music needs experiences not songs.

      1. News to me. The market seems to love the ability to purchase whatever song they want. The market already has the power to create their own “albums.”. I do not think the market values the purchase of digital music experiences. Their use will be limited to promoting an artist’s concert dates or so it seems to me.

      2. Well, if you look at the successes in independently distributed music, the artists include Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails both of which have sold album experiences and are not interested in the singles market. Have you talked to labels?

  10. Apps are a pain to manage.

    They take up too much real estate. I have screens full of iPad apps.

    They always need updating. This is a manual task. Not only in the sense of selecting what apps to update or selecting where they are located on your screen, but in managing the storage space they occupy.

    Switching in and out of apps is also a pain relatively speaking.

    Information in apps is more difficult to share too.

    Ok maybe this is besides the point. And who says apps cant coexist with the web. And no doubt that my complaints will be handled to some extent by technical improvements.

    But in my experience the only apps used in my household (besides Apple’s apps) are games, and an app from a certain popular comedian mostly because you currently can’t get podcasts automatically downloaded to the iPad and the app does this which makes life easier.

    For the most part the truckload of apps on my iPad go unused.

      1. Apps hardly solve that problem. Matter of fact you can’t save links to old articles in the apps I have used.

  11. Another journalist trying to be the next Chris Anderson. The case this article makes disregards the importance of context, both to the content creators and the content consumers. It’s narrow-minded to believe people don’t still care about physical media and to suggest Apps are the answer to “unshackling” ourselves from them. There’s no knowledge here, just data and misguided conjecture.

    1. @CM80

      Where does the piece make any comment or allude to disregard to the importance of content creators and content consumers. It is talking about the medium which is being used to deliver the message is new and is different and we need to reshape our content creation and content consumption as such. Too bad you don’t see that.

      PS: I started and run a content business and live with the reality of how the world is changing around us. So, before you start throwing mud or assertions, just think. It would also be nice to know who I am having an exchange with.

      1. “It didn’t matter if you read Tom Wolfe in Rolling Stone, Esquire or in form of a book. He created content (art, if you ask me) and the companies packaged and sold it in containers. They used their distribution networks — trucks, newsstand networks and book stores – to get us to pay for Wolfe’s works.” This suggests that the world we have lived in is one where a Tom Wolfe writes the same way for various contexts (untrue) and a reader doesn’t care about the context, they just want Tom Wolfe (also untrue). Apps are neither the antidote to a container “problem” nor are they a context readers will hold in higher esteem than old world media, simply based on their convenience. There’s nothing dead about physical media. I’m sorry you read my dissent as mudslinging, but I’m tired of reading that apps have freed us of the boundaries of physical media. It just isn’t true, in the same way that it wasn’t true that home video killed going to the movies or before that, that radio killed newspapers and serials. There’s so much alarmism whenever a new medium emerges.

  12. “USPS lost $5.1 billion in 2011. A report from the GAO said that USPS has way too much infrastructure for a world which is seeing the mail volumes drop. “By fiscal year 2020, USPS expects to lose over 60 percent of the First-Class Mail volume that it had in fiscal year 2006,” the report notes. USPS has had a total loss of $25.3 billion since 2006, the last year it was in the black. Ouch!”

    So what most people don’t realize is that the reason why the USPS lost so much money is that 5 years ago Congress forced the USPS to front-load their retirement monies to the tune of 5.5 BILLION DOLLARS a year. Does USPS have “physical” issues? Sure. But the USPS would be in the black if it wasn’t for Congress forcing their hand. Felix Salmon wrote about it last Sept. http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2011/09/06/how-to-solve-the-post-offices-problems/

    1. Thanks for the link share, but also the decline in mail volumes doesn’t really go away. The systematic change in how we live is happening and unfortunately USPS is going to suffer as a result. I am going to look into other mail systems and see how their mail volume is doing. Thanks again for commenting.

  13. This trend may reveal the true cost of content vs. distribution. Existing businesses invested in distribution will try to keep the price the same, but the model is totally disrupted (isn’t this always the problem with existing companies?)

    One thing I wish would get sorted out is the fact that I can get a magazine and leave it in the dentist’s waiting room where it will get read by possibly hundreds of people. This is perfectly legal. If I do the same with digital content, I will be labeled a ‘serial offender’.

    This dichotomy must be addressed and worked out.

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  15. Om, I think this is dead on-for national brands. I think we are still a long way from a world where SMBs can have an affordable app built to sell a product or service, or a built local or regional brand. I think there are two issue that prevent that. First, the average SMB owner (granted, I am not talking about tech or online SMBs, but referring to the brick and mortar type) is still very adverse to technology. I would make a claim that they are at least 5 years behind. Most of the ones living near cities have seen new age advertising like Groupon or LivingSocial, but few have heard of creating their POS on Square – let alone building an app unto themselves. But I do think you are right in the sense that any large brand not using the app to further their brand, catalog, product or service in by 2012 is probably doing something wrong.

    1. Daniel

      Agreed on the SMB and I do think there is an opportunity here for someone here to help SMB become app-savvy and what not.

      Thanks for the comment.

  16. Love this. As a biz creative who works at an app company, I get excited about this: “It means opportunities for new kind of digital creative shops that go beyond mere advertising and instead build result-oriented strategies that use math, data and human emotion.”

  17. I’d love to pay a monthly fee for access to any song/movies/whatever I want whenever the mood takes me, but I can’t, that’s why physical media isn’t dead. The streaming services aren’t anywhere near yet.

    As has been noted, streaming offerings for the likes of movies don’t get close to the DVD services offered by the same companies, until they do no one will be switching. Then there’s the fact that only certain companies are licensed for certain content, no one wants to have to pay for multiple services to get full coverage.

    Then we have the network, how many times have you hit buffering and the like? And the hardware, how often has your physical disc player crashed on you? Have you seen the average person try to get a picture from their PC on their TV?

    As for Apps, why do I want one for each company/brand/product I’m interested in? Then I have to install them, maintain them, figure out how each works. Companies already can send you updates about their new products, it’s called email marketing, it’s been around a while.

    Then you can visit their website. So instead of hundreds of apps I need two: an email client and a web browser. They’re already on all platforms too. Apps provide functionality, not content.

    As for postal services, maybe you’re right, but what about all those parcels we’re all ordering from Amazon and eBay? Someone’s delivering those, why not USPS?

    And I agree with gp, we’ll start to see more ‘streams’ of data, how much do you read of any site/feed? We need better tools to filter and just why Google binned Wave I don’t know, it seemed an ideal platform for this.

  18. Not sure you really understand economics. While I am all for a greener economy I don’t think you properly examine the downside of the quick evolution of the new media consumption paradigm. The large gatekeepers are making massive amount of money bringing you content in new ways but a vast majority of the world is being left behind and will be unable to retool skills and remain unemployed. A decade even is too fast to scale out enormous industries. The tech zealots are high on there own vision or simply making things stream lined digital and in many cases ‘free’ makes peoples lives better. It will drastically shrink the economy and the workforce if it unfolds the way you say. There will be no celebrities, they’ll be bots because there the only thong that can perpetuatually work for free and not eat. When the venture capitalism money runs or as the markets wisen you’ll see your career as a blogger is sorely inadequate to provide the basic tenets of life. Those gatekeepers though, they’ll be fine cause they fooled your generation into thinking 1.) they were the small guy and 2.) they were going to invest in a better world. Believe me #2 is what they believe they are doing, but there are no jobs there!

  19. Not true. Physical media sales and the interest in non digital media such as vinyl LPs are on the INCREASE. The “intranets” aint exactly cutting edge itself anymore don’t you know? All the new kids are playing with dirt and smashing their computers. No one has a crystal ball and most of us won’t even have enough to eat or water to drink in 50 years. Time to get a bit more reality check on all of these issues. With artists no longer getting fair compensation for their work, we hardly have anything worth buying anyway.

  20. False. Vinyl sales, as well as those of turntables, are booming. Increasing dramatically year after year.

  21. The truth is : the DUMB ones who choose the virtual media is like the losers who choose virtual sex rather than real sex.
    Technology is the demonstration how dumb average population is: this mass of dumb people embraces shit like ipod ipad etc even if these useless dumb tools have no quality,just quantity.
    The proof is that there is ABSOLUTELY NO VALUE when you want to resell a tech tool,the exact opposite happen when you want to sell a gibson-fender guitar,a mc intosh amp etc….

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