Tuesday, April 23, 2013

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Cloud-Based Digital Media [Opinion]

From: stock.xchng
I'm a recent convert to cloud-based media, by which I mean that I've been purchasing movies and TV shows off of streaming services like Amazon and Google. I admit, it took me a long time to overcome my resistance.

I worried about buying digital media, especially since these are files on a cloud server. Since I didn't own the actual copy, it felt like a rip-off. What would happen if I lost access to the Internet? What if the company went out of business and shut down its servers? I would lose what I had bought. "At least," I thought, "when I buy a DVD, it's mine forever. Nobody can take it away from me." And yet, as a self-published author through Amazon's Kindle Store, I'm producing digital copies of my books. That seemed kind of hypocritical, since I'm expecting people to buy books they don't own. But I told myself, "Well, it's different. You can download it onto your Kindle, PC, or smartphone, and it's yours." But what if you lose your PC or Kindle or smartphone? What if Amazon went out of business?

It was when I was working on my kids' Wii that I had a revelation. Their favorite game is Wii Sports Resort, and (kids being kids) the disk had gotten dropped and scratched so many times that it was no longer working. This had happened before and I bought a new copy, and it looked like this one needed to be replaced as well. It suddenly occurred to me that when I bought the original game, I never expected to replace it twice at my expense. Yet when the game broke, I never really expected anything else.

That thought led me to realize that nothing I had ever bought was permanent. When I bought a movie on DVD, I always thought of owning it forever. Yet what happened if my DVD got scratched or broken or ruined? Would I expect to get another one for free from the DVD manufacturer forever? Nope, I was just out a DVD. I started thinking about all the movies and music I've bought throughout my life. I still have relatively little of it. A lot of my DVDs have stopped working, so I don't have them anymore. Also, changing media formats transformed my collection every ten years.

When DVDs replaced videotapes, I had to buy new copies of my movies. I had spent hundreds of dollars collecting Monty Python episodes on VHS, and now I found myself buying them all over again on DVD. My old VHS tapes went in the trash. That doesn't even address my CDs, audiotapes, and (yes, I'm this old) LPs. Yes, some of them got ruined, but a lot of them I just threw away. I hung onto them for a long time, but eventually it just didn't make sense to keep my audio cassette player and record player. I know some people still hang onto their old LPs, but I'm not that nostalgic. So I upgraded to new formats and threw out the old ones.

I thought about more recent "permanent" digital media I'd purchased, files that I downloaded and saved on my hard drive. I've bought a few TV shows and songs from iTunes, but I don't use iTunes anymore. I could re-download them to watch and listen to on my PC...but I can't be bothered. So those purchases are worthless to me.

The point is that I looked at my entertainment purchases throughout my life with new eyes. I had an expectation that they would last forever, but knew that's not realistic. If I bought a DVD and it had a little sticker on it that said, "This DVD will be unusable in ten years," would I have balked at buying it? Probably not. So what I realized is that cloud-based media isn't much different from any other form of media. There is no such thing as "permanent" media - everything is temporary, and that's part of life.

In some ways, cloud-based media is better than physical media. If I had my copy of Dark Knight Rises on DVD, I can scratch or crack it or lose it. If I traveled and wanted to watch it, I would have to take the DVD with me. But with my cloud-based copy of Dark Knight Rises, it's safe and secure. It will never get scratched or broken. If I travel and want to watch it, I just need to bring my PS3 or laptop and access the cloud, and there it is. Yes, there's a chance that my media service will go out of business or I would lose access to the Internet, but it would be no different than if I broke or lost the copy I had on a physical format - either way, it's gone. And I'm okay with that.

But I want to ensure that people feel safe about my ebooks. That's why I hereby offer a guarantee that if you buy one of my ebooks, you will always have access to it. Even if Amazon or any other digital publishers I use no longer support it, if you provide me with a receipt of purchase, I'll send you a copy. I also made all my Amazon books DRM-free, so you can convert them to other formats if you like.

What do you think about cloud-based media? Do you use it? Would you ever use it?

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