“Let’s see when it comes out on Netflix“; “The new releases are already on Spotify”; “I’ll download it on my Kindle”; “It’s available on Game Pass”… One would think that modernity has brought not only great advancements in the art we enjoy but also differences in how we consume it. In the past, a house could be surrounded by books, records, DVDs, comics, and video games. Now, we only need a few devices to keep the walls of our home much cleaner… Or do we?
The physical fetish
Surely you have heard (or said) at some point the phrase “I’ll download it, and if I like it, I’ll buy it.” For example, you download the latest book by Laura Gallego, and after reading twenty pages, you’ve already decided that it deserves a place on your physical bookshelf. Being able to touch things used to be the only way to enjoy them fully, but now it’s a privilege reserved for the best of the best.
And brands know this. Perhaps that’s why they dare to release special editions with more tangible items (figurines, coins, unique booklets). Not everyone wants to fill their home with things, but those who do know how to make the most of it. Maybe you wouldn’t buy ‘The Lord of the Rings’ in a pocket-sized edition, but what about a luxury edition with gold-edged pages and giant size? Physical format serves not only as a means of consumption but also as decoration and status symbol.
You may never actually play ‘Casablanca’ or ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ on your Blu-Ray player when you have them available for streaming, but owning their collector’s editions is a way to acknowledge their value, showcase your taste to visitors in your home, and hey, if the often-predicted online apocalypse ever happens, you’ll have a plan B. Despite claims that empty spaces and minimalism are trending, if you have a couple of hobbies, those empty spaces will soon be filled.
Back and forth
Indeed, it’s much easier to share a song with someone by simply sharing a link instead of taking the CD (or vinyl), going to their house, and leaving it there. But there’s a reason why we continue to collect vinyl records beyond their musical quality: it’s the feeling of owning something. Even if we purchase the album digitally and it comes with loaded extras, we will always feel a stronger connection to something we can manipulate, touch, and lend. It’s not just nostalgia; it’s being human.
There will be those who say, “Well, what about newspapers and magazines? They are in a crisis in their physical format.” That’s true. They lack the magic of collectability and have always been seen more as disposable content: the transition to digital is easier, especially because what we seek – current news – will always be more up-to-date on the internet than in print a day later. Magazines follow a similar path; it’s the next logical step: we don’t feel the urge to collect them, they are not fetish objects.
Despite the naysayers trying to kill off the physical format, the truth is that every year there are more and more comics and manga published, more and more vinyl records finding their place, more and more video games of all kinds and colors. Even indie games that were initially released exclusively in digital format have ended up being released in physical form due to this trend of wanting to have the good stuff encapsulated in our hands. If I have it, it means I am acknowledging it. It says something about me.
The film problem
In this new quest to see what survives in physical format, there is one format that has been fatally wounded (at least in Spain): the Blu-Ray. While in the UK and the United States it is still enjoying a sweet moment, partly thanks to collections like Criterion or Arrow, in our country, which has always been more prone to piracy, the arrival of streaming has definitively condemned movie (and series) discs to oblivion.
This is the exception: although it may seem that Spotify has killed CDs to create, in return, a revenue stream through more concerts, the truth is that vinyl records have a thriving community that has taken everyone by surprise. The same goes for books: despite Amazon’s efforts, many of us prefer to have them in our hands and be able to take them on a journey without worrying about battery life, even if it costs a little more.
Usually, we shouldn’t pay attention to those who announce “the future,” whether it comes in the form of NFTs, cryptocurrency, or digital formats, because Nostradamus 2.0 doesn’t exist. The revolution of physical space should not only be aesthetically pleasing but also fill us internally with a single glance. And that’s something a Kindle, no matter how hard it tries, will never achieve.