Are digital purchases really just leases?

The New Yorker raises a concern that a digital product “buy” is really a “lease,” a license to use the content in the platform it was locked to: Amazon, Android, Apple, Windows, Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, etc.

Anyone who has tried to play digital content with regional encodings while traveling internationally has run into problems with this. They don’t own their copy not do they have the right to use it anywhere they want.

There is no single universal standard.

An interesting historical perspective does make you wonder about the argument for physical media. Did buying a physical copy of someone’s work entitle you to be able to keep using it? For how long? It depends on the medium.

Each digital distributor is trying to lock in their audience.

A digital format license can get extended to future versions of the platform, if the vendor choses to. They want you to remain a captive audience, to some extent.

If your digital copy of a book, movie or app gets upgraded as part of the license to work with a future software version and piece of hardware, there’s no risk of loss to you. However, it does lock you in to software and/or hardware from that vendor to keep getting access.

Does buying a physical copy of a work come with the expectation to use the product forever?

Any physical media format still requires some form of translation to the audience: books need paper and light (or Braille or audio), and discs, vinyl and tape, all need players.

If your disc player breaks, what are your options?

Even more tragically, if you lose your sight, are you entitled to the Braille or audio copy of the books you have?

You need a translator to change any medium into a message and accessibility to experience it.

Mint condition or rarities from our culture in any medium will have some inherent value to an enthusiast: books, films, music, comics, video games, etc.

It’s probably true that there is no value to an old digital file format.

But what is the value of an 8-track recording without a functioning 8-track player? Did you “buy” that piece of work or simply get a copy that only works on the intended platform with unclear future limitations?

What was my cassette purchase of the Ghostbusters soundtrack entitling me to? That format was hardly archival.

What is the value of an 80s Nintendo GamePak without a functioning Nintendo Entertainment System? Good luck finding one that doesn’t cause you to run through the gamut of techniques to get one to work.

Nintendo offers information on what to do, but it’s certainly more convenient to just buy a new, modern, cleaner digital copy.

Digital distribution is a trade-off for convenience.

Young artists need financial support as quickly as they can get it to continue producing, so getting access to regional audiences through a middle man offering a convenient method of access makes sense.

Unlike physical copies, digital has alternatives. Any creator can offer open-source digital and physical formats through their own website, if they chose to. The real question is determining if a digital vendor has any obligation to inform the audience that there are alternatives.

Is “buy” misleading the public?

When you hit “buy”, do you get access to a copy of a file?

That’s the most important question of digital rights access.

With any proprietary or open format, you need the hardware and software to access the content. As long as you have access to your files to get a copy, which conversion software could empower you to reformat, it doesn’t seem to be any different than yesterday’s proprietary format.

I’d rather download a remastered digital copy of an old cassette than bother recovering a worse quality copy. Nostalgia only has so much value.

Will physical copies of today’s digital content be more valuable if our devices don’t support backwards compatibility? What value will a CD, DVD or Blu-Ray have in 30 years?

There is no guarantee that optical disc readers will always be around.

Funny thing is, handing down old technology unexplained to future generations leads to interesting confusion and guesswork.

A Walkman introduced to kids today without explanation.

Are mobile devices putting unprecedented demands on our car batteries?

Modern mobile devices require a lot of energy to maintain a 4G/LTE data connection, often switching between whichever networks are available in the area. The GPS also drains the battery far more than just about anything else in a mobile device.

We’re increasingly dependent on our devices for what feel like critical functions of modern living. There’s an expectation that we can and should always be connected, as long as our battery is charged and our signal is strong.

I’m reminded of Scott McCloud’s thoughts in Understanding Comics on the extension of the self and how it gets applied to inanimate objects, such as the car we’re driving, a bicycle we’re riding or a keyboard we type on.

The same concept applies even more to mobile devices as they have become always ready extensions of our self expression.

In the context of a car, we rely on these devices for:

  • Traveling with the most rapidly updated maps in history
  • Voice-over computers guiding us toward our destination and helping us keep our eyes on the road
  • Reporting real-time traffic through apps like Waze as a public service to other drivers, hoping our data can be shared and our lost time can be avoided by others before they pass the next exit
  • Streaming music, podcasts or audiobooks over the 21st century data airwaves
  • Talking and texting others so we don’t feel alone, even if we shouldn’t (Lots of drivers do it at red lights, especially)

We rely on our car batteries to support our device needs by consuming more energy than we ever have.

It would be interesting to see research to determine if batteries are keeping up with the increased demands being placed on them from more electronics.

As more electronics are integrated into automobiles, how much of the cost of battery replacement are we feeling?

Are we seeing faster battery replacements in cars since the mobile technology boom?

Can a touchscreen laptop have value if the UI isn’t designed for touch?

Great exploration by Dr. Drang on what needs to happen to software UI to make a touchscreen laptop not a compromised mess.

A hit target for the mouse cursor is much smaller than a touchscreen target.

A solution would be a software/hardware fusion that can dynamically respond to the user’s choice of input method on the fly.

Can the hardware use the camera to see when a user raises their hand to point at the screen, make an assumption and adjust the software hit targets fast enough to make the targets touch-optimized? Even if the user doesn’t engage touching the screen, and was simply pointing something out to someone, the raised hand could proactively get the software ready, in case the user does touch the screen.

Or do you need a lightning-fast responsive screen/software response to change at the point of interaction?

iOS Airplay user pro-tip

If you have an AppleTV, you use the Photos app on iOS to share photos to the TV, then move on to watch a video (like content for your kids on Netflix) , then go back to the Photos app on the same device, the Photos app will default to sharing to the TV and will interrupt the current playback.

This is especially helpful if there’s any chance your Photos app has content of any kind which you don’t want in any public display.

Why do we need to go to the theater?

Technology has increasingly enabled us to see staged performances from our homes, from the invention of radio drama broadcasts, to the expansion of television, to the convenience of recorded Betamax and VHS formats and later laserdisc, DVD and now Bluray. With cheap pocket computers capable of storing high-definition color video and an always-on Internet with the bandwidth to deliver it on-demand, what value does going to the movie theater have for people?

The reason TV content quality has improved is a will to explore more mature, challenging themes in drama on cable TV, where the FCC regulations aren’t adherent to strict censorship and the opt-in method of access. The Internet is even less regulated, with endless content diversity and creative talent eager to share and an on-demand delivery system for people to sneak video in during an increasingly busy schedule.

We get more mature fiction with more creative writing, cinematography and film direction at home, while the movie theater is reduced to using theme park attraction visual spectacle and gimmicks like 3D, which was already explored in the 1950s to offset the threat of the new medium of TV.

So why go to the theater?
If everyone watches things on their own schedule on demand everywhere they have an internet connection, how do you get a large audience for high value advertising? The answer is the continued success of live staged performances and sports, which are much harder to pull off consistently. Broadway is still getting exclusive content from great creative teams willing to try out their riskier stories on an old medium.

The only thing left in the value of the theater is having a shared, communal and cultural experience. The fear of missing out is strong, but not as much as it used to be. Exclusive access to the content through the theater is being used to maintain the business model and infrastructure, but it’s a shorter wait.

Movie theaters have embraced live simulcasts of niche-interest events to ensure they still have something unique to offer. The recent Doctor Who event was very successful.

It seems exclusive performances of courageous, challenging, and artistic content will always be successful.

A Frosty Fuel Door

On my way to work this morning, I was reminded of the compromises in design and an acknowledgment of trade-offs that happen in the process.

The fuel door of my car is opened by a pull lever inside the cabin. This is to prevent unscrupulous people from tampering with the gas tank or siphoning gasoline from your car.

Even the greatest design is limited by what it was intended to do.

A side effect flaw of this design is in icy winter weather, the fuel door can get stuck fairly easily.

What was the likelihood of a risk of someone tampering with the fuel tank compared to the annoyance of a frozen fuel door preventing the driver from refueling?

If a design fails, how functional is the fail safe?

In digital products, accessibility is our fail safe. Accessibility standards have a byproduct of benefitting general usability.

This is Renting in the 21st Century

A case study of digital content, ecosystems, locked up exclusive rights and a married couple with kids trying to rent “This is 40″.

My wife and I had HBO for a few months, but cancelled to cut down on expenses. We didn’t get a chance to watch “This is 40″ due to the chaotic world of maintaining a household, the sleep deprivation of parenthood and the critical self-importance of keeping up with our social media. :)

So we hop onto our Apple TV and the only option is a purchase of the film.

We missed out on whatever the time window was that Hollywood gave Apple to let us rent it.

The next step was Netflix, which doesn’t have digital rights to the film. I presume we could rent the disc, but that’s a business model Netflix has tried to distance itself from.

Another option was Amazon Prime video, but again, it’s strictly a purchase option.

So it seems once the movie was made available to HBO, that locked up the rights to rent the film from every digital outlet to rent. The reality of subscription model services and the needs for exclusive content to drive subscription value has spread to a large number of media entities. This is a direct response to technology impacting content which can be easily duplicated and shared online.

There’s some irony to the fact that it’s harder to directly rent a movie today than it was in the days of Blockbuster. Selling the digital movie gets a higher margin for the studio than a rental and creates forced loyalty to the digital platform you purchase from. The platforms can’t stay in business by selling the same content and constantly fighting each other for it, so to be unique and to make use of the TV/Internet fusion, Hulu, Amazon, Netflix, etc. have all moved to becoming their own production studios looking to find their own niche of unique premium content. “TV” is bigger than the formerly more prestigious “Film” and “Internet” and “TV” have merged in our living room and on the go. We can’t even fill our gas tank without Gas Station TV today.

It’s quite funny that my wife and I chose This is the End, a terrific horror comedy about members of Hollywood being left behind at the end of the world, yet being redeemed for selflessness.

What will Disney do with Indiana Jones?

Disney gets the rights to Indiana Jones, as George Lucas sends another of his properties to the entertainment company most successful at lobbying for extending intellectual property rights, preserving and archiving their best work, prioritizing quality over quantity, and keeping creative works relevant for generations. Lucas is thinking long term and sees Disney as the institution most powerful and quality-driven to ensure his work lasts beyond his years.

Speculation begins on who can replace Harrison Ford in yet another rebooted popular film franchise for an industry increasingly risk-averse. Something to consider: who says Disney is looking at the theater as the channel for Dr. Henry Jones?

According to The Atlantic, Disney is a TV company.

Disney’s tried at making it’s own Indiana Jones, but The Rocketeer didn’t snag the audience it deserved.

If Johnny Depp couldn’t get the hype strength to get The Lone Ranger to be a hit again, and Brad Bird couldn’t get today’s audience into a theater to make John Carter relevant to the early 21st century, maybe the theater is too myopic.

Why not take one of the big gaps in the Indiana Jones story and explore it as a period piece with a big budget action/adventure TV series on ABC?

Is it time for a new, exciting Less Young Indiana Jones Chronicles? Something targeting a savvy, PG/PG-13 audience would be the best shot.

Or maybe an animated adventure on one of Disney’s teen cable channels, grabbing the young male teen audience they targeted by purchasing Marvel Comics properties?

With Disney owning a comic book company, might we see Indiana Jones move to Marvel Comics?

The good news is, if you like the character, it’s clear Disney plans to give you more to look forward to.