It’s getting harder to buy gifts. Streaming services are partly to blame
One of the first albums I ever owned was an ABBA Best Of CD, gifted to me by my parents when I was about six years old. In the years following, CDs were a stalwart of my birthday and Christmas presents. Mandy Moore, Britney Spears, Madonna, Kylie Minogue, and various So Fresh compilation CDs were all staples that I’d excitedly pop into my Discman. They’d become the soundtrack of the next year for my friends and I, played ad nauseam until the next gift.
DVDs and CDs make great gifts. Buying a movie or album for someone requires a great deal of thought. It requires intimate and detailed knowledge of the tastes of the person you’re buying for, or playing the role of fortune-teller and choosing something that’s unexpected but you know they’ll love (an even tricker feat). On the other hand, gifting a voucher to Spotify or Netflix feels lazy and impersonal.
Gifting a voucher to Spotify or Netflix feels lazy and impersonal.Credit:iStock
The death of DVDs and CDs is a long-documented fact. The vast majority of us consume media via streaming services. Most laptops don’t even come with disc drives anymore. Blockbusters and record stores are few and far between. Iconic Melbourne music store Sanity announced on Wednesday that it would close all of its physical locations, shifting to digital sales only.
This could just be “back in my day…” nostalgia, but I think (or hope) we may be on the cusp of the resurgence of physical media.
Last year, streaming service HBO Max began pulling content from its catalogue, axing shows like Westworld and Minx (in Australia, HBO Max titles can be accessed on Foxtel and Binge). As of December 2022, 81 titles have been removed from the platform. Furthermore, as the streaming landscape becomes increasingly segmented, consumers are forced to pay for multiple platforms for access to all the content they want.
Music, too, is not immune to these pitfalls. Last year, artists like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell pulled their music from Spotify in response to the spreading of misinformation by the platform’s Joe Rogan Experience podcast. Jay-Z spent years without his music on Spotify because he owned his own streaming service, Tidal.
Suzanne Bennett, co-owner of Basement Discs, was worried she would have to close the store.Credit:Eddie Jim
Suzanne Bennett is the co-owner of The Basement Dics in Melbourne’s Bloc Arcade. She says her store has always sold more CDs than vinyl, citing the higher cost of vinyl as one reason for this. “Despite what they say have never really gone away,” she says, adding that a lot of the uptake in CDs has been driven by a new generation. “I see a younger demographic coming and saying CDs are ‘really cool’.” Part of the attraction, she says, is listening to an album in full, “the way the artist intended it to be heard.” Bennett adds that shoppers are also turning to CDs due to the number of artists withdrawing from streaming services for ethical reasons, as well as the fact that “people are becoming aware of the exploitation of artists on streaming services”.
Sadly, The Basement Discs will be closing its doors in February and going online until they can recoup sales lost during the pandemic and find another location. “We’re losing so much culture,” says Bennett. “When independent stores disappear, especially from the CBD, you lose what makes it a shopping destination.”
Owner of Hum Records in Newtown, Sydney, Peter (who is choosing to withhold his surname for privacy reasons), agrees that we are seeing a new generation of CD collectors. “It’s a lot of back catalogues of classic rock, like Nirvana’s Nevermind, as well as hip hop.” While he says that sales are not what they used to be, there is still a market for vinyl and CDs. Many customers, Peter adds, like to buy all formats of media. They’re “collectors of tangible media, they want to touch and hold and feel, rather than just listening to a digital file.”
When it comes to DVDs, Peter says two-thirds of his catalogue is not available on streaming services. Among those who held on to their DVDs, Blu-ray is particularly prized for the high-quality viewing experience it offers. Other customers, he says, still want to own the classics even if they’re available on streaming services.
“It’s still a viable format,” says Peter. “As long as they keep making them, I’ll keep selling them.”
So, the next time you have a gift to buy, consider heading to your local record store. The giftee will appreciate the thought you put into buying their gift (although you may need to get them a CD player too).
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