Downloads Rule, But Is Physical Media Really Dead?

The ability to download software and other media has undoubtedly changed the way those products are consumed. But are the days of physical media really over for good?

Almost every type of media we humans enjoy consuming has now been digitised and are available – either for free or a fee – to download onto smartphones, computers, tablets, or eReaders. The ability to enjoy our favourite software, video games, music, films, books etc. on any device at any time has without question made media consumption infinitely more convenient and portable. Today, it is a matter of simplicity to take in your pocket an entire library of books or a record collection with you anywhere in the world – whereas before ,one would have been forced to select one or two titles to fit in a suitcase when travelling.

However, does the unquestionable convenience offered by the digital revolution really sound the death knell for physical media formats? Or, in our race to digitise the world, are we in danger of losing something special?

1. Books

Few bibliophiles would argue against there being something romantic and special about a new book. The hours you can easily spend in a favourite bookshop or library, pouring over title after title, before carefully making a selection and heading to the checkout/librarian’s desk.

Downloads Rule, but Is Physical Media Really Dead?

How many gig would this take up? (Image source:

Once you get the book home – assuming you’ve resisted the urge to break the seal during the journey – you can make yourself a warm mug of tea, settle into your favourite chair, smell that new book smell, and hear the gentle crack of the spine as you open it for the first time. And all this before you even begin immersing yourself in the adventures contained within.

While parts of the scenario described above are very much possible with a Kindle, certain elements of the sensory experience are undoubtedly missing. Scrolling through a digital store, such as Amazon, by no means invokes the same sense of wonder and discovery as is conjured when journeying through the seemingly endless aisles of a well-stocked bookshop – and the smells and sounds of a new book are undeniably absent.

2. Comics

Along the same lines is a particular type of bound, paper-based entertainment – albeit one which tells its tales via the medium of sequential art, rather than text alone.

Since the astounding success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which itself built on the popularity of non-universe films such as Blade, Spider-Man, and X-Men, the superhero genre has become a dominant force in the world of cinema. This in turn has facilitated a spike in the popularity of a huge rage of associated merchandise which feature everyone’s favourite timeless titans.

Licensed T-shirts, statuettes, action figures, mugs, keyrings, and more have all seen an increase in market share since Iron Man first hit cinema screens back in 2008. However, one avenue which has seen a significant uplift in popularity are the comic books from which these characters originated.

While comic publishers such as Marvel and DC have digital platforms where fans can purchase and download their favourite titles to enjoy, they haven’t proved as popular as their inventors may have hoped. If there’s one thing that fans of superheroes love, it’s collecting – and it seems that an SD card full of titles will never scratch that itch in the same way as a room full of boxes of physical comics.

3. Music

Music download and streaming services such as iTunes and Spotify have unquestionably become consumers’ preferred method of enjoying the work of their favourite stars and artists. The ability to select individual songs, rather than being forced to purchase entire albums, as well as the space required to carry thousands of pieces of music in your pocket, is obviously going to appeal to any fan.

However, one trend which has come out of the digital music revolution, or rather in spite of it, is a surge in popularity for old fashioned vinyl records.

Shops selling these large black disks of musical treats have gained in popularity as people seek to reclaim a piece of musical history. Many musical fans will claim vinyl to represent the pinnacle of sound recording quality, and romanticise everything from blowing the specks of the dust from the surface of the record, to the soft crackle which comes through the speaker ahead of the music beginning.

4. Video Games

The video game industry has been growing in popularity since the arcades of the 1980s. However, as the technology behind these games has advanced with internet connectivity becoming commonplace, several insidious practices have crept in.

Downloads Rule, but Is Physical Media Really Dead?

This passed for high-res back in the day. (Image source:

Release day downloadable content (DLC), the loot box controversy, microtransactions, digital rights management (DRM), pre-order incentives, as well as a “release now and fix the bugs later” mentality have all conspired to leave many formally dedicated gamers feeling betrayed by and disillusioned with the medium they once loved.

The fallout of this has been a massive boost in popularity of the board game. Far from the familiar family games of old such as Cluedo and Monopoly, these modern games are sprawling and complicated endeavours, often featuring branching campaign systems and gorgeously detailed components. The increased level of detail and the social component of getting around the kitchen table for a board game evening has led to them becoming a staple of crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

5. Download Software?

It seems that, in moving into an increasingly more digitised world, we have inadvertently created a fondness for the physical media of the past. Whether this affection has been created by nostalgia, fandom, or a desire to avoid shady business practices, it would appear that physical media is far from out for the count just yet.

However, when it comes to great software for your computer, it seems that digital is still the way to go. The ability to download software, often for free, as and when you need it, has proved a boon to consumers and publishers alike.

FileHippo has a huge rage of free download software available for you to access today, and please head to the comments to let us know your thoughts on the physical versus digital media debate.

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