Dead? The digital download is barely out of its teens

Yesterday Slate posted an article by Farhad Manjoo titled The Digital Download Is Dead: How Google's music-streaming venture will change the gadget and entertainment worlds forever.

After first, rightly, attacking Apple's iTunes and iPod (and related) platforms as being slow and unwieldy, especially on the predominate operating system Windows (not even mentioning Linux), and overall behind on the times, Farhad moves us from syncing our music collections out to the cloud. Which isn't much of a surprise given that, despite some rather large issues, the cloud has been 'in' for a couple of years now. But even more surprising Farhad argues at the end of the article that "[i]n the future, not only will you not get a CD when you buy an album, you won't even get a digital file."

But there's an elephant in the room. A rather large one, taking up every available inch of space. Namely the global music industry.

At the moment I'm listening to X Japan. If I do a search for this band I find the following:

  • Amazon MP3: Two albums available - Blue Blood and Jealousy.
  • Amazon music: 236 results, seemingly with most of their releases covered (but I wasn't about to page through all those results). Of special note is the magical word 'Import' next to the majority of the albums.
  • iTunes: Same two albums as Amazon MP3 and the I.V. Single.

There's better examples, I just happened to be listening to X Japan at the moment. Go ahead and look up some popular European bands and see if you can find their music on Amazon or iTunes, or any one of the other online sellers of music (for the United States). Chances are you'll find a good deal of music that you can't purchase, unless you're willing to pay import prices for a physical CD.

Now with this in mind, Farhad expects physical media to disappear, in the future. In lieu of an extremely ambigious timeframe, let's substitute that with 'in the next 5 years' or 'in the next decade.' With the music industry as slow as it is, do we expect not only for the industry to move to the cloud, but to also deal with the 'import' situtation in a respectable way?

Instead of moving away from digital downloads, which by the way work better (for me) than a cloud service - and service it will be, with the associated recurring costs - I'd much rather the industry finish show that they're willing to embrace digital media and its promise. As things stand now they haven't embraced digital media, and won't until everything (give or take) that's available in physical form is available digitally.

Now if you want to move to the cloud at that point, or alongside the expansion of digital downloads, fine. Go right ahead. Other groups have certainly tried, but until the global market elephant is removed from the room, any new services will run into the exact same issue.

And until we see 'foreign' music available digitally to 'all,' please don't suggest we get rid of physical media, or the issues now will just get pushed to the cloud.

Side note: the gaming industry

A similar debate is going on in the gaming industry. Digital downloads of games is finally becoming more and more prevelant, not only with DLC, but the making of 'classic' games available for purchase and download, whether that be through the Playstation Store, Xbox Live, or Good Old Games ( They too are looking at cloud-based services, but they too have an issue with imports.

Progress is moving forward, not stepping to the side, and until the promise of digital media/downloads is embraced, anything based on it will suffer the same issues.