Sunday, January 15, 2012

In search of Alfred Hitchcock :: Spotify, Netflix, libraries and supermarkets… some more thoughts on access and ownership


Four things happened recently that have me thinking about the whole access vs ownership debate…

1) I listened to Bernard Herrmann's score for "Vertigo" on Spotify.
2) Netflix arrived in the UK… and I took them up on their 1 month free trial.
4) I went to my local public library in Motherwell and borrowed a couple of cookery books.
4) I bought four Alfred Hitchcock DVDs from my local supermarket.

I have developed a thing for Alfred Hitchcock and his movies. I love the titles, the styling and, most importantly, the music. I was reminded of this when Kim Novack complained about the recontextualisation of the love song from "Vertigo" in the new film "the Artist". She made me think of the Bernard Herrmann score, which I do not have in my collection… so I went to Spotify and had a listen. It is a great score and it set me off on a bit of a Hitchcock tangent.


Netflix then arrived in the UK and I took them up on their 1 month free offer. The intention is to actually pilot the service and see if it has anything to offer me, my family, and my lifestyle. So far it does not have anything to offer except for the fact I can start TV shows like "Twin Peaks" or "Dexter", shows I have missed or haven't seen in ages, from the start. The content is older than that on offer via Sky… a service I already pay for… for the Kids TV, movies and the cookery shows. Yes, I know Sky is parasitic to the UK economy but its the best fit for my family unless we take the road of watching even less TV and having less choice.

One of the many shows I could not find on Netflix was "Vertigo". When I looked, the only Hitchcock film on there was "The 39 steps". If I am to pay £6 per month to watch anything I wanted… I would like the assurance that what I wanted was there. It wasn't.

Yesterday I went to my local public library. I went with Miriam to return some CDs and a graphic novel (Miriam had books she needed to return too). I didn't see "Vertigo" there either but I did pick up a couple of cookery books to drool over.

The library visit was really pleasant - the staff there are awesome, the selection of content is usually top notch and the ambience of the space is excellent after the refurbishment last year.

Afterwards, Miriam and I heading to our local supermarket (we don't have a farmers' market nearby in Motherwell) to buy some salad for lunch. Whilst in there I picked up a boxset of Alfred Hitcock films (Psycho, The Birds, Vertigo and Rear Window) for £10 (it should have been £12 but someone stacked it wrong). This was the last of my Christmas money and I had fancied the boxset for a while.

This whole experience got me thinking about access and ownership… and I thought I'd try and get these thoughts coalesced into something tangible.


First off, my behaviour is changing but hasn't changed yet

I didn't automatically reach for iTunes, Amazon or, dare I say it, the Torrents to get a copy of Herrmann's "Vertigo" OST… I went to Spotify. In this regard, Access trumped Ownership. I didn't need to 'own' the OST… I just needed to hear it (it's playing now… as I type).
Similarly, before I bought "Vertigo" I looked for places to access it - I looked for it on Netflix and in the DVD section of my library. I didn't look for it on Sky's schedule and maybe I should have… but I wanted to see the film now and not have to wait. This again is Access trumping Ownership.
I did, however, revert back to old behaviour when I saw, by chance, the boxset containing "Vertigo" in my local supermarket. Price was important and I probably wouldn't have bought it if it was over £10, if truth be told, but it wasn't so I bought it.

I believe behaviour is changing towards access over ownership but it isn't there yet… better choice is needed. Sky provides access but not necessarily at the most convenient times. Its not instantaneous. Whereas Netflix provides instant access but doesn't have the range. We need range AND convenience before access will trump ownership... that is unless we take the road less travelled and downsize our TV consumption.


Secondly, libraries will continue to have a place in our lives

I was asked recently where I see libraries being in the coming age of Kindles and iPods… and this is my response… libraries will continue albeit they may need to change.

The digital age is having a toll on publishers of content, not consumers of content. The library is not a publisher of content - it does not tell you what to read, listen to or watch - but an aide to consumption - the library stocks that which is deemed to be popular along with that which is deemed to be important. Whilst I am not sure who makes these decisions or the factors they consider when considering at the content to stock, I know they do not stock only popular content.
Not only that but they stock content that only those with the willingness or disposable income to buy can own. Take, for example, cookery books.
I love cookery books or, to be more specific, I love looking AT cookery books - I aspire to the level of their level of quality in terms of design, especially type, and photography. I would love to photograph food for a cookery book. For all my love for cookery books, I am not a cook and the recipes are wasted on me. I do intend to rectify this but at the moment cookery books are all visual to me. To this end owning cookery books is a bit of a waste of money for me… which, to be honest, is something I know to my shame having about a dozen books on my shelf not doing anything other than looking pretty.

The ability for me to borrow cookery books from the library means I do not waste my money… at least initially. I can try before I buy or, more importantly, I can record those recipes that I actually try and work for me… and create my own collection. If there are sufficient recipes in the book then I will buy a copy but if there aren't then there is no point.
Libraries, in this regard, provide a form of analogue streaming. Streaming is all about access without the ownership and libriaries provide this in an analogue form… I have the artefact for a short time to consume but do not own it forever.

In addition, there is no need to own obscure content. I remember from my days at Napier University the frustration in having to buy a reference book for a single class… I much prefered to borrow but could never borrow for the term I needed. Libraries provide access that whilst available to own we do not need to own but only need to access for a limited time.
I hope there will always be a library for as long as we want analogue streaming.

Where libraries will need to change is the notion of 'inconvenient access'… I have to access them at times which may not be convenient for me. I usually go on a Saturday morning to bring back and load up… this is because I am not home and fed in time to get over to my local before it shuts at 7pm. I could do it when it shut at 7:30pm but times have changed.
Yes, I can renew online and I am grateful for this… but I can not browse in my underpants at 7am unlike Amazon. Could this be the future? An Amazon-like interface for the library? Browse online and then receive your order through the Post? Maybe we could save the libraries AND the postal service with this notion?

With a library the institution owns, on your behalf as the taxpayer or as a contributing member, the item you wish to have access to. They are the inbetween stage between Access and Ownership… and for this fact I forsee not only their continuing survival but their strengthening position through their positioning as a provider of the niche, the obscure and the expensive.
A club that shares expensive Vintage cars is a library of sorts… as is a garden tool cooperative. You could argue that Netflix and Spotify are libraries too albeit I am not sure if they 'own' the content they stream. It is in the common good for people to come together and share their resources so that access to an object or range of objects can be guaranteed. In this way those who could afford to access specific content are not the only ones who can.


Thirdly, technical all-in-one-ism is leading to greater specialisation and improvements in specific stand-alone devices… which means the artefact will continue

Frog Design point to this in a recent article
For the past decade we have been seeing a convergence of multiple pieces of hardware into fewer generalist devices. The smart phone is the almost perfect example of the convergent digital device as Swiss Army knife. It has absorbed much of the most common use cases for portable devices, like music and video consumption, digital photo and video capture, email and calendar, and simple things like time keeping. I read countless blog posts proclaiming that dedicated devices, like the camera and the watch, would rapidly shrivel and die. Instead, I think new technologies will provide opportunities for them to get better. When users do purchase a dedicated device, they are gravitating towards products with higher quality and better design to elevate their experience. It turns out that the convergent device is killing the commodity digital product while forcing everything else to improve.
The iPod and the Kindle will take the commodity content but the specialist content will remain and improve… consider the upturn in vinyl sales, for example. What we will see is better hardcopy books, such as the cookery books I borrowed, being produced. Kindles and iPods won't kill books or physical media but make them better… the pop and the pulp will go the way of digital… whereas the artefact will remain.

This is true for supermarkets too. They will continue to provide the pop and the pulp… but they do not and will not stock everything… leaving room for the specialists and their provision of the unique, the niche and the artefact.

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