In these days, running Spotify and other streaming music services, it does not make sense to buy records the way we used to do. Now you have other and better means of access to good music. Still, there might still be some value in having physical artifacts carrying music – aka records.
Spotify has changed my media consumption patterns radically. I hardly buy any physical records at all any longer, but on the other hand I think I spend more money on media in total paying for access to music online. One very obvious advantage with not buying any physical records is the reduced need for storage space at home. Another advantage is that you no longer have to pay for a full album with several bad songs just because the record company packaged them together with a few very good ones. Still, it is sometimes hard not having physical ownership of my purchased music.
The first reason for this is of course psychological, it takes time to change long time habits. However, having a large record collection allows you to quickly browse through your music and finding something that suits your current mood. We need better playlists as well as ways to manage these playlists in the music players in order to mimic the benefits of the old record collections. Playlists must be able to help with both keeping track of our inventories and help us find inspiration for what to listen to at a particular time. Currently, for example Spotify on iPhone can not keep any structured sets of playlists at all – they all end up in a long row and the more lists you have, the less chance is there that you actually are able to find anything at all.
The next reason for not giving up physical media completely is the fact that you know that your records will be around for a long time if you treat them well. On the other hand, the record company of your favorite artist may pull out of Spotify tomorrow making your playlists unusable. The obvious way to mitigate this is of course to buy music for download instead of for streaming. The backside of that is increased need for hard drive storage but also loss of flexibility and spontaneity.
The record companies of course want us to do both – buy both for streaming and download. Long term, this is however not a working business model. I think it is strange that we customers accept that they making us pay multiple times for the same goods since we would never accept that in a physical world.
In a couple of years, the business models for record companies will have to change a lot in order to adopt to sales of only the real good songs and only getting payed once. It is likely that new players will emerge, maybe the power over music distribution will actually land fully in the hands of those who create and perform music?
It is probably safe to assume two things for the future – people will always enjoy music and the ancient need for collecting things will remain in one form or the other.