Building Markets in the Sky

Suds McSoapdish
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Advancements in personal computing have been increasingly pushing markets towards digital distribution for years, but the jury is still out whether or not this is the best thing for the industry.

The two biggest deciding factors are bandwidth and storage. Speedy connections mean huge chunks of content can be purchased without the process taking aeons, while mass storage options suggest a place to put all the loot once paid for and downloaded. Not only is storage becoming more affordable, it’s becoming lighter and more portable.

Then there’s this whole mobility thing, with devices themselves tailored more and more towards getting content from the internet rather than a physical disc. The cloud computing trend is definitely part of this. It manifests the desire users harbor of being able to get the stuff they want without having to trek to a store, find room at home for piles of discs and manuals, and then shoulder the burden yet again come moving time.

Digital distribution is something we need to endorse and support – one sub-sector of the entertainment and media biz that’s already doing this extensively is publishing, of course, with the e-book maturing rapidly. But even there growing pains persist, seen in the price debate between retailers and publishers that took place a mere weeks back.

Other forms of entertainment have been slower to take in digital distribution, most notably music and gaming. For the former, there’s portals along the lines of ASUS @Vibe, offering music and video downloads and streaming from a considerable library of titles. The latter has store fronts such as Valve’s Steam and the ASUS Game Park, where games can be bought online and downloaded quickly for faster gratification. Meanwhile, both the Xbox Live Marketplace and the Playstation Network Store have been doing brisk business selling games and add ons to members, all without a trace of physical media.

Even within digital distribution, a young enterprise by any measure, we’re already noticing a shift towards a larger percentage of streaming content. Services like ASUS Game Park  now feature entire catalogs of games that can be played online with no download. While this in itself isn’t so new, the nature of these titles is, as they’re no longer minimal mini-games but full-fledged products. The selection is enormous – users can choose games from pretty much every conceivable genre, and the entertainment value is considerable.

For consumers, digital distribution means greater flexibility in choosing when and how to purchase products, and definitely access to a much larger variety of goods, since the limitations of brick and mortar retailers no longer apply. Convenience is also a huge bonus – products can be bought any time with no travel needed.

The greater picture also benefits, since digital distribution isn’t as much of a drain on natural resources, you only need a few good servers to keep it running. Furthermore, piracy is less a threat with digitally-acquired content, since digital rights management (DRM) protection and the lack of an easily-manipulated physical medium make it harder to produce counterfeits.

ASUS SBC-04B1S-U Blu-ray drive

ASUS SBC-04B1S-U Blu-ray drive

 

There’s no doubt in our minds digital distribution of content is where we’re headed, even if  Blu-ray is finally taking hold by offering greater storage and quality on a disc. Should present trends continue, and we’re quite convinced they will, it may well be a sort of swan song for physical distribution.

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