Diminishing Physical Possessions Due to Digital Possessions
Overall, the advent of digital has meaningfully reduced both the possession of physical things as well as the desire to own physical goods, such as CDs or records. However, for select industries and products, the rise of technology-based goods and services has actually strengthened the perceived value of physical possessions and increased the ownership of products including physical books.
Lower Overall Ownership of Physical Things
- Perhaps the most significant, overall manifestation of the impact that digital products and services have had on the possession of physical things is the worldwide decline in product ownership.
- Notably, a 2019 survey by cloud platform provider Zuora in partnership with market researcher The Harris Poll found that the world has entered into an age characterized by the "end of ownership."
- Specifically, the survey found a general shift towards "access over ownership," with 71% of adults having subscription services, up from 53% five years ago.
- Additionally, 57% of adults worldwide wished they could "own less stuff," while 70% of individuals credited subscription and other digital services as helping to free people from the "burden of ownership."
- Meanwhile, other reputable media services and consultancies have further substantiated this claim, and determined that software, the internet and digitization as a whole are the "main culprits" for this shift away from the possession of physical things in favor of digital goods.
Decreasing Purchase of Physical Things — Music
- Often recognized as one of the most dramatic representations of how the advent of digital has impacted the possession of physical things, the rise of digital music services has led to the decline in the sale and ownership of physical goods in the music industry.
- Although some of the most dramatic markers of this shift have taken place in prior years, 2018 was yet another example of how streaming services and other digital music sales have significantly eroded the ownership and purchase of CDs, records and other physical goods in the industry.
- Most notably, entertainment magazine Rolling Stone reported that album sales fell by an additional 18.2% from the previous year in 2018, while audio on-demand streaming services set a record high of 524.6 billion streams, representing a 42% year-over-year increase.
- Meanwhile, technology outlet The Verge highlighted that, while the ownership of vinyl records has recently become trendy, the related growth in sales in no way offsets the drop-off in other physical good sales in the music business.
Decreasing Purchase of Physical Things — Newspapers
- Similarly, the possession of physical newspapers has deteriorated amid the advent of digital counterparts and other technology-based news sources such as blogs.
- For example, in the US, weekday print circulation for newspapers has declined from a high of nearly 60 million in 1994 to 35 million for combined print and digital circulation today, marking 24 years of decline.
- The Washington Post also reports that many newspapers have been driven out of business due to decreases in the purchase and possession of physical newspapers, with Britain, for example, seeing its regional and local newspapers decline by 200 outlets since 2005.
Increasing Purchase of Physical Things — Books
- However, the book market deviates from the overall and industry-related shift from possessing physical goods to purchasing digital services.
- For example, despite the growing prevalence of online books and e-readers, print book sales rose in 2017 by 2% and continued to rise in 2018.
- Additionally, independent bookstores have "thrived in the last few years," with the number of independent book retailers in the US growing by 35% between 2009 and 2015, while related brick and mortar outlets also increased in number in the UK in 2018.
- News outlets including Vox characterize this boost in the sale and possession of physical books as a reaction to the digital world, including the time spent online and on social media.
- Specifically, physical book ownership provides both an escape from the digital world, as well as an opportunity to #Bookstagram, or share personal experiences on social media.
- As such, related reports from media sources including the Economic Times highlight the growing preference for physical books over digital ones, particularly among newer generations of readers.
Continued Value for Physical Things
- Notably, a study published in late 2017 in the Journal of Consumer Research found that the advent of digital will likely not undermine the possession of physical things in many industries.
- Specifically, the research found that across five experiments, people viewed digital possessions as having less value than physical versions of the same goods.
- In particular, individuals were in some cases willing to pay more and were more likely to purchase physical goods over equivalent digital goods including books, films and souvenir photographs.
- Meanwhile, according to an analysis by NOVA Marketing Insights, four features impact the perception that physical goods have a higher value than their digital counterparts: psychological ownership, expected ownership, association with personal identity and need for control as a moderator.
- As a result, the relative preference and perceived superiority of physical goods compared with digital alternatives actually helps to drive the purchase and possession of physical things for some products.