Disruption

Disruption is the first part of a 3-part series on the zeitgeist of the digital era and the significant impact it has on publishing and all other content businesses. Disruption is personal as I look at my own content consumption over the years and document its transformation. There are no answers in part 1, just the facts as I understand them and the questions they spur.

I grew up watching TV. Born in 1963, life in my era was, in many ways, controlled by the TV broadcast schedule. Before school was Looney Tunes and after school hours and hours of crap like Gilligan’s Island, Green Acres, and the Brady Bunch.  I wasn’t alone – every kid at PS 99 in Brooklyn did the same. We were all on the same wavelength and we were all on the same schedule. We all watched a ton of TV – even though there were only 5 channels of content!

As I grew up, I gradually became a voracious reader. It took me a while, but by the time I was midway through junior high school, I was reading deep into the night, every night.  I started with Sci-Fi (Heinlein, Asimov, PK Dick, and Herbert) and Fantasy (Tolkien) and then moved into contemporary fiction before I began sinking my teeth into the great 19th and 20th century novels in high school. In college I fell for the post-modernists and spent months and months trying to decipher Gravity’s Rainbow. Non-fiction became more interesting to me in my mid-thirties as I read the autobiography of Ulysses S. Grant and was mesmerized by his fluid voice and amazing recollections. Immersive reading has been a fundamental part of my life.

Listening to music has also been a big part of my life. I began my interest in listening to and buying records when I was 13.  I used to love the record store experience; wandering the aisles looking at album art, reading liner notes, and trying to decide where my $7 was going to be spent. Then the hours and hours of listening to each side of the LP over and over until the needle wore a deep groove into the platter. This interest grew with my years, and when the digital age arrived in the form of CD’s, I turned every extra penny I earned into music. When CD’s could be bought online, I increased my purchasing, as the convenience factor was dramatic.

I also used to see a lot of movies at the theater. In high school and college I haunted “revival houses” and saw many of the greats and classics of film as well as the campy and goofy… but that didn’t mean I didn’t also see all the Star Wars films when they were released or every other major blockbuster. I saw them all. Going to the movies is what I used to do on weekends.

TV, Books, Music, and Movies. It was a pretty full experience… well, it was until it all  changed in a very significant way. A few years ago, the disruption occurred.

Today, I hardly watch any TV. While I probably read more than ever,  I do significantly less immersive reading. I still listen to a fair bit of music – but it seems much more in the background as opposed to an activity in itself… and I am definitely buying less new music and seeing far fewer live music performances. Movies? Well, if it doesn’t play on my TV, forget about it! And don’t blame my family life or the kids… they have all grown past the stage of taking away all my free time.

Here are two interesting charts I created using my purchase data from Amazon and Apple the primary means I use to buy music and books.  So the figures on the two charts show directional figures, not absolute numbers.

books-and-music-purchased-by-typeRight off the bat you can see that circa 2002 – 2004 I was buying a healthy amount of CD’s and print books. In 2003 I bought 48 CD’s and 30 books on Amazon  (I filtered out kids books and CD’s, gifts, etc). I assume I was a fairly decent consumer of both books and music and one that each industry saw as a typical “solid customer.” But look what happened in 2004 – a very significant trend started, and by 2008, the number of print books and CD’s purchased were down to 3 each!

Granted, in 2004 I began purchasing digital downloads on iTunes and at the end of 2007 I received my first Kindle and started downloading ebooks. However, the net effect doesn’t change the story illustrated below.
aggregate-music-and-readingThis chart adds the music purchased on Amazon.com the music I downloaded from iTunes and adds the print books purchased on Amazon to the ebooks downloaded onto my Kindle. The story is quite clear – I was buying a combination of 80 books and CD’s per year in the early 2000’s and by the late 2000’s that number is less than half. As a consumer I haven’t cut back on purchasing. I haven’t seen a change in my income or in other expenses that would adversely affect my spending on music and reading. Yet, it’s quite clear that over the last few years I am buying much less music and fewer books.

But books and music aren’t the only areas of entertainment that have suffered from the same fate. TV has been dealt perhaps the most serious blow in my life. Rather than the old days of Must See TV or It Isn’t TV, It’s HBO, I now watch just a couple of shows and a bit of sports… all (except NFL games) on TiVo (Digital Video Recorder). In fact, I cannot remember the last time I watched more than 2 or 3 hours of TV in a week – and all of it recorded and advanced past the commercials.

Movies have also seen a precipitous decline, not so much in the amount I watch, but how and where I watch them. I don’t go to theaters anymore to watch movies. In fact, I can’t actually remember the last time I went to the movies by choice (taking the kids to see Harry Potter doesn’t count.) Why sit in a theater and pay more than $10 for a cramped seat at a show time that isn’t ideal, next to people who think movie theaters are great places to catch up on conversations, when you can sit in your own home and watch whatever you want? Apple TV and Netflix Blu-ray discs watched on my 42” Aquos LCD HDTV are just fine for me thank you very much!

So if I am not purchasing as many new books and I don’t buy as much new music and I don’t really watch TV and I only watch movies when I want to in my own home, what the hell am I doing with all the time I must have on my hands?

I will explore that answer in part 2, Generation On-Demand, which I will post later this week.

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7 Replies to “Disruption”

  1. Evan,

    It’s a very interesting article. I can relate to the diminishing amount of TV you watch each
    week, fewer movies watched and music purchased.

    I find that I am reading more in my forties than ever and most of it is through blogs or my
    mobile phone. I read the same amount of books but not on a Kindle or other device.

    The difference in habits now to those I had ten years ago to do with when I read books and news, watch TV or listen to music. More often than not, I am reading on the underground, listening to the radio through the web at home while working, or watching a video on my
    mobile phone.

    Reading, watching and listening are far more fragmented in when I do them, whereas in the past I would have devoted long periods of a day to each of them.

    Will

  2. Evan, I think just about everybody buys less music as they get older. Two reasons.

    1. You get introduced to music much more readily and frequently when you’re young and single and music is inextricably bound to the discovery of social opportunities with those of whatever sex interests you.

    2. As you get older, your stash of stuff you KNOW you like gets bigger, and you never stop listening to it. So your NEED for new new music diminishes.

    I bet if you checked you’d find that the pace of adding new ARTISTS has slowed even more than the pace of adding new music.

    None of this applies to the other forms of content because they don’t tend to be reused the way music is.

    Evan Reply:

    Mike:

    One could make the argument that as you get older you wind up reading more books, watching more TV, and seeing more movies… which isn’t reflected in my experience.

    Its not just about music… it’s about everything.

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