Open Thinkering


A Week of Divesting: Media


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I read Dave Eggers’ book They Shall Know Our Velocity a few months back. In it, one of the main characters talks about the ‘slow suffocation of accumulation’ and seeks to give away a large amount of money. I’ve been feeling that suffocation recently, as I explained in the introduction to this week’s focus on ‘divesting’.

Way back in the sands of time (OK, less than 10 years ago) I was an undergraduate student in Sheffield I and I used to work part-time for HMV. I didn’t actually take home that much money as most of it was invested in DVDs and CDs. I even got 40% off the Sale stuff! I say ‘invested’ as I funded a large chunk of my living expenses whilst I was doing my MA at Durham University by selling part of my collection. Although not to the same extent, I did similar working at various bookshops both before and after university.

And therein lies the rub. I’ve been lulled into a belief that one should own a physical collection of DVDs, CDs and books. As though having a personal library somehow defines you, makes you look more intellectual, or even constitutes some kind of artistic statement. I’ve realised that’s not the case.

As I commented in my introduction to this series [link] I’ve been prompted recently into reflecting on my relationship to ‘stuff’. I’ve realised that, having moved house twice within 18 months, I’ve spent a great deal of time and physical labour moving things I will not watch, listen to or read for a very long time. Yet I’m responsible for it. I’d be upset if it were stolen or I lost it for some reason. Why?

So I’ve decided that it’s going. “What, all of it?” I hear you ask. As far as I see it, there are two approaches I could take:

  1. The over-the-top, ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’ approach.
  2. The Pragmatic approach.

Pragmatism is a philosophical approach and method that I’m applying in my Ed.D. thesis. To summarise very briefly and in relation to what I’m talking about here, it holds that for something to make a difference, it has to make a difference in practice. For example, a book may have had a profound impact on my way of conceiving the world and my development as a person. That doesn’t mean it has to sit on my shelf. I may really, really, love a particular album. That doesn’t mean I have to own the physical CD as opposed to a digital version. The same goes for DVDs.

But I need to be careful or I could end up trading one problem for another. In divesting myself of physical clutter I could gain, as it were, ‘digital clutter.’ This is something I shall be discussing and wrestling with later in the week.

What’s my plan, then, to deal with physical media? It’s a fairly straightforward 4-step process:

  • Anything I can, and feel should, replace with a non-physical version (e.g. CDs, DVDs) I shall do.
  • Any book I haven’t yet read or DVD I haven’t watched stays until I have done so.
  • Those physical objects that are collectors items, worth more than a nominal value and fit into one box I shall keep as they are likely to gain in value. I can then sell these when Ben is older to add to his trust fund.
  • Everything else goes to Barter Books, is listed on Amazon Marketplace, sent to Music Magpie or donated to charity.

What are your thoughts on this? A good idea or not? :-p

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13 thoughts on “A Week of Divesting: Media

          1. International purchases are always complicated when the pass though international borders, and depending on the number of CDs bought there would be import taxes etc to pay…

            Also the loophole exploited by these companies only exists because there is no clause in the Russian copyright law which applies to digital files.

            But the main reason why I would not use these services is that the loophole means they can sell music/films at the price because they don’t pay the artists anything… Which basically means it is ‘legalised’ piracy… If you like something enough to buy it then you probably want to support the artists who made it…

          2. Andy, I certainly don’t want to get into an argument with you, but I’m not
            entirely sure you’ve got all the facts. The Russian copyright system has
            something called ROMS. In a nutshell, this means that artists can and do get
            paid. MP3Fiesta and other similar websites set aside this amount for the
            labels to collect on behalf of the artists they represent. The trouble is,
            because the labels don’t control what goes on in Russia, they don’t like it
            and therefore don’t collect these royalties. This means they can paint the
            picture of ‘piracy’ and ‘illegal downloads’.

            Whilst (obviously) I use MP3Fiesta mainly because it’s cheap, I’m actually
            of the opinion that any system I can support that breaks the stranglehold of
            the labels is fine. If the labels accepted the ROMS payments, I don’t think
            there would be any problem at all. Do you?

  1. For those who aren’t quite ready to let go of the hard copy, a middle step would be to keep the DVD/CD in a good ol’ DVD holder and chuck out all the boxes! My boyfriend and I took this step a few years ago and haven’t looked back! Not only does it mean that we don’t have mountains of CD/DVD boxes lying around (we have 2 64 disc holders, 4 128 disc holders and 2 320 dics holders), but we still have the original discs to listen to on our hifi system (my boyfriend swears by the quality of a ‘real’ CD). Obviously it means that our collection isn’t an investment like yours, Doug, but we decided our priority was space (we only have a small one bedroom flat – maybe if we hadn’t spent so much on CDs and DVDs we’d be living somewhere bigger!) Hope that your divesting is going well!

    1. That’s a good compromise – I like that! Still, I think the future of music
      acces is streaming via Spotify and the like. The film industry will probably
      go likewise – in fact, it’s pretty much already here through my AppleTV. :-)

  2. Just finished doing the same, I have been in the house for 5 years, and all this time my ‘stuff’ has been piled up until ‘I get some shelving’ finally gave up and began to sort the stuff out three weeks ago, i began to throw out old worksheets, but some I just could not part with, even though I know I will never use them, i have a six foot high pile of History textbooks, to be boxed, then they can be put on the shelves (when i get them!). Like you I am in two minds as most of my resources are electronic, but I just cannot bring myself to throw out textbooks and worksheets, as I don’t know what access to technology i will have in the near future.

  3. I digitized my CD collection a few years ago but because of the legal implications can’t get rid of the CDs, and for my tastes Spotify and the like do not yet provide a comprehensive enough system as there are lots of tracks I own and listen too that are not yet part of their services… So for the time being they live in a few big bedboxes under the spare bed… Not perfect but acceptable until Spotify/Napster etc have a more comprehensive collection the best solution for me…

    I’m definitely not ready to get rid of all the CDs yet – even if I haven’t physically used one of them in the last two house moves… I haven’t even plugged in the CD player since we moved last. iMac runs as a squeezeserver to the two squeezeboxes, taking the music directly out of iTunes…

  4. The problem with this is that most record lables do not recognise ROMS. I first came across this back in 2005/6 with the rise of AllofMP3, and haven’t honestly looked into it recently.

    International copyright is a legal minefield – See BBC iplayer, Hulu, Spotify etc for example which have to restrict access to geographical regions as they only own the copyright in certain regions.

    These site may well be legal an above board in Russia – even if a bit nefarious in claiming that they operate basically like a radio station and use the same licence… but this doesn’t imply that the same is true outside of Russia.

    If you are morally happy with your decisions that fine. I just wanted to clarify that there is a huge amount of legal doubt surrounding these services and not just from the record companies – In fact back in 2007 AllofMP3 was shut down due to huge amount of pressure put on by various goverments who threatened to vito Russia entry to the WTO.

    I would recommend having a read through the history of AllofMP3:

    and follow some of the associated sources at the bottom.

    At the end of the day you have a free choice as to what you do, but by your own admission at present the majority of lables do not collect the fees that would be payable under ROMS (which I believe are less than stadard royalties) so my original point remains that the artists you are buying are not getting paid…

    1. Andy, I think we’ll have to agree to differ as we’re coming from different
      philosophical points of view. It’s a moot point in any case, as I’m planning
      to transfer to streaming rather than (spuriously) ‘owning’ via Spotify any
      day now!

      1. Fair enough Doug if you are happy with you descision that’s fine by me. By
        the way Spotify on the iPhone looks great and if you can get all the music
        you want that way it seems like an excellent solution – enjoy!

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