Not a good day to be a Neil Young fan with a Spotify account. His music disappeared from the streaming service, because Young objected to sharing a platform with podcaster Joe Rogan’s anti-vaxxer musings. “They can have Rogan or Young,” Young wrote in an open letter earlier this week. “Not both.” Spotify went with Rogan.
Young has taken a laudable stance that is also fearful for many of his fans. More … than 60 percent of its streaming audience came from the service. But it’s a great reminder of the value of physical media in the digital age: listeners who own copies of Young’s music on CD or vinyl can still listen to it today as well as they did the last week.
The promise of digital media has always been that much of the world’s best music, movies and literature can be available in an instant. We’ve never had so much art and information at our fingertips. What a time to live! But that promise comes with perils: the availability of it all depends entirely on the whims and desires of big digital companies. The books can be deleted readers. The movies are deleted online libraries. Streaming services can close unexpectedly. And Neil Young may decide one day that he doesn’t particularly like working with Spotify.
I had at one point given myself to the streaming revolution, but started rebuilding my DVD library a few years ago when I realized I couldn’t find one of my favorite movies, Angels with dirty faces, on one of the available services. (His right here right now. You should watch it.) And I found myself agreeing with critic Matt Zoller Seitz, who has spent years warning his audience to get physical copies of the art they love.
“As I keep telling you, you need to invest in physical media if you want to be able to keep the things that are important to you,” Zeitz wrote in 2018, after Apple removed movies from Canadian customers’ iTunes libraries. “You can’t trust streaming services. ‘Buying’ a movie or an album through Apple or anyone else is a sucker game.”
It’s even worse now. Consumers don’t even really “buy” content anymore – they rent it by paying a monthly subscription. If the things they love disappear from a service, they disappear. There is nothing to do. We got used to impermanence: “What leaves Netflix” has become a staple entertainment news. But I do not want to sometimes access to my favorite art and pop culture. I want it all the time. Maybe you do too.
So buy a DVD. Buy a book. Buy a CD or vinyl or even (yes!) a cassette. You’ll love it. And you can keep it. After all, it’s much, much harder for the digital powers that be to take away what you love if you can hold it in your hands.