The tech industry has been making a lot of claims lately, and one of them – online digital content. It’s being touted as the next big thing, probably bigger than the apple dropping on Washington’s head. Flagged off by Apple, Google and Microsoft have both joined in the game.
The benefits of offering products online are endless. Zero logistical cost, zero retailer’s commission, zero environmental damage – well almost there. As compared to traditional forms of digital product sale the main costs accrued by “streaming” products are usually limited to server storage and bandwidth costs – a negligible cost. Take television and movie rental company, Netflix for example. As Netflix heavily invests in its Watch Instantly service, a software which streams videos over the net to everything from computers, phones, tablets, to gaming consoles and blu-ray players, a study of its accounts offers a glimpse of what the internet could do for us.
Even as the number who opt to have content streamed to them become the majority of Netflix users – almost doubling and a complete reversal of numbers with DVD-by-mail subscribers, the costs associated with content delivery merely increased by $1 million much attributed to the exponential fall in the cost of bandwidth. Whereas, costs of Netflix’s DVD-by-mail service increased by $23.1 million and set to increase further as postal rates rise.
Joining in the fray to tap on the internet to distribute its products just last year was the largest and powerful technological company in the world, Microsoft. When Microsoft launched the latest Office suite last year with much fanfare, it made available the option to purchase the product and obtain it via the internet using its Click-to-Run technology. Click-to-Run allows users to obtain the latest Office suite in the swiftest and fastest way without the need for a DVD. Not only did it allow Microsoft to reduce packaging and logistical costs, it effectively reduces the tech company’s carbon footprint on CD production. To entice consumers, Microsoft offered a discount of between US$30 to US$150 for the downloaded version. Users were also given the assurance that they can install the software any time, any where as long as they have an internet connection.
In contrast to Microsoft’s push for more environmentally friendly initiatives, it is saddening to know that others are more conservative about the push. Take Norton and Amazon for example. It is assuring to know that Norton, a company that provides protection from viruses and other internet threats, has taken the step forward to provide its product as a digital download, saving customers from the need to get a physical copy. However, Norton’s corporate policy allows the product to be downloaded from their servers for only 60 days! That is for a product with subscriptions ranging from a year to three. To be able to download freely for up to a year, customers will have to pay an additional charge for a “download insurance”. What’s worst is that the hard copy of the software retails for the exact same price or may even be available at a a promotional price at times. Customers who have the hard copy have the complete assurance that they will be able to install the software 24/7 without the need of an internet connection, without having the worry of accidentally deleting the installation file and in the course of it, save some money.
Over at Amazon, digital download customers are again placed at a disadvantage. With the Apple iPod revolutionizing the digital music industry, MP3 sales have become norms to couple any album sale. Even though it costs almost nothing for Amazon to sell an MP3 album, as compared to having a physical album delivered to the customer, MP3 albums actually costs more! To prove my point, I did a search for an album Glee: The Music, Volume 4. Whereas the audio CD retail for $11.88 with free shipping, the MP3 version costs $13.99, and even though the digital downloads are supposed to have the advantage of only buying certain tracks, some tracks are only available when users buy the entire album.
As the digital revolution goes beyond the dot com bubble burst, it is only natural that we depend on the internet for ever more convenience and reduce our carbon footprint in many ways. Yet, this should not come as a cost to consumers who are in fact helping companies trim their cost lines by going digital. Yes, I like to be environmentally friendly, but I definitely hate being treated like a boo boo for doing so.
P.S. If you already bought your Norton products online and did not keep a copy of the installation file nor pay for the insurance, there is a way to still download the program legally. Go to Norton, and download a trial version of the program you own a license to, key in your serial number after installation, and ta-da! It works just like the one you would have paid for!