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What would you do if your favourite books, films or CDs simply disappeared?

PUBLISHED: 11:08 19 April 2019

Cary Grant in North By Northwest. What would you do if your online film collection disappeared over night? Photo: MGM

Cary Grant in North By Northwest. What would you do if your online film collection disappeared over night? Photo: MGM

Bob Dylan sang: 'The Times They Are-A-Changin' and that is certainly true of digital technology but for book lovers, music and film enthusiasts, it seems that life on a 'cloud' is not always for the better

Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennett and Colin Firth as Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. How would you feel if the complete works of Jane Austen, that you had paid for, were simply deleted by an online host who simply wanted to clear space? Photo: BBCJennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennett and Colin Firth as Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. How would you feel if the complete works of Jane Austen, that you had paid for, were simply deleted by an online host who simply wanted to clear space? Photo: BBC

It'll be no surprise to anyone if I observe that life is steadily moving online. Both professionally and personally we seem to be living a 'digital' existence. The real, the tangible, appears to be increasingly viewed as a niche market occupied by high-end crafts-people and artisan foodies. Mainstream life is now often regarded as the virtual world - cheap, conspicuous and aggressively hyped.

Ten years ago, this shift into the digital universe was given boost with the widespread arrival of e-books – these were going to be the next big thing – and with the boom in broadband services and fibre-optic technology, the streaming of music, film and television also soon became commonplace.

During the last decade the presence of books, CDs and DVDs in the home has become a thing of the past replaced with intangible digital replacements like Spotify, Amazon Fire, Kindle and Netflix while real-time television watching is now just a blurred, fond memory.

The digital world is all about the here and now – the instant and the disposable. It's about consuming the latest trend and moving on. But, what about the collector, the sad individual like myself, who loves the workmanship that goes into books, who loves getting lost in a musician's back catalogue and just adores the history of cinema and will cheerfully collect classic movies from any age (or country)? Streaming just doesn't cut it for me.

Alfred Hitchcock on the set of The Birds. What if his archive was deemed to be 'old hat' and no longer made available? Photo Rex FeaturesAlfred Hitchcock on the set of The Birds. What if his archive was deemed to be 'old hat' and no longer made available? Photo Rex Features

It seems to me that streaming in both its musical and visual forms is all about the latest attraction, it's not about celebrating or preserving the best of the past. One of the joys of both the CD and DVD eras was that they spent time and money restoring artistic masterworks – great albums and cinematic gems. When releasing classic films on DVD, where possible, they went back to the original camera negative to get the best looking print they could, removing scratches, hiss and crackle along the way.

Suddenly the works of Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Howard Hawks, Billy Wilder, Vincent Minnelli, Frank Capra, Stanley Donen and any number of film giants were made available to a wide audience at an affordable price. If that wasn't enough they included lengthy documentaries on the making of the films or profiles on the actors and director.

Similarly CD re-releases of classic albums offered cleaned up sound, hefty booklets and collected together all the non-album singles and rare B-sides and offered them as bonus tracks. This was the era of the collector.

With the rise of Spotify and streaming, all this love and the curation of an artist's work disappears. Music slips like water through a collectors fingers. Film is now either on a providers playlist or it isn't –

The Rolling Stones in the 60s. It's difficult being a music collector, rounding up all the rare singles and B-side in a digital age.   Picture: MirrorpixThe Rolling Stones in the 60s. It's difficult being a music collector, rounding up all the rare singles and B-side in a digital age. Picture: Mirrorpix

but even if the quality is sometimes questionable, certainly on older films, then at least you owned the books/music/films even if they were stored on a 'cloud' somewhere.

At least, that's what everyone thought. It turns out that we don't. We only have access to the titles we have 'bought'. Ever-so quietly Microsoft have let it be known that they are closing down their e-book store and their loyal customers will be losing access to their library of books.

This is an extraordinary turn of events. If a high street bookshop closes they don't send round the bailiffs to take-back all the books you bought from them but this is essentially what all Microsoft's customers are experiencing. Microsoft have said that they will reimburse anyone who wants their money back but this is little comfort if they can't repurchase their favourite title elsewhere.

This then sets a worrying precedent for film and music worlds. What if the films and music you have invested in are no longer available one day? What if seemingly timeless pieces of popular culture suddenly disappear because some company decides that they can make more money supplying the latest flash-in-the-pan, one-day wonder rather than offering film fans an extensive, lovingly preserved film collection or a vast array of pop and rock classics?

To be fair the classics are not as in danger as the well-regarded smaller releases or indie films or foreign language fare. It's important to have access to enjoy our film and musical past as well as a full range of current releases. It's not being elitist it's more about having a wider choice. We all love to discover the half-hidden gem and share it with our friends.

It's about having the freedom to say I fancy watching Hitchcock's 'Rear Window' tonight and having it there at your fingertips. Having 'bought it' you don't want it to have been replaced with The Trouble With Harry or worse still Disturbia, the modern remake.

It's 2019, you can't turn back the clock, but the clever supplier of popular culture will ensure that the customer gets what he pays for in the format he wants. For those who like the convenience of e-books then that's fine but future suppliers must ensure that their purchases will not disappear – the same applies to music and film releases too.

The modern world is all about choice and quality of service and we should not expect to be short-changed by a rapidly changing digital world when we would not accept it in the 'real' world. Is it really too much to ask?

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