Friday, September 30, 2005

A thousand movies in the palm of your hand- at what price?

Holographic storage, and other kinds of optical storage are inching closer to practicality. Optical storage offers the prospect of much, much greater data density, and much faster access to the data. Perhaps in ten years you will be able to buy an optical device that fits in the palm of your hand and contains 1,000 complete movies. What should the purchase price BE for such an item, considering that it might be easily mass-produced? It seems unreasonable to sell it for the retail value of all the movies, perhaps $30,000.

When CDs first became ubiquitous there was a similar issue with software. Many useful programs were smaller, and CDs could be sold with 200 programs on them. Columnist John Dvorak considered how to price these things and recommended the following rule: assume that a consumer will eventually use about 5% of what's on the CD, and therefore sell it for 1/200th of its retail value.

Since then, other practical solutions have emerged, for example:

(1) Sell a mass of items on CD, but in a "locked" form, such as shareware demo software. The consumer eventually pays retail to unlock the full capabilities of each item that is seriously used.

(2) Magnificent BLOAT! Programs (and also movies) come with larger files now, making it harder to invent the device that will store 1,000 of them. Movies come with higher resolution (more data), outtakes, commentary, multiple languages, all designed to fill up the available storage.

It's quite interesting that the same cannot be done for songs. Although they could be distributed in higher fidelity, hardly any consumer has the ears and equipment to hear the difference. Eventually bands will release multiple performances of songs together. (Jazz afficionados appreciate multiple takes, and good radio jazz hows will often play the "other" performances that were not released after a studio recording session.) The only other thing to try (I suspect) is to make songs considerably longer. But Western Civilization seems to have preferred (for hundreds of years) songs that are either two to five minutes long, or songs that have a repeating melody for each of many verses, or MacArthur Park.

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