Three stages of consumption

In which I navel-gaze 1 a little about how content works.

Largely speaking, there were district three ways we have listened to music on our computers, each more sophisticated and easier than the last:

  1. Grabbing music from external sources (namely CD-roms).
  2. Downloading it from various sources asynchronously (whether it’s via Kazaa, iTunes, or whatever)
  3. Streaming it from an online service (Spotify, Grooveshark, Pandora)

There’s a certain symmetry here in the way we’ve grown to consume television and movies as well. First, the size made it prohibitively difficult to download or store them; then it became feasible (both technologically and politically) to download from sources both illegal (again, torrents) and legal (iTunes). And now, we’ve entered the Age of Streaming – led by Hulu, HBO Go, and Netflix – where consuming our precious episodes of Orange is the new Black and Game of Thrones is decoupled from pesky problems of the past like network schedules and commercial breaks.

Economically, this has two main effects:

Musicians might, for now, challenge the major labels and get a fairer deal than 15% of a pittance, but it seems to me that the whole model is unsustainable as a means of supporting creative work of any kind. Not just music. The inevitable result would seem to be that the internet will suck the creative content out of the whole world until nothing is left. Writers, for example, can’t rely on making money from live performances – what are they supposed to do? Write ad copy?

I think commenting on the morality of these progressions is really tricky and worthy of serious thought, but instead I’d like to consider how this concept applies to other verticals not quite yet at that vaunted third stage yet.

Oyster offers unlimited access to over 500,000 books for $9.95 a month, with new titles added all the time. We created Oyster to evolve the way people read and to create more of the special moments that only books can offer. From anywhere a mobile device can go—a bustling subway car, a quiet coffee shop, or lost at sea with a Bengal tiger—our mission is to build the best reading experience, one that is both communal and personal, anytime, anywhere.

The point I’m trying to clumsily drive at: everything that we download right now, we’ll probably stop downloading at some point in the future.


  1. A fun fact: navel-gazing as a term comes from the Greek Omphaloskepsis, which literally means ‘contemplation of one’s navel’. [return]
  2. HBO also falls into this category, but their weird symbiosis with network providers makes things a bit trickier for them.
    [return]
  3. And yes, of course, Amazon. [return]
  4. A common counterargument to this line of thinking is ‘well, I don’t need that – I have no problem waiting X amount of time.’ Which is of course valid – I technically don’t have a problem waiting thirty minutes before downloading the new Hold Steady album – but it’s hard to dispute that one is absolutely better than the other. [return]
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Justin Duke is a writer and developer in Seattle.
He likes good, practical things.
(And writing in the third person, I guess.)


@justinmduke
me@jmduke.com