We live in an age where everything can be found online. There are legal streams for almost every anime on the day of release, e-book distributors for manga in both English and Japanese, and thousands of websites allowing us to easily buy or stream music. Sure, there are a few things here and there that we can’t legally obtain online, but in those cases, we have torrents and other sources to bring us the unlicensed content. There’s nothing stopping us from consuming all of our media online and many already do so. And yet, I still buy tons of physical media. In fact, physical media makes up the bulk of my purchases. It’s not necessary, so why do I still do this in this digital age we live in?
As always there’s a number of reasons why I do the things I do, but a few of them are particularly important. My most prominent reason for buying things, one that I’ll touch on more later, is the aesthetic value of collecting. Before that, I have a few more practical reasons.
Books have the clearest, most practical benefits in terms of physical collecting. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I prefer to hold a book in my hands. I’m totally fine with reading stuff on a screen; I do that for most of my day after all. But when I’m really digging into a novel or a manga I want to be able to flip through the pages seamlessly. Online books remove everything, from the fact that you can see two pages at a given time, to the fact that you can easily move around the pages, to the fact that you can make notes and marks. Sure, storage is a bit of a hassle, but outside of that books are just better physically.
That isn’t nearly as true for Blu-Rays and games, items that behave the exact same whether purchased physically or digitally, but it’s still nice to know that I own a product and not a license to a product. The mere fact of owning something physically makes me feel more secure in its existence. It makes it feel less transient, as it won’t be going away unless I lose it or it somehow gets damaged. I’m probably more likely to lose physical media in reality, but the sense of security from having media on my shelves is still notable.
The last practical benefit is minor, but it does exist. Having physical media allows for the lending of media. I don’t do this that often, but occasionally my friends and I will lend each other manga and it’s at times like that when I’m thankful to buy manga physically. Right now I’m reading One Piece because a friend lent it to me; if I hadn’t been lent it I might have never actually started it, but now that I’ve started I don’t plan on stopping. Sure, he could’ve sent me the link to it online, but it just wouldn’t be the same.
And now to the aesthetic reasons that I collect physical media. To be honest, these are the real reasons why I do it. The stuff I listed before is nice, and it is relevant, but it really isn’t the main reason I buy this stuff physically. There’d be ways around buying stuff if I just wanted those features, but there’s no way to replicate these aesthetic aspects without buying things.
First of all, buying physical media allows me to feel like a collector. I don’t know what exactly is appealing about being a collector; it’s entirely possible that I only want to do so due to a false consciousness imbued within me by capitalism. Even if that’s true though, it feels to some extent like buying stuff is just a part of fandom and I’m very adamant in my defense of and participation within fandom. To some extent, it feels like I won’t be a “true fan” if I don’t buy things, even though I don’t hold others up to this standard.
It’s also just pleasing to have these things on my shelves. Being able to look over and see all my manga — organized and arranged by genre and size — is pleasing on its own, evoking a similar feeling to the one you get when you look at a poster or figure that you own. This is especially true for the Blu-Rays and games, as I really only buy these for the sake of owning the cases. It’s just nice to be able to look at my shelf and instantly know which PS4 games I have.
It’s important to find things that look nice, as it prevents me from going crazy looking at the boring, white walls in my room. Buying all these physical media adds a bit of flavor to my room, making it my own, which is something I care a lot about. I spend the vast majority of my time in this room, so I put a lot of value into making it identifiably mine. Buying all this stuff might be expensive, but it helps make it clear that I, as an individual, live here.
Physical media is certainly on the decline. I wouldn’t say it’s close to death, especially as book sales remain strong, but Blu-Rays and physical games probably won’t last that much longer, at least on a relative scale. Despite that, I don’t plan on switching entirely to digital media anytime soon. Everyone has things they like to spend money on, and physical media fulfills that role for me. I haven’t even gotten into figures, which I keep buying even though they provide no value at all. I could theoretically stop buying physical media without any major losses, but I don’t really see any reason to do so, not as long as I have enough space.