Editorial: Stop Streaming When You Can Buy Outright

Take control of your media consumption!

By Robert Marrujo:: Seinfeld recently came to the iTunes store. As I scrolled through some of the reactions to this on Facebook, I noticed that quite a few people found this comical because, in their opinions, a better deal was giving Hulu $11.99 a month to watch the show free of commercials. In response to one of these people, I asked how paying $11.99 a month in perpetuity was a better value than paying for Seinfeld once on iTunes. I never got a response.

I suspect the reason I never got a response is because that poster, like a massive chunk of people utilizing services like Hulu, Apple Music, and more, have never thought about the fact that they're paying every month to see or listen to the same things over and over. Even some of you reading this now might not understand what I'm driving at, but think about it: right now Seinfeld retails for $99.99 on iTunes. You could either give that $100 now or spread it out over $10 months with Hulu. Except with Hulu, at the end of that ten months you don't own Seinfeld. You just keep paying. Over. And. Over. To watch the same thing. Over. And. Over.

That's media streaming in a nutshell. Companies getting you to pay repeatedly for something versus simply paying one time and outright owning it. Now, obviously subscribing to Hulu, or Netflix, or Amazon Prime, or whatever nets you more than just a single show. People getting Seinfeld commercial-free every month are also getting Runaways and so on. There's value to that and I'm not suggesting there isn't. What I am asserting is that consumers as a whole are giving way too much money and power to these companies in terms of the media that they consume.

What I'm suggesting to everyone is this: if you know you're going to listen to a certain album or songs repeatedly, why are you paying endlessly for the privilege to do so? I love the band Soundgarden. Always have and always will. I can't even begin to imagine what scenario would compel me to pay a music service forever to listen to songs that I'm always going to want to hear. Rather than waste money every month paying Apple or Google or whoever, I buy the music I like. In my case, I'm in a position to even go so far as to buy a CD (the MP3 files on which are easily as good as anything you'll download and sometimes superior, by the way) and then rip the files to my computer, which I then transfer to my phone or MP3 player. Movies? I snag the Blu-ray. I take control of my media consumption.

Now I know that isn't cheap, but in the long run I'm not spending $60 in a year to listen to $10 worth of an album. I'm not plunking down $11.99 a month to watch a movie I can get for $7.99 in the bargain bin at Wal-Mart. Besides the fact that money can be saved, though, perhaps most important is the fact that consumers are allowing Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and all the other streaming giants to dictate what they do and do not watch. If a licensing deal expires, suddenly the money you were spending every month to watch [insert favorite show here] is meaningless because now it's inaccessible on [insert streaming service name here]. Every single month movies disappear on Netflix. They sure wouldn't disappear from your shelf if you bought the discs. Or your hard drive if you paid to download them.

The answer for why some of you choose to stream might be space. A lot of people depend on their phones for music and video storage, so saving gigabytes is essential. While I can appreciate that, I think that's something advertising has blown out of proportion. I've seen ads that try to talk about the time it takes to download media as well as the storage needed that make it seem like people are trying to cram The Force Awakens onto a flip phone using a dial-up connection. It's preposterous. It demonizes owning things and makes it seem like purchasing movies and music and TV shows is some kind of enormous hassle when it's not.

A key to being a successful shopper is knowing how to bargain hunt and being smart with your money. This is the same with media streaming. If you're not interested in owning a million discs of countless seasons of a myriad of TV shows, then yes, by all means stream it where you can. But don't simply throw your hands in the air and leave what you watch and listen to to the whims of a company that couldn't care less about you beyond whatever your wallet has in it. Be in control when and where you can. After all, it wasn't all that long ago that Blockbuster was the king of movie rentals; anything exclusive to that retail chain is now an expensive eBay purchase in the years since that company went under.

In an era where video game companies are trying to make the $60 purchase of a new game a glorified access code to a never-ending stream of microtransactions, don't give in to this nonsensical notion that every bit of your media needs to be data floating through a WiFi connection. Buy the things that are important to you so that you can limit which services you shell cash out to every month. Utilize these services to discover new things but then determine if they're worth investing in a definitive purchase of, not an endless subscription to. Of course, if something is simply exclusive to a service and you can't get it elsewhere, that's a situation you don't have much choice over, but never forget that more often than not you do have other options. Exercise them. We vote with dollars, people, and every ballot is precious.

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