Are we approaching an analogue revival?
Photo: Fernando Lavin
It is now 2024 (yikes), and New Year’s resolutions are making the rounds. Anecdotally, at least seven of us at MIDiA have resolved to go more analogue this year. More broadly, many people, alongside the traditional attempts to go to the gym more or do ‘Dry January’, seem to be opting to cut down on their social media and broader smartphone usage.
Our time and attention are finite resources, as the industry knows well by now, and audiences are keen to claw back some of that time and attention away from their devices. (The Guardian’s recent article on the pitfalls of our handheld devices posted on January 2nd, written by the author of How to Break Up With Your Phone, is no coincidence).
This need to reclaim headspace in a digital world designed to give users as little headspace as possible has resulted in trends like the casual creator economy. At MIDiA, we have long said that when entertainment becomes too easily accessible, it is like tap water: considered a given resource, rather than a luxury or something worth paying extra for. Thus, audiences are seeking new ways (like creating their own songs and videos) to engage. Streaming has impacted music in this way, and arguably video as well, with studios having to reconsider the output speed and quantity of their productions. Audiences are looking for novelty, unique experiences, and authenticity – and these are often hard to find in the depths of a phone, laptop, or TV screen.
Of course, audiences still love the stories embodied in TV shows and films, and they are still ardent music fans. They also still like keeping up to date with their friends, despite social platforms’ efforts to encourage their behaviours in more profitable directions*. So, rather than turn to new digital solutions (especially as so many of these are under threat by the proliferation of AI content), consumers are beginning to look back in time, not forward.
(*MIDiA’s next Media & Marketing report, out this month, focuses on the related competitive strategies of these companies.)
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Vinyl sales have surged in recent years. Film and Polaroid cameras have had a vibrant resurgence, with the cost of film at an accessible premium. (It is not uncommon to see Instagram stories with photos of people’s latest polaroid hauls, in an odd reflection-of-a-reflection). Even DVDs and BlueRays have seen a boost in the last year, with audiences looking for a way to own the entertainment they are paying for, especially as video licensing can see series and films jump from platform to platform faster than audiences can keep up.
When ownership was a given, access felt more important. Now that access is easy but fleeting, ownership is back en vogue – as is a more natural sense of curation. Having thousands of photos on one’s phone can be overwhelming, making each one more easily forgettable. Having a film roll with only 32 photos on it makes each one precious. Listening to 5,000 songs per year makes it hard to remember any of their names (much less the artists who wrote them). Owning an album in its physical form gives the music an intrinsic feeling of weight and value that streaming is simply unable to replicate – even if the owners are still using Spotify to listen to that album on the go.
An analogue revival is a double-edged sword for the industry. On the one hand, it has higher margins; on the other, costly analogue consumption will be only a fraction of that which we have seen on digital. While the cultural value of these physical items and experiences may increase, companies that still measure success by digital metrics (streams, likes, views, shares) will find it hard to gain their bearings when the most important behaviours are starting to happen entirely offline. We are unlikely to see a total shift to one or the other, but that is precisely the point: the pendulum is swinging back from an era of ‘digital everything’, to a more comfortable place of ‘digital sometimes’.