Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Lifetime subscription

Time to read: depends how fast you are at reading.
Main thrust of argument: I hate Netflix and Spotify because they both completely devalue films, TV and music, making it all a never-ending stream of shit. After not very long it all becomes an absolutely meaningless waste of time.

Forgive me for sounding like a broken record but, to recap: first we bought records, then 8-track, then cassettes, then CDs, then MiniDisc, then remastered box sets with bonus and live tracks, then mp3s. Now some of us buy records (actually, the facts are slightly misleading, even though vinyl seems to be everywhere, in the UK, 23m people still buy CDs compared to 4.3m purchasing their tautological vinyl records – streaming accounts for about 114m albums) which will probably be a completely pointless limited edition on red, blue or green coloured vinyl. But most of us now stream the music from Spotify or Apple. So it’s possible to have bought the same album on up to about a dozen different formats, only to end up not owning it but only subscribing or renting it.

We do this with films and TV too, And computer software. Nothing is ours anymore. If it was once ours –  on LP, Betamax, VHS, cassette, CD or DVD – we probably gave it to a charity shop years ago or, if young enough, have never, ever bought any removeable media. With other streaming services, such as Disney+, Apple TV, HBO Max and BritBox (literally can’t think of anything worse in the whole world), entering the arena, Netflix will lose some of its most popular programmes and films (as the likes of Disney and HBO take back their content from the steaming giant), and we may find ourselves having to join half a dozen streaming services to watch what we used to watch just on Netflix. It may be that soon we will all be trudging round the charity shops buying back our DVDs and CDs.

Naturally, I don’t pay for any streaming services. I disagree with everything about them. However, I have just finished my free three month Spotify trial (three months is ages! Yes, long enough for them to figure you won’t be able to live without it. Ha, I dropped them like hot potatoes). Saying that, it was a good experience.

How else could I go from King Krule to Prefab Sprout to Grouper to Roxy Music to John Zorn to Mazzy Star to Circa Waves to The Avalanches to Michael O'Shea to CAN to Julia Holter to Bardo Pond to Against All Logic to SQURL to Michelle Gurevich to Janet Jackson to Destroyer to David Thomas Broughton to XTC to Tame Impala to Meredith Monk to Billie Eilish to Gang of Four to Nico to The Fall. And that’s just in a day. There is no way I would have the physical space, let alone be able to afford, the amount of music I listened to if I were buying it on CD or LP. Basically I listened to hundreds of albums I couldn’t have done otherwise.

The main difference between Spotify and Netflix, of course, is Spotify has just about every song and album you can think of, and Netflix has about eight films you want to watch (Amazon Prime has even less – any film you actually want to watch will never be on Prime; you'll have to pay an extra £4.99 to rent it for the evening; possibly £10 to 'own' it on Amazon's cloud), and even that's going to decrease, and a trillion shitty series which all start with the kiss of death: A Netflix Original.

A million times better than Netflix or Amazon Prime was LoveFilm (RIP), also a subscription service, but one where DVDs were sent in the post. I know, what an antiquated thought in these streaming days, but, and to me it’s a huge but, they had just about every film available on DVD (yes, that means foreign films too). As the Guardian said at the time, when Amazon bought the company, then closed it in 2017 (I know, right, not as long ago as you thought), LoveFilm – the hint is in its name, really; Netflix may as well be called NetWatchAnyOldShitFlix – they catered "for people with specific tastes, who are into Korean horror or screwball comedies from the 1930s and 40s, for people who will carefully write down the names of films when they read a good review, or whose first response to a film they loved is to watch everything else that director ever did". I still, after all these years, think streaming is for morons (the highest-rated movies on Amazon Prime are mostly two-star reviews in The Guardian). It’s the difference between having a nice meal in a restaurant or stuffing your face with junk food. It's the difference between quality and quantity.

(The use of the humble letterbox hasn't entirely vanished. If sending letters and cards – or DVDs (though not video games, apparently – a colleague tells me video game rental services are popular) –  by post is pretty obsolete, the internet has a thousand other subscription services to shove through your door, from vegetable and beauty boxes to toilet paper and coffee.)

I still don't trust algorithms – or rather, I wish they were better. I've mentioned before how you buy a one-off holiday, then all you get for the next month is online ads for holidays to the place you've just been. The whole if you liked that, you'll love this thing, is a dreadful bore, leading to us all watching or listening to very similar TV and music (the internet in general is said to narrow tastes, from politics to porn). Netflix and Spotify end up serving a non-stop stream of similar material. Music becomes part of the background. When you get to the end of an album, it doesn’t stop, it just continues playing similar music it thinks you’ll like (to be fair, you can probably turn this off in preferences). With Netflix, the programmes which are popular have more seasons made which are identical to the first one (locations and a few characters may change).

I like my films and music to consist of making some effort. Going to the cinema (Parasite was great!). Reading about an album, ordering the record and waiting for it to arrive in the post, or going to a record shop. Unwrapping it, holding it, reading the sleeve notes. Maybe even listening to it (I'm not even joking when I say that – like a sucker, pun intended, I ordered the limited edition, transparent vinyl – red had sold out – version of the soundtrack to the classic lesbian vampire film, Daughters of Darkness. It is gorgeous, and I have no chance of playing it in the near future – my record player is in storage).

Previously on Barnflakes
Top ten Studio Ghibli films
Incidental sounds from Netflix's Power
Random Netflix review: Stranger Things 3
Revenge of the VHS tape 
Amazon Prime / Netflix mash-ups
Random Netflix TV reviews

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