It's not a great day to be a Neil Young fan with a Spotify account. His music has disappeared from the streaming service, gone because Young objected to sharing a platform with the anti-vaxxer musings of podcaster Joe Rogan. "They can have Rogan or Young," Young wrote in an open letter earlier this week. "Not both." Spotify went with Rogan.
Young has taken a laudable stance that also sucks for many of his fans. More than 60 percent of his streaming audience came from the service. But it's a great reminder of the value of physical media in the digital age: Listeners who own copies of Young's music on CD or vinyl can still listen to it today just as well as they did last week.
The promise of digital media has always been that much of the world's best music, movies, and literature can be available to you in an instant. We've never had so much art and information at our fingertips. What a time to be alive! But that promise comes with peril: The availability of all that stuff depends entirely on the whims and desires of big digital corporations. Books can be deleted from e-readers. Movies are removed from online libraries. Streaming services can shut down unexpectedly. And Neil Young can decide one day he doesn't particularly like working with Spotify.
I had at one time given myself over to the streaming revolution, but I started rebuilding my DVD library a few years back when I realized I couldn't find one of my favorite movies, Angels With Dirty Faces, on any of the available services. (It's there now. You should watch it.) And I found myself agreeing with the critic Matt Zoller Seitz, who has spent years warning his audience to get physical copies of the art they love.
"Like I keep telling y'all, you have to invest in physical media if you want to be able to hold onto the things that are important to you," Zeitz wrote in 2018, after Apple removed movies from Canadian customers' iTunes libraries. "You cannot trust streaming services. 'Buying' a movie or an album through Apple or anybody else is a sucker's game."
It's even worse now. Consumers don't even really "buy" content anymore — they rent it, paying a monthly subscription. If the stuff they love disappears from a service, it disappears. There's nothing that can be done. We've become used to the impermanence: "What's leaving Netflix" has become a staple of entertainment news. But I don't want sometimes access to my favorite art and pop culture. I want it all the time. Maybe you do too.
So buy a DVD. Buy a book. Buy a CD or vinyl or even (yes!) a cassette tape. You'll love it. And you'll get to keep it. After all, it's much, much more difficult for the digital powers that be to take away the stuff you love if you can hold it in your hands.