The Digital Media Revolution: Analog Strikes Back

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If you consider the move towards predominantly digital media to be a slow but inevitable one, recent events in the worlds of movies and comic books might make you want to reconsider that last part.

In the past week, protests by movie theater owners have pushed Universal to scrap plans to test a premium video-on-demand release for the upcoming Tower Heist just three weeks after theater release, while both Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million have pulled 100 DC Comics graphic novels off their shelves in reaction to DC’s deal with Amazon to release digital versions of those books exclusively on the Kindle Fire.

In terms of the war for your media dollars, you could probably consider this analog’s way of fighting back.

Oddly enough, these two things aren’t happening in a vacuum. In the last few months, we’ve also seen Netflix realize that its customers would really like to keep DVDs in the mix, thanks very much, and book publishers faced with multiple lawsuits over digital pricing. What’s happening?

(MORE: Netflix Backpedals, Nixes ‘Quikster’ for DVDs)

It’s possible that what we’re seeing is “old media” suddenly waking up to the realization that “new media” isn’t just here to stay, it’s here to take over. For years, now, we’ve been promised a digital future that remained just out of reach—which suited media companies just fine.

Sure, they’d lost the music business to digital, but no one—the internet, the media companies nor the audience—was really in the right shape to consider streaming or downloading movies or television shows, and who wanted to sit in front of their computer long enough to read a book?

These days, in a post-tablet, post-HDVoD world, everything is up for grabs. And movie theaters, booksellers and all manner of other businesses reliant on the way things “are” have to face up to going the way of the record store.

Looking at it like that, no wonder they’re complaining.

The strange thing is the different directions these latest complaints are coming from; the Universal Studios and DC Comics protests are both from what are essentially middlemen complaining about the possibility of being made obsolete, but the Netflix and book publishers situations are the result of customers not liking the range (Netflix) or price (book publishers) on offer digitally. For the suppliers to solve both sets of problems at once seems impossible. How can you increase the range and value of what you’re offering digitally without upsetting your existing analog market?

And it’s this stalemate that, for now, should give the analog world reason to breathe a sigh of relief. Yes, barring any technological disaster, we’re marching towards a predominantly digital media—but when both sides are complaining about how you’re doing everything wrong, and their proposed fixes are in direct opposition to each other, it’s going to continue to be a slow march for the time being.

MORE: Digital Publishers, Booksellers Face Multiple Pricefixing Suits

Graeme McMillan is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @Graemem or on Facebook at Facebook/Graeme.McMillan. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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