Lost in Subscription

Richard Gutjahr
10 min readNov 9, 2019

30 years ago, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the introduction of the World Wide Web changed our world forever. While most media industries have successfully transformed their businesses into digital services, many news outlets are struggling. What happened in this transformational process? And where did publishers go astray?

Do you remember the time when we used to actually own things?

I’m not talking about cars or real estate. I mean regular, day-to-day stuff. Like music, for example. “True Blue” by Madonna, the first CD I ever owned, cost US$30. I listened to it until my ears bled, because back when I was a teenager, 30 bucks was a hell of a lot of money and I couldn’t afford to buy another CD for months. This was the late 80s, when Germany was still divided in two parts — the capitalist West and the communist East.

Ten years later, Germany was reunited, the Soviet Union had ceased to exist and I remember buying my first DVD. In fact, I made the switch from VHS to DVD just because of this one title: “The Matrix,” a movie that would have been a disgrace to watch in any other format but digital. The DVD cost nearly US$40. A smart investment, I thought, fantasizing that I would one day watch that digital video disc with my grandchildren. Ha!

Last weekend, almost 20 years later, I cleaned out my attic. A whole box of CDs and DVDs went to the landfill, including Madonna’s “True Blue” and “The Matrix.” The original plan was to selling my vintage music and movie collection on eBay, but after one look at the listings I realized it was just not worth my time. Even despite the few pennies I would have collected, sending out physical media just doesn’t seem to make much sense any more in this digital Matrix that we have ourselves transcended to.

Moving from Possession to Subscriptions

For years now, I have had several digital subscriptions, including Spotify and Netflix. I don’t own that stuff any longer, but I can listen to as many Madonna songs as I want, wherever I want. The Matrix trilogy is currently part of the Amazon Prime catalog and therefore free to watch. So is “Good Bye, Lenin,” one of my favorite German comedies (yes, you did read that correctly — German and comedy). I can’t help but smile about how the roles have changed — the communists have turned into…

Richard Gutjahr

Journalist. Ahead of his time, yet always too late | Tech • Media • Journalism