Suboptical

Optical media is dead. I have always, often loudly, proclaimed that BluRay was obsolete before it was developed and I still hold that to be true. In fact without the sales generated by a heavily discounted Playstation 3 (which despite being more expensive to produce than the average BluRay unit was priced lower than most), it may never have gained much traction at all. Recently Sony realised that it was unlikely to recover the cost of it's BluRay manufacturing effort, which is indicative of a degree of hubris but also the inevitable progress of cloud based services. Sony, with it's massive investment in hardware, media and content, was simply so entrenched in traditional business models that a massive paradigm shift was unthinkable. Sony has literally paid the price for believing that evolution would trump revolution, or perhaps trying to engineer the ongoing success of evolution in the face of progress.

Apple has, perhaps initially with a little too much vigour, been ahead of the curve. It began with the original MacBook Air in 2008, but now the non-Retina MacBook Pro is the only Apple computer that still ships with an optical drive. An external is available, and I bought one to go with my old MacBook Air. The fact that the PC it was replacing still contained in it's DVD-RW drive the Windows installation disc should have indicated then that I would never use it. There are things that I have needed an optical drive for in the past. I own music CDs and movies on DVD however my media library migrated to my hard drive so long ago that I don't even remember when I last bought something on disc. My recent move to cloud based streaming services for the majority of my usage has just been another nail in the coffin of the optical disc, and while I am an admitted early adopter I am not that far ahead of the trend — in a few ways I am behind it.

Kids today aren’t listening to music audio-only. They’re picking up a CD and looking at the lyric sheet and wondering why the pictures aren’t moving around. Who wants to do that? It’s like Bam Bam Flintstone [sic] hanging with the dinosaurs vs. Elroy Jetson who’s flying around space. If I’m a kid, I wanna be kicking it with Elroy.
— will.i.am

The media industry has been reliant on unit sales for so long, and is so change resistant, that it has fought newer distribution models every step of the way. Initially dismissively and more recently quite aggressively; as demonstrated by Electronic Arts pulling their modern titles from Valve's Steam store in an attempt to force users into its own, less well developed, rival platform. Of course the DRM/piracy front is the most visible battleground, where the media industry has been attempting to lobby for litigation that would preserve the old paradigm by outlawing business models they don't feel can be satisfactorily policed. Discs are fighting in some other major media battlegrounds; take Game of Thrones, essentially unavailable as a purchasable download. The exclusivity of either constrained digital availability or disc-only distribution is a clear attempt to stop the transition to digital distribution.

Of course many regular users and many businesses still have a need for disks, and still have more than a decade's worth of backups, movies, albums, documents and who knows what else. I wouldn't recommend to most people that simply jettisoning your CDs and DvDs is a sensible plan. But as more and more of us digitise or stream our music, download software, and backup to cloud based services or networked storage the need for optical media will continue to dwindle.