There’s a closely guarded secret in the journalism world that really isn’t a secret to anyone who reads a great deal of journalism: Reporters are extremely opinionated. But if that confession leads you to believe you’ll gain some inside information from reading this column, by the end you will feel gypped.
In a newsroom, where these opinionated types congregate, they debate stuff. And one of the debates around our office has been whether U.S. consumers will adopt media-burning kiosks. Those skeptical that adoption will occur usually cite home downloading as the primary thwart.
Home media download creates two areas of direct competition to media downloading stations: 1) The ability to download without leaving the house, and 2) the ability to download media that is free, albeit oftentimes illegally. I’m not endorsing piracy, but it is an undeniable competitor in the marketplace. In 2003, USA Today wrote that about 4 million people were using file-swapping networks at any given time.
Fortunate for deployers of media kiosks, severe limits to what a person can do from home may help drive consumers to their machines. Pirated files may be poor quality (grainy movies, badly recorded sound), and the time it takes to download any thing larger than a typical three-minute song onto a home PC is daunting. Pulling a feature-length film through a consumer grade broadband connection, for example, can take all night. And unless someone is savvy about the proper protections to take, file-sharing is a good way to get a computer virus.
At least, then, the case for a DVD-burning kiosk seems obvious. If it can do in a few minutes what would take a PC with broadband all night to do at a questionable quality, a trip to a kiosk is warranted. What’s more, the business model is more efficient than traditional DVD sales, requiring no freight costs or shelf space, and can be offered less expensively.
The case is less clear when it comes to CD-burning kiosks. If you download an MP3 at home, you can buy exactly what you want, reproduced in excellent quality, for about 99 cents per song. If a person on a file-sharing network happens to get a bad copy, it only takes a couple minutes to download a different copy. Here, the skeptics have a point: Who would ever leave his house to download an MP3, or take the time while running errands? We started batting this around after McDonald’s removed its MP3 kiosk from its flagship store in Illinois. To many people, that the kiosk wouldn’t work should have been obvious from the start– it just wasn’t practical for the average person MP3 user, compared to downloading and burning at home.
And then there is me, whose (admittedly very weak) response to this question is: The kiosks are a hit in Germany.
Germany’s population is wired to the Internet as much as the U.S.’s, and boasts more Web sites than any other country. But in Germany, McDonald’s MP3 burning kiosks are very popular. It seems there must be some kind of cultural difference. Maybe Germans like hanging out and doing things at McDonald’s, whereas in the U.S. we act differently. Or, perhaps, Germans aren’t so likely to pirate media as Americans.
I’ve asked experts. I’ve Googled. And still, I have no clue. So this is the part where you feel gypped: I have absolutely no answer to this argument, other than to say, “It works in Germany.”
Perhaps you can help. If you have an idea of why media download kiosks work over there but not over here, e-mail them to .