Closed September 2017

Austin American Statesman: The Urge to Purge

To free up space in homes, some turn to digital copies

by Omar Gallaga

Sometimes certain realities of physics make you take drastic steps. For Christina Gomez, it took 900 square feet, the size of the home she shares with her husband, to make her get rid of hundreds of books, DVDs and CDs part of three storage units of stuff she was holding on to and go almost completely digital with the music, TV shows, movies and books she consumes.

A year and a half ago, the couple, both political consultants who do work in both Austin and San Antonio, combined husband Evan’s apartment goods with the items from Christina’s big house.

“”It really did look like an episode of ‘Hoarders,’ “” Gomez said, “”Something has to give. I Half-Priced everything,”” she said, referring to the chain of Dallas-based stores that buys used books and other media.

Though her husband still insists on keeping a shelf of books he loves (“”He’s one of those ‘out of my cold, dead hands’ types,”” Gomez jokes), she only has 15 books left and two DVDs  “”The Royal Tenenbaums”” and “”The Eagles: Hell Freezes Over.””

She listens to digital music she ripped from CDs she owned and on the digital music service Spotify. The couple watches movies and TV shows on Hulu, Netflix and Amazon with an iMac computer hooked up to their TV. And with an iPad and two Amazon Kindles in the home, Christina always has ebooks to read.

Her home is near downtown San Antonio, but she keeps an apartment in Austin for the legislative season. Because of her cramped living quarters and constant mobility, she’s glad she did the Great Purge on her discs and books. “”When you’re a political consultant, you move all the time, for races. Clients need you. You can’t really be bogged down with a humongous collection of books.””

The early purgers

Gomez might be an extreme case, but she’s not alone. Sales of electronic books last year surpassed sales of printed books, and sales of digital music on services such as iTunes and Amazon MP3 topped CDs and vinyl for the first time, taking 50.3 percent of the market in 2011, according to a Nielsen and Billboard report.

But as shoppers shift to digital content, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re clearing their shelves of jewel-boxed CDs and heavy hardbacks in one big purge.

For one thing, the market might be getting saturated if you’re trying to sell your collections. Jason Spears, owner of Cheapo Records, Austin’s go-to place for selling used CDs, says his store isn’t buying as much as it used to and not offering as much money for CDs and DVDs as it once did. The store already has about 70,000 CDs, 100,000 vinyl records and more than 20,000 DVDs available.

“”I tell people a lot of the time that they have great stuff, but if you had brought it to me a year ago, I could have offered you $300. Now it’s maybe $100,”” he said. “”I can’t pay $5 a disc like I used to because I might not be able to sell it.””

Spears said that he does still see sellers come in with 300 discs to get rid of because they’re going digital, but most of the early adopters who were filling up their iPods four or five years ago are no longer buying or selling in the physical world. “”People have purged their collections already and now they’re done,”” Spears said. He joked, “”Now would be a great time for the Great Digital Wipeout so everyone has to come in and re-buy them all over again.

Keith Gaddis, one of the founders and chief technology officer at Austin start-up PublikDemand, has been clearing out boxes of CDs since the early 2000s. He says he values the convenience of online music, quick-download ebooks and movie streaming over what he sees as cumbersome physical formats.

“”I can carry hundreds of thousands of books in my backpack. I’ve always hated physical media because it gets scratched up,”” Gaddis said.

His family keeps a few DVDs in the house, like Disney movies for his young son, but even some of those movies have been converted to digital formats that Gaddis can easily access on a video-streaming device connected to the TV.

He might buy a vinyl album or a collector’s item once in a while to help out struggling musicians, but overall, “”I haven’t bought CDs in years.”” Even his vast collection of MP3s has been forgotten in favor of searchable music services that deliver whatever he wants instantly. “”I found I was never listening to it (his music collection). I used to be a real pack rat about my life. But the clutter has been gone for so long that I don’t really think about it anymore.””

A more gradual shift

Lorie Marrero, a professional organizer who runs the website, said that most of us don’t digitize and ditch our media collections in one fell swoop the way Gomez did. “”Most people make these transitions gradually rather than all at once,”” she said. “”They start using the new medium, convert (or) repurchase some old things they want to have for sure, and eventually they purge the things they weren’t using anyway.””

Marrero says that one thing many don’t consider when they give away or sell their old CDs or DVDs is that they no longer legally own the digital copies they have ripped and kept on their computers and mobile devices. Though we’ve yet to see a wave of lawsuits or criminal charges for that kind of copyright violation (record companies tend to go after online file sharing instead), penalties can run from $250 to $750,000 and even involve prison time.

There are other drawbacks to going digital: Digital music often lacks the artwork and liner notes you’d find in a CD or vinyl album, and in the case of TV shows and movies, online services like Netflix and Hulu can have a spotty selection that’s subject to change at any time. A digitally downloaded season of a TV show is also more difficult to lend out to a friend than, say, a DVD set of “”Breaking Bad.””

But for those us of who find our homes filled up with books that are never re-read, DVDs packed with extras that will never be watched and CDs that haven’t been listened to in years, the march to digital seems all but inevitable.

Even booksellers, part of a publishing industry that has been the last to get overtaken by digital upstarts, say they’re not myopic about the future.

Kathy Doyle Thomas, executive vice president with Half Price Books, says she expects the company’s market share to shrink in the future, but that even with the success of the Amazon Kindle and Apple’s iBooks, her company’s stores are still busy, especially in a reading town like Austin.

“”We’re very realistic. We know the e-readers and the Kindles are out there. But people still want to go to bookstores, they still want to discover new authors, they still want to browse,”” Thomas said.

She says that many customers are purging cookbooks and finding their recipes online, selling textbooks at the end of semesters and getting rid of old popular fiction while holding on to children’s books or books with sentimental value.

People, she says, still want to be around books, even if it’s not their books in their own home.

Thomas said she recently spotted a customer using in the e-reader in the middle of a store. “”I thought, ‘Really?’ “” she recounted with a hearty laugh.

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