Digital Media and Dematerialization

An Exploration of the Potential for Reduced Material Intensity in Music Delivery


Address correspondence to:
Nick Hogg
University of Surrey
Surrey GU2 7XH, United Kingdom


Advances in information and communications technologies (ICTs) could, in principle, offer a means of dematerializing a wide variety of services. In practice, however, the material resource impact of electronic equipment is itself an issue of increasing concern. This article looks specifically at music delivery methods to investigate whether digital media and associated hardware can reduce the material throughput attributable to music delivery. In the first part of the article, we examine recent market trends in digital music delivery and digital media sales. Next we report on a series of stakeholder interviews undertaken during 2006 to explore industry views on the relationship among audio content, electronic hardware, and environmental impact. Finally, we carry out a scenario analysis to investigate the potential material impacts of different possible futures in music delivery. Although in one scenario we find some potential for dematerialization, there are too many ambiguities in underlying assumptions about the relationship between content and hardware to predict with any confidence that the promise of digital media will lead to the dematerialization of music delivery. Currently, at least, it appears that digital formats have not contributed to dematerialization, essentially due to increases in hardware. It seems most likely that the material resource impacts of digital music delivery will continue to be significant for some time.