When I lived in China in the early 2000s, there was this ritual to visit the DVD stores that cater nearly exclusively to the expat community. They were like DVD rental places with an extremely excellent collection. Prominently featured were the new releases, sometimes titles that were still in theaters. Each disc was about 8 RMBs (about a dollar then) and customers carried them out in bags.
My favorites were the TV series: Friends, 24, Grey’s Anatomy, etc. They sold the entire season’s episode in 8 to 12 discs. I would binge watche the whole season: no waiting, no commercials, no sleep.
We, the expats, had no choice. These were the only way we could watch those titles. Hollywood refused to release them in China.
I would buy music CDs from the same stores. Unlike DVDs, I could never tell if they were bootlegged or not (I had my suspicions, but no proof.) Music CDs were of the exact quality, in terms of appearance, packaging, inserts, etc., as real copyrighted ones. It is possible, albeit highly unlikely, that they were legit. I was quite convinced that no one in the world could, by inspection, be certain. If they were bootlegs, they did it perfectly.
Like everyone else, I would put the CD into my computer and rip the songs into MP3s and listen via my iPod. The disc would be thrown into a box and pretty much forgotten.
As I read How the Music Got Free by Stephen Witt, I reflected on my experience and realized that I was part of a much bigger MP3 revolution. I blogged about the RIAA law suits, witnessed the rise and fall of Napster, and used Oink. I was there when BitTorrent took over the world (there was a parallel FTP project, quickly taken over by the Torrent protocol). I saw the DVD stores going out of business, not because of legality, but because customers stopped buying physical media. Instead, they downloaded.
Kids stopped buying CDs long ago. They streamed, on their cell phones or laptop. They rarely pay for music (but do occasionally from iTunes store). 99% of their internet activities (games, music, video, social media, chatting) are free. Advertisement now sustains the media industry, or whatever is left of it.
And I was part of the generation that witnessed the transition.