Human and Brand Implications of Diminishing Physical Possessions


To identify the human and brand implications of diminishing physical possessions as a result of the advent of the digital.

Early Findings

  • A survey report published in 2018 revealed that Americans were sending less mail than they used to, with overall volume falling 43 percent since 2001. The decline was especially pronounced among Millennials. In 2001, Gen X-ers between the ages of 18 and 34 received 17 pieces of mail per week. By 2017, that number fell to 10 pieces of mail for Millennials in the same age range.
  • However, receiving less mails did not imply that people were not interested to have them anymore. Quite on the contrary, 75 percent of survey-respondents said receiving personal mail “made them feel special”.
  • In music, as illustrated by Jason Curtis' Museum of Obsolete Media, digital age has caused incalculable disruption on many media formats, especially physical ones. DVD and Blu-ray sales are now declining in the face of streaming, and music is increasingly streamed as well.
  • However, when it comes to the physical possession of books, digital has not been able to make much of a dent to the readers of the print books segment. Even in 2019, print books remain the most popular format for reading with 65% of adults saying they had read a print book in the year before the survey.
  • Just 7% of Americans said that they only read books in digital formats and have not read any print books in the past 12 months.
  • As far as the reasons as to why people still prefer print books to digital are concerned, print books are found to cause less eye strain and headaches, less distractions while reading, better reading experience and the physical connection results in a stronger emotional connection.
  • In the photographs segment, people still love prints. Even the “low end” of printing is alive and well as instant photography has seen a huge resurgence in recent years.
  • In terms of its brand implications, print photography solutions such as Polaroid Originals (formerly the Impossible Project) has built an entire brand around it, and Fujifilm Instax cameras and film packs made up six of the top ten best selling photography products on Amazon the holiday season in 2016 - 2017.

In addition to this public search, we scanned our proprietary research database of over 1 million sources and were unable to find any specific research reports that address your goals.

Proposed next steps:

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Our preliminary research suggests that real-life examples describing as to how diminishing physical possessions (pictures, letters, books, CDs, DVD's) affect us is rarely available. Therefore, we would recommend two-pronged continued research to delve deeper into the topic. First would be identifying 5-7 key insights detailing as to how the advent of digital has impacted the possession of physical things. Each finding should ideally include insights on whether the frequency/volume of owning a particular physical object has increased or decreased over a period of time owing to the incoming of its digital alternative. Second would be identifying 5-7 key reasons that motivate people to shift from physical to digital in terms of possession of things. Each reason should be backed by real world examples where such a shift has happened.
For further in-depth understanding, we would recommend category-specific research to find out 2-3 case studies/examples of brands who have successfully replaced physical with digital for each of the following categories: pictures, letters, books, CDs/DVDs. Each case study should look into a particular category of physical possession and find out case studies/examples of brands who have shifted from physical to digital in response to a change in consumer preference. Apart from explaining the transition in detail, the case studies should furnish any available insight indicating the shift in consumer preference preceding the change in company's policy.