Research: Digital vs. Physical Goods


Do you prefer reading a “real” book over an eBook? Do you prefer storing your photos on a drive over putting them in an “old-fashioned” photo album?

Researchers have found out that people are willing to pay more for the physical versions of books, photos, and movies rather than the digital version. The researchers theorize that this is because having something that is tangible increases the psychological sense of ownership and individual feels over the item.

The research indicates that the gap between physical and digital valuations also is influenced by whether you

  • Rent or subscribe instead of outright owning.
  • Don’t associate the item heavily with your identity or sense of self.
  • Don’t feel much need to exert control through the way you interact with your stuff.

In general, people put a higher value on things they have more control over. The research outlined that the value of a product doesn’t come solely from the features the product has; it also comes from how consumers see themselves and others. Some of the value people associate with physical versions of products might come from the fact the material products do a great job of communicating the purchasing power associated with strength, intelligence, hard work or authority.

However, it is evident that the digitalization is unstoppable. Nevertheless, there are many features companies can include to make their customers/clients step away from viewing physical ownership as the gold standard to proof purchasing power, e.g., by using artificial intelligence and invitations to invite a friend to purchase, share reviews or similar.


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