Monday, 23 May 2011

"Ownership" and the cloud

Reading this somewhat biased piece in Wired, I started thinking about what ownership of digital assets is starting to mean.  Those books we download for Kindle, those tunes we buy in iTunes... do we own them, or have we just bought the rights to use (read/play) them in certain circumstances?  What's the difference?

Well, try lending that Kindle book or iTunes album to a mate, just as you might a book or a CD.  You can't. There's not even a resale model.  What about those hotels with little libraries where you leave a book and grab another holiday read off the shelf?  How would you do that with a Kindle?  This is the big attractor for publishers: everyone must 'buy' their own copy - there's no transfer of ownership.  Which is quite at odds with the rest of modern technology's recent 'socialise & share' ethos.

And what about piracy?  Not the industrial scale store-full-of-DVDs piracy, but the small, friendly stuff: borrowing a CD and ripping it to your iTunes.  If you were to fill your 160GB ipod with music at $0.99 a tune, your ipod would have $50,000 worth of music on it.  That's a lot of money depending on a couple of hard disks (1 ipod, 1 computer).

When you buy a digital song from Amazon, it doesn't use up any of your S3 cloud storage.  Presumably this is because it's already stored in Amazon, so your purchase simply gives you access to their stored copy.  Taken to its logical extreme, the proposition is that we'd only be paying for access rights to pieces of media from any device that is authenticated as our own.  So, I buy a new device (laptop/tablet/phone), login to my Amazon/Google/Apple account, and then either download or stream my entire music/video/book collection.  You could see a future where such service providers could then profile how much of your collection you play, and then offer a subscription service.  $20 a month for whatever music/video/books you like - flat-rate media consumption.  It's already there for some media (eg. Netflix for video).  All that's missing is the application to full multimedia collections, and the custom pricing (utility pricing, even?)

It wouldn't eliminate piracy, but by taking our personal media management into the cloud, it would presumably make piracy more awkward: iTunes would only backup your purchased music, right?  Or if it did backup the other stuff, it might not sync it as well across other devices (eg. streaming).  Will it all join up?  What if I'm an iTunes user, but that tune I like is only available through Amazon?

We're about to have an interesting couple of years in the consumer media market, I think.
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