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The End of Ownership: Netflix, Spotify, and The Streaming Generation

Harry Guinness 18-01-2015

Every time I write about how Spotify is awesome Spotify Your Music Collection: The End Of iTunes Spotify is no longer content to just compete with radio, now they're competing with the idea of even owning music. Read More , or why my Kindle is better than physical books Books Suck: Why I Love My Kindle More Than Dead Trees Modern e-readers hold thousands of novels, weigh next to nothing, have built in lights, and don't give you a concussion when they hit your nose. Read More , I get the same comments. Someone always says, “I’ll never use that service, I like to own my things”.



Let’s address that.

A Physical License

When you own a book, what do you actually own? You don’t own the contents; you don’t own the words written inside. The text itself is generally protected by copyright, and is owned by the creator or publisher. You just own the physical object – the pages that hold the tale, not the tale itself.

What about digital files? Well the situation is the same. You probably own the device you’re reading the ebook on, but you don’t own the content you’re reading. Without the constraints of a physical book, publishers need some way of transferring the information to you without transferring ownership of the file. The way they do that is with a licensing agreement.



You never buy a song from iTunes or an ebook from Amazon. – you only buy a license to view the content. It’s not actually much of a change from the way physical products work — in that case, the printed book is simply your license to view the contents in perpetuity.


Growing Up In The Second Golden Age Of Piracy

I’m pretty young – I don’t even know who the fourth member of The Beatles is These Kanye Fans Don't Know Who Paul McCartney Is, And That's Okay Kanye West and Sir Paul McCartney collaborated on a new track. You'll totally believe what happened next. Read More . For almost my entire life Internet piracy has been rampant. I was 10 when I started downloading music with Napster Why Taylor Swift Is Wrong About Spotify In the past week Taylor Swift has pulled her music from Spotify, inspired countless song-pun laden headlines and reignited the debate about streaming music services. Read More , and as Internet connections got faster and the technologies developed, I moved on to pirating movies with BitTorrent The Torrent Guide for Everyone This beginner's guide is a great introduction to peer-to-peer file sharing with BitTorrent. Get started with torrent downloading in a safe and responsible way with our tips here. Read More .

For as long as I’ve been a consumer of media, I’ve been able to find pretty much everything I wanted to watch, read or listen available almost instantly and for free online. Why would I even think about buying CDs or DVDs? It was far simpler to just download the data to my computer.


And I’m not alone with this – all my friends have grown up in a similar situation. Actually owning something physical has no appeal. CDs are just going to be ripped How to Rip a CD to MP3 (And Auto-Name the Files Correctly) CDs take up space and you need a CD player to play them. Why not rip CDs to MP3s with track names and other meta-data instead? Read More . DVDs are more likely to be watched on a computer than a TV.

And if owning something tangible has no appeal, why would owning a nebulous license for a digital copy?

The Rise Of Streaming

This is why services like Spotify, Netflix and Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited are so great. We get almost all the benefits of piracy — instant access to all the content you could want — without the downsides, all for a reasonable monthly fee. What’s not to love?

Rather than purchasing a one-off license for a single piece of digital content, you subscribe on an ongoing basis to a license that gives you access to a far larger collection of media than you could ever, even in a lifetime, amass on your own.



Last year on Spotify I listened to 34540 minutes of music. That’s almost 24 days non-stop. Let’s say each song was 4 minutes long on average. That means I listened to 8635 tracks. Even if my top 100 songs accounted for 80% of that, it still means I, more than likely, listened to well over 1000 different songs. To buy each of them on iTunes would have cost nearly 10 times what it cost me to use Spotify.

Not only that, but the experience was much better. I was able to find and listen to whatever I wanted without fear of wasting money. If I played a song and didn’t like it, no problem: I just wouldn’t play it again. If I bought an album and didn’t like it… then it’s tough luck.

The same is also true of Netflix. Online movie streaming has killed DVD rentals. For the cost of renting a movie, you can get a full month of Netflix. When compared with buying a DVD the difference is even more stark.


Resistance Is Futile

If you refuse to use digital products on general principle then I don’t think I’ll ever convince you of the merits of streaming services.

If, on the other hand, you buy licenses for music from iTunes, you’re already half way there. You don’t own the music. Assuming a file you “buy” comes with DRM, the companies you purchase the licenses from can revoke them at any moment Think Twice about Buying a PlayStation: How Getting Hacked Made My PSN Content Useless My story begins sometime around the American launch of the PlayStation 4. I hadn’t turned my PlayStation on for about a week having been bowled over in work - I needed a break. I’d bought... Read More .

Plus, so long as you buy, on average, one album a month off iTunes, Spotify is going to be cheaper in the long run.

Streaming services are getting bigger and bigger. Spotify just passed 60 million users and shows no sign of stopping. Netflix accounts for 35% of US Internet traffic. These services aren’t going away.

The End of Ownership

What it means to “own” a piece of intellectual property has always been a bit nebulous – with digital files, it’s even more so. What we think of as ownership really ended with the rise of services like iTunes and the Kindle Store, which explicitly sell licenses. But now it’s truly dead.

Piracy has bred a generation that expect instant digital access to content. We don’t care about having CDs, books or DVDs lying on a shelf – let alone digital files sitting on a hard drive. We don’t want to own a movie, we just want to watch it.

Image Credit: XKCD.

Related topics: iTunes, iTunes Store, Netflix, Spotify.

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