I’ve been collecting media in one form or another since I was old enough to recognize Beatles ’65 at the White Front department store in Fresno, California. That was around 1966. I was three, and it was a very bad day for my mother.
In the years since, I watched my LP and 45 collection explode, only to be replaced by CDs, and finally to be morphed into a vast field of bits on a relatively small network storage device. Bits that I dutifully back up, maintain, and curate.
I spend more time fixing faulty ID3 tags than I care to admit. And I’m constantly annoyed when album art mysteriously goes missing (am I the only person having this problem with iTunes?).
There’s a point where it might just be easier to chuck it all and consider subscribing to one of those all-you-can-eat music services. That’s certainly what the RIAA would like me to do.
Subscription services are apparently the future of the music industry. Well, this week at least. And if you look around you’ll see that most media corporations are looking for ways to package digital content into a subscription-ready format.
The benefit of owning digital content vs. subscribing to digital content services is one I’ve been pondering for a while now, so I was interested to see Mac Slocum raise the issue with an open question on Digital Ownership vs. Digital Subscriptions over on the TOC blog. One of Mac’s questions is, “What would it take for you to switch from ownership to subscription?”
It’s an interesting question, and one that I don’t have a clear or concise answer for. I am naturally inclined towards ownership of digital content for reasons mostly related to DRM restrictions. Although, when I really think about it — and as the marketplace for digital content evolves — I am finding that subscriptions make sense for certain types of digital media and services.
In fact, I currently subscribe to a number of different digital content services. My subscriptions include:
- LA Times, Kindle Edition — I’ve written in the past about how I’ve lost all use for the print edition of the LA Times. If there’s a hope for the newspaper industry it just might be in the form of digital editions delivered to dedicated eReaders. While the Kindle edition of LAT is far from perfect (I’ll write more about that in a separate post), it’s good enough for daily consumption and overcomes a number of drawbacks of the print edition.
- Safari Bookshelf — The Safari service is an amazing value that frees up a huge amount of space on my physical bookshelf, while allowing me access to a wide range of regularly updated technical books.
- eMusic — a music subscription service without DRM. eMusic offers a huge collection of indie rock, jazz, and blues recordings. Because there’s no DRM, subscribers get to keep the music they’ve downloaded. And because eMusic continues to add new labels, there’s incentive to keep an active subscription.
- Jaman — Jaman isn’t really a subscription service, but they do offer time limited rentals of independent and foreign films. I can live with Jaman’s restrictions because the rental fee is reasonable and they offer a selection of films that is hard to find anywhere else. It also helps that Jaman has supported the Mac platform from the very beginning.
As the development of digital media devices advances, I expect that there will be all sorts of content that I’ll be willing to subscribe to, provided the content owners present me with a reasonable value proposition.
Despite my apparent willingness to rent content, there are still subscription services that simply don’t make sense to me. I doubt that I will ever subscribe to a Rhaposdy-like music service. At least not as my primary source of music. At this point my digital music collection is so large that Rhapsody doesn’t have much to offer me in the way of new content that I’d actually care to listen to.
Part of my desire to own my music collection is rooted in the fact that music has been such an important part of my life for so long. It’s not disposable content like yesterday’s edition of the LA Times. I can’t imagine not “owning” Quadrophenia, Kind of Blue, or London Calling, even as the concept of owning albums in the digital age becomes increasingly more intangible.
For me ownership is for the content that I care most about and wish to have a long-term relationship with, while subscriptions are for more ephemeral content.
I suspect my bias towards owning music may be generational. It seems likely that we’ll come to a point — possibly soon — when a future generation simply doesn’t see the value of managing huge collections of digital media, and digital subscriptions are the natural way of doing things.