While I’d quite like to get to a situation where I no longer own physical media (books, DVDs, CDs, etc) I’ve yet to find a satisfactory way to do this. Even if I could find all the content I want at a reasonable price an electronic copy falls short in some situations. For example, how exactly do you give them as gifts (I’m sure most of us give books and DVDs as presents fairly often)?
As someone who used to run a second-hand book website I also wonder about resell rights. A physical copy may well be more expensive (though rarely by that much) but you own that copy and are free to sell it on, thereby recouping some of the outlay, or donate it to charity so they can profit from it. Electronic copies are typically just ‘rented’ from the owner. Then there’s loaning a copy to a friend, something which I’m sure we’ve all done, but isn’t possible with electronic versions.
So it was with some interest that I read about Apple’s patent for a loan and resale system for protected digital content.
I’m always a little surprised that content owners aren’t clamouring to get their media onto as many digital platforms as possible and encouraging us to use them. They may make less per copy (certainly on subscription services, it’s probably not much less for on-demand offerings), but because we no longer own that copy, they can do whatever they want. They can remove access for consumers, charge more to retailers, renegotiate contracts with the various services whenever they wish and, if they’re clever, get many more statistics on who is accessing what.
They would also remove the loan and resale markets where they make no money, but Apple’s system gives them the ability to reinstate that option and yet profit from it. That’s a whole new revenue stream. Here’s the key phrase:
…the online store and/or the publisher of the digital content item may receive a portion of the proceeds of the transfer.
From a user’s perspective it adds back some of the downstream value, but for content producers it offers a tantalising second market.