Kevin Kelly: Access is better than ownership

I enjoyed this long essay by Kevin Kelly about how "all goods and services are candidates for rental, sharing, and the social commons." He raises a lot of interesting points. Here's one:
Very likely, in the near future, I won't "own" any music, or books, or movies. Instead I will have immediate access to all music, all books, all movies using an always-on service, via a subscription fee or tax. I won't buy – as in make a decision to own -- any individual music or books because I can simply request to see or hear them on demand from the stream of ALL. I may pay for them in bulk but I won't own them. The request to enjoy a work is thus separated from the more complicated choice of whether I want to "own" it. I can consume a movie, music or book without having to decide or follow up on ownership.

For many people this type of instant universal access is better than owning. No responsibility of care, backing up, sorting, cataloging, cleaning, or storage. As they gain in public accessibility, books, music and movies are headed to become social goods even though they might not be paid by taxes. It's not hard to imagine most other intangible goods becoming social goods as well. Games, education, and health info are also headed in that direction.

Better Than Owning, by Kevin Kelly

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  1. What if someone takes away my access?
    What if my access to the technology that allows the access goes away?
    What if the DRM server goes down?
    The hardback book in my backpack (Anathem, Neal Stephenson-highly recommended)is 935 pages that don’t crash and and is on an easy-to-read paper platform. And I can re-sell it when I am finished reading it.

    I am not a Luddite – I fix computers for a living – but I can drop my book and not worry about doing hundreds of dollars worth of damage.

  2. I have several books, vinyl albums, etc. that are meaningful to me, yet long out of print and really of no interest to most of the population. (Martin Caidin’s “No Man’s World”, anyone?) I don’t begrudge the shelf space to keep them around.

    Would I be able to access this book from the proposed service in 20 years? Which beancounter makes the decision that the resources (storage, cataloging, cross-referencing, etc) would be better served for something a bit more popular?

    Who controls access to this, anyways? Does a higher fee get you better access? Who gets to see who accessed what? How transparent is this process?

  3. Sometimes the “…responsibility of care, backing up, sorting, cataloging, cleaning, or storage.” is the only reason why certain things haven’t disappeared into history. When everything’s lent instead of owned, this is less likely to happen.

  4. @Hugh

    I think it’s the idea that all one’s pretty, pretty things won’t be there on the shelf to be petted and loved.

    All my CD’s are digitised, but there they sit in my office, where I can see them. Precious, pretty, media.

  5. Hugh,

    The issue is control and reliability. Who decides what is and isn’t in the ubiquitous archive? Are they subject to government regulation, corporate interests, tyranny of the majority, etc? Can they be taken away at any time? I love services like Netflix’s Instant Viewing, Hulu’s television and movie library, and GameTap’s video game library. But I would hate to see such services replace my ability to own copies of media that I can continue to access without someone else’s help or permission.

  6. I don’t even like dealing with the DRM on iTunes files that I “own”. I can’t imagine the hassle of dealing with music that I have to subscribe to. Sounds like DRM as a lifestyle.

  7. Here is the thing – some people who spend TONS of time on the computer seem to think it is the end-all-be-all. Kinda like DJs who say rock music is dead or guitarists saying the DJ music thing won’t last…

    There will be books as far as we can tell for a long long time. Can I “rent” an artbook from some on-line repsitory and look at it on my computer? Um… not sure I would want to. In fact, I know I wouldn’t want to. I look at my bookshelf full of artbooks and know that the computer renderings never do these print versions justice.

    Now, that’s all well and good but the real issue is exactly what others raised: What happens when someone says “meh, this book is no longer available” yeah right, i’m not putting my faith in some bean counter.

    Can the computer geeks and ebook marketers please stop sounding the death knell for the lowly book-on-paper? Can we just get along? Can these sort of “technologies” exist side by side without one feeling like it has to trump the other.

    I spend enough time in front of the comptuer working that I really like to read a book… in my hand… the soft paper… that off-white glow…

    1. Oy. He talks about libraries in the article. This is not about getting rid of paper books.

  8. Ouch, what a great way for a nasty government to implement censorship. Remove or alter a work from the library when this gets popular, and most people would have no way of even knowing it had happened.

  9. but how do you make certain they don’t change the content? Printed books are reliable because you cant easily fake 30 years or more of their existence.
    And what if i want to change the contents for myself make a MOD? I can buy a portrait and doodle evil mustaches and horns on it if i’d like to (i can imagine a former american ruler portrait that way)

  10. Books are knowledge, but no matter how hard i study a book i will never be able to remember everything in it. I will forget some/many details, some of them will be minor points, but some of them will be very important pieces of information.

    Whoever controls this “service” has control over which books i can read, therefore control about my ability to obtain knowledge. This is something i will not suffer to any degree more than absolutely necessary or unpreventable.

    When i own a book, be it a ‘lowtech’ hardcopy or some electronic media unencumbered by access restrictions, it is much more difficult to take my access to this knowledge away. This security is something very dear to me, to the point that i would assert such a thing to be a conditco sine qua non to a free society.

    But, then again maybe not everyone shares my passion about owning books. :)

  11. I’m surprised a contributor on THIS site thinks this is a good idea at all?

    What happens when we no longer have books, newspapers, movies, etc to record information, and all have ‘easy, instant access’ to an online catalog of it? The concern here is…what happens when some future administration decides that, say, ‘red blood’ in entertainment is the source of youth violence, and it should be censored out of all media. No problem! You control all the media, you can just remove it. Suddenly, nobody sees red blood anymore!

    Or, perhaps, you decide that speaking against the government is seditious and a form of terrorism…perhaps all books previously available that had such dangerous ideas should maybe not be available to the public any more?

    Maybe the American flag becomes too dangerous a symbol of nationalism in this new ‘United Earth government’ and all media, movies, and music with images of it…are simply no longer available?

    You don’t think first-world governments are not ALREADY banning symbols, images, and concepts even WITHOUT this level of control (in which case they have to make the effort to actually go out and FIND the offending media that must be destroyed)? Centralize this kind of control, and beware what happens next…

  12. I’ve been enjoying the Netflix service since it came to Tivo and Xbox late last year, but the other night when it stopped responding, it was nice to be able to pick an alternate movie from my collection of DVDs. When my power went out in the middle of a movie a few months ago, I just popped the DVD I had been watching into my Macbook. And that doesn’t even get into the issues of censorship at the choke points. Both government and corporate. Movies have a way of disappearing from Netflix and other streaming services in response to what’s convenient for the publisher, not the consumer. If they appear at all. We need more options, and wider distribution. One big centralized feed is too fragile.

  13. The point of the ‘old classics of marginal mass interest’ is also a good one.

    I dig Netflix and Hulu, but sometimes I don’t WANT to see something new that I haven’t seen before. There is a lot to be said for ‘old comfortable’ movies and books you’ve had a while. The same physical book you held in your hands as an adolescent and read for the first time, and have re-read dozens of times since…a signed music CD from an artist who came through town when you were younger and is now long since dead…the first movies (specific editions, too) you bought after moving into your first house…

    Yes, there is some ‘media’ here, that could be digitized and preserved…but the memory is tied equally as much to (or, in some cases, even moreso to) the *physical media involved*. It’s not JUST the content that matters.

    And let’s not even TALK about the difference in buying someone a gift as a physical thing they can hold vs a digital download code!

  14. Ah, the supreme joy of

    a: having to say “Mother may I?” every time you want to read a book/listen to music/move to new hardware/look at a picture

    b: having to trust, for your entire lifetime, that the hardware/software/data won’t ever be unavailable for extended periods and that some beancounter won’t decide that nobody REALLY wants to read your favorite story in “Obscure Book That Only Sold 5000 copies and hasn’t been looked at except by you in ten years.”

    c: having everything you look at/listen to known by anonymous third parties who may at any time be “asked” to hand your records over to them as part of either civil or criminal court proceedings.

  15. This sounds an awful lot like feudalism to me. In this example we pay someone else who actually owns these books or movies,and we simply get “any-time” access to it. But as we’ve seen with DRM, this will never work permanently. Whats to keep them from arbitrarily revoking our “access”? Or from shutting down and taking all of the media we want with them? This whole idea of is fallacious. I want to either own something, or not. Paying a tax for being to use something sometimes is completely unacceptable.

  16. I can just imagine the response from certain segments of the population:

    Dear Mr. Kelly:

    Pirate science sneers at your subscription fee!

    Sincerely,
    The Pirate Bay

    Hmmm…I really want to write similar letters that come from Creative Commons creators and open-source software writers commenting on what a bad idea paying money for something that you can’t download to store locally is, but I’m not sure how to word it.

  17. What if someone takes away my access?”

    If I get my internet access cut and I can’t get back on, I’ll be honest, access to my unlimited music and book collection will be roughly my last worry. If the service on the other hand goes down… I’ll just get a new one. One all you can eat service is roughly as good as another.

    What if my access to the technology that allows the access goes away?

    Then nuclear war has broken out? Yeah, I mean, I guess that would suck. I don’t think most people buy books and CDs as a defense against civilization collapsing though.

    What if the DRM server goes down?

    Get a new one. Yahoo’s unlimited music service went down and people shrugged and went to Rhapsody. You have unlimited music either way. It is like asking what happens if your Internet provider shuts down his routers… um, you get another one.

    The hardback book in my backpack (Anathem, Neal Stephenson-highly recommended)is 935 pages that don’t crash and and is on an easy-to-read paper platform. And I can re-sell it when I am finished reading it.

    I suppose it depends upon how much reselling matters to you. I look at my current music “collection” which is from an all you can eat music service. If you sum up the cost of all of the music that I have downloaded from Rhapsody’s all you can eat service, it is into the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. I would never buy that much music normally, and if I did I would never be able to resell it for enough to recoup even a fraction of the cost. “All you can eat” is a lot cheaper than paying for ownership and reselling.

    I am not saying that I will stop buying books. I too like books and read them slow enough that renting doesn’t make any sense. Music on the other and is a different story. Music is expensive, I get not thrill in collecting physical copies, I like experimenting, and I am going to have an expensive player irregardless if I own the physical copy or not.

    For me, all you can eat music is the greatest thing since the MP3 player. If a friend of mine is raving about some band, I just download every single song they have ever made. If I don’t like it, I delete it without a second thought. If I decide that I want to hear some music from a genera that I know very little about, I just snag smorgasbord of it. Buying blues in a music store would be expensive torture. Snagging a few dozen artists that I might like online and then downloading every song from the ones I like is cheap and easy.

  18. I wouldn’t mind having everything available to me “on demand” but that doesn’t mean I want to get rid of the current physical access to that same content. Sure, give me the new movies on-demand, the new books, the new music, all on demand. But let me own the physical copies as well. Heck, I’ll even *make my own physical copy* to take that cost away from the publisher (of course, this takes their profit away as well.)

    As others have said before me, if I lose access to my connection point to this on-demand content, what then? Will I have physical copies to fall back on? Will I be able to make my own physical copies? How much would such a system cost? With everything going on-demand, who controls the access to the content? The government? Some corporation? What if that corporation goes bankrupt or changes their policies about the on-demand content? What if they decide that something isn’t right for me to watch?

    I’m all for an on-demand system as long as it’s *part of* the current system of media deployment, not a replacement.

  19. Church, that’s not taxation. Either you know this, or you should RTFA.

    I think the privacy implications here are pretty troubling.

  20. Forget looking at this as a question of pragmatism, what about the simple pleasure of real ownership? I don’t keep those dusty old LPs in my closet because it’s convenient for me to use them that way; it’s about collector’s value, nostalgia, interest, etc. I like to be able to hand someone a physical copy of a piece of media I think they’ll really enjoy, be able to say I lent it to them, and enjoy looking back fondly on the way they liked it too much to ever give back. I love thumbing through my shelves and remembering where and why I bought such and such CD or movie. Ebooks are wonderful; but I love looking at the notes, dedications and markings in used books. HD and subscriptions are great; but I love the pointless extra kick I feel off watching a beloved film on VHS, the way I first saw it.

    When convenience and practicality truly outweigh collector’s value and sentimentality in the way we experience media, I will fucking cry.

  21. I also wonder what Kevin thinks of the relative growth and costs of network access and storage — while both are growing well, storage is growing VERY VERY well. Once you can carry around all the creative works of the human race on a $1 thumbdrive, why would you pay-for-play to get them on a slower, higher-latency network?

    Indeed, there’s probably a better argument to be made for only storing private and collaborative data on servers (since it needs backing up, and it’s unlikely your neighbors will have a handy copy of your email archive for you to consult while you’re over at their house), encrypted, of course. You don’t care if you lose your thumbdrive with every movie ever made on it, because it’s easy to replace. Losing the videos of your kid’s first steps, OTOH, is something you’d regret forever.

  22. Let’s think hard about this. Karl Schroeder’s excellent second novel, “Permanence,” takes a close look at this and it’s logical conclusion. Permanent, remote ownership. Not pretty. The clothes on your back; your furniture; anything and everything physical as well as digital.

  23. I think he is correct that access trumps ownership. Questions about how much we can trust those who archive the data are valid but, all things being equal, he’s right.

    This is almost how it works with high end production software today. You don’t so much “own” AutoCAD or 3dsMax, you rent it (after a fashion) by paying for yearly service updates. If you choose not to upgrade you own your last version but it’ll cost you to get back into the game later on.

    When truly high speed internet becomes more wide spread a software company will just serve you access to say Adobe Photoshop. That would be better in many ways. It would cost less, be more stable and be faster with truly unlimited storage. Piracy would consist of hacks to gain unauthorized access.

    Of course trust is the central problem. I wouldn’t trust the current clowns, not even Obama. That is why we need something better. We need a better way of keeping our collective eyes on those entrusted with power. I like total transparency. Every move they make, every breath they take, we’ll be watching them.

  24. I have a library card. I use Netflix. The only service I don’t do this with is music, but that’s because all the different access like services for music tend not to carry the kind of music I like in any quantity. I would be ecstatic if they did.

  25. @Cory #29 Church, that’s not taxation. Either you know this, or you should RTFA.

    Are you talking about this FA?: Instead I will have immediate access to all music, all books, all movies using an always-on service, via a subscription fee or tax.

    Unless the entire article is snark, in which case it comes across to earnestly.

  26. This sort of access would no doubt be better for some people. But it also seems to turn works of imagination into disposable objects. The craving for content-on-demand seems to miss the ways in which one might want to go back to a book — one’s own copy of it — over time, as it accumulates annotations and turns into a record of one’s reading and one’s life experience.

    One of my great pleasures in listening to music is listening to the copy of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue that my dad brought home in 1959. (It left the house with me when I went out on my own.) One corner is a bit torn, the result of my “indexing” my dad’s records for him with slips of paper and scotch tape when I was a kid (stupid kid!). These sorts of attachments are not merely sentimental — or if they are, they might be necessarily so. We human types get attached to stuff. (Yes, I have the CD too.)

    A discussion of objects and associations came up at kottke.org some time back. I offered this passage as relevant:

    “Some mystery-loving minds maintain that objects retain something of the eyes that have looked at them, that we can see monuments and pictures only through an almost intangible veil woven over them through the centuries by the love and admiration of so many admirers. This fantasy would become truth if they transposed it into the realm of the only reality each person knows, into the domain of their own sensitivity. Yes, in that sense and that sense only (but it is much the more important one), a thing which we have looked at long ago, if we see it again, brings back to us, along with our original gaze, all the images which that gaze contained. This is because things — a book in its red binding, like the rest — at the moment we notice them, turn within us into something immaterial, akin to all the preoccupations or sensations we have at that particular time, and mingle indissolubly with them.”

    Marcel Proust, Finding Time Again, translated by Ian Patterson (London: Penguin, 2003), 193

  27. #20 posted by millionpoems

    Anybody remember Xanadu?

    Xanadu? I have the soundtrack. Best movie evar! ONJ rules.

    /go looks for the record player

  28. #13 godfathersoul

    “I look at my bookshelf full of artbooks and know that the computer renderings never do these print versions justice.”

    Compare this:

    http://www.google.com/intl/en/landing/prado/

    Having said that I have a bookshelf (well, piles of cardboard boxes full) of art books too.

    Actual access to actual art has all the drawbacks of this already. An evil government only has to shut the museums and sell the art to oligarchs.

    Same goes for the Bibliotheque Nationale, British Library, and Library of Congress.

  29. Anything. Anything to cut down even more on all the shit that has to be sorted, stored, packed, unpacked, carted, unloaded, sorted….

    Come, freedom!

    1. Anything to cut down even more on all the shit that has to be sorted, stored, packed, unpacked, carted, unloaded, sorted….

      I like that. Get off my lawn! And take one of those boxes when you go!

      I’m so sick of having stuff. Maybe it’s age related, but anything that needs to be dusted, let alone moved, seems more annoying every day. Netflix for movies. The library for books. The street corner for hustlers. Bring it on.

  30. I think the issue is that manufacturers or dealers will decide not to sell things outright, but instead try to maintain an ownership interest. Thus, for instance, car dealers have installed GPS devices in cars sold to credit risks in order to repossess them. See a discussion here on Dan Lockton’s blog Architectures of Control. There are also privacy issues with access over ownership. The government or a company can see what you access, but not necessarily what you buy (say, with cash at a bookstore).

  31. @Stumpadoodle

    Well I tried it from that angle, then everything slid into an Orwellian nightmare faster than a very fast thing going abnormally quickly.

    I mistrust the man as much as the next guy, but it is commercial interests who’ll own the pipes, there’ll be more than one, there are anti-competitive laws governing telecommunications and everyone will more than likely be allowed to keep their books and ultra-violent bluray disks.

    The change is just that the main medium for entertainment distribution will be online, it won’t be the sole medium.

    Using my current access to that medium, I can get hold of far more controversial material than is currently sitting on my shelves. I don’t see what reason anyone has to believe this method of distribution will lead to more centralised control of media, current indications are all to the contrary.

  32. As mentioned above, the thing I’d fear most is Sinister Forces altering content.

    In the Ministry of Remembrance, they simply ‘shop out anything they want to remove. Or subtly change syntax to change meanings. And who would know?

    Sure, you could check the secure SHA-512 hash that They conveniently provide. Oh, but the alteration may be somewhere in the midst of the wire — and you’ll never know.

    Just read some history of how various totalitarian Governments and centralized Churches have managed documents historically. Or look at how small splinter groups of benevolent organizations that control centralized information can subvert the larger body.

    Paranoia? Maybe. Maybe so.

  33. “Communism doesn’t work because people like to own stuff.” Frank Zappa

    Strike out ‘Communism’ insert ‘subscription only models.’

    Thanks Frank!

    If I give somebody money, I’m not paying for access, I’m pretty much paying for something so I can do whatever the heck I want with it.

    Without even addressing all the other points people brought up about access, archives, DRM, etc, etc.

  34. This may not be much of an argument, but whenever I meet a new friend and get access to their residence I will check out the books, CD’s, DVD’s that they own and the content of that will make me adjust my impression of them, for better or worse. True, I’m also a packrat who enjoys the physical presence of the things I enjoy around me, so that may factor in. But if your CD collection is two digits or less (or includes any Enya) my impression of you goes downhill fast.

    Shallow, I know.

  35. @Dimmer

    ‘Tis a bit shallow. I’ve got a couple of Enya albums. I think the “Theme from Harry’s Game”, by Clannad (including Enya) is one of the most beautiful pieces ever recorded.

    I’ve also got a ton of post-punk and industrial like Ministry, Godflesh, Pitchshifter, Soulfly, right there with MIA, Radiohead, the Pixies, Lee Scratch Perry and TV on the Radio. Variety is the spice and so on and so forth.

    Its very easy to miss a lot of great music just because it doesn’t seem cool. Life is too short.

  36. And, not to put too fine a point on it, how will the creators of content get paid, or have any control over their work?
    I write a book-it gets published-someone hacks it-I get arrested for child porn. Or there come to exist several different versions, all with my name on them. How will a consumer know which one is the one I wrote?
    What if I don’t want my book made into a movie?
    Perhaps the idea of having control over your work is just and old-fashioned peccadillo, but lack of that control is part of what makes Wikipedia not a really reliable source of info.
    besides which, a fair proportion of the books I own are useful for the collapse of civilization, as they concern printing, papermaking, bookbinding, blacksmithing, etc.

  37. And, not to put too fine a point on it, how will the creators of content get paid, or have any control over their work?

    Getting paid? By whomever will pay you, of course. Ask Tren Reznor. Or ask Morris Dancers.

    Not happy? Do something else.

    Have control? What the hell makes you think you have control to begin with?

  38. Sorry for the wall of text.

    #34 Noen “I think he is correct that access trumps ownership. Questions about how much we can trust those who archive the data are valid but, all things being equal, he’s right”

    Ownership always trumps access, because the owner controls the access.

    Kevin Kelly: “I use roads that I don’t own. I have immediate access to 99% of the roads and highways of the world (with a few exceptions) because they are a public commons. We are all granted this street access via our payment of local taxes. For almost any purpose I can think of, the roads of the world serve me as if I owned them. Even better than if I owned them since I am not in charge of maintaining them. The bulk of public infrastructure offers the same “better than owning” benefits.”

    Public roads are commons. You can use them even if you don’t pay taxes. The roads do not serve you as if you own them because you cannot participate in the activities entitled to owners of roads such as closure or tolls (not better than owning). This quote shows one of the problems with public ownership of the roads, that of the tragedy of the commons. The author feels no responsibility for maintaining them, he is simply entitled to them. This is probably why the roads are in bad shape, no one is responsible so the money never gets spent. This is also probably why toll roads are usually in really good condition with a lot less traffic.

    Kevin Kelly: “The good of the web serves me as if I owned it. I can summon it in full, anytime, with the snap of a finger.”

    As long as the entity that owns the lines and/or servers grants you the ability to do so.

    Kevin Kelly: “Very likely, in the near future, I won’t “own” any music, or books, or movies. Instead I will have immediate access to all music, all books, all movies using an always-on service, via a subscription fee or tax”

    Tax? I know it has already been said, but screw you Kevin Kelly. The government should not take my hard earned money away so that you can watch TV or check your email.

    Kevin Kelly: “For many people this type of instant universal access is better than owning. No responsibility of care, backing up, sorting, cataloging, cleaning, or storage. As they gain in public accessibility, books, music and movies are headed to become social goods even though they might not be paid by taxes. It’s not hard to imagine most other intangible goods becoming social goods as well. Games, education, and health info are also headed in that direction.”

    The “for many people” part illustrates that renting is not better than owning, only better for some people. Renting is generally more expensive than owning over the long term. This is because the cost of care, backing-up, sorting, etc is passed on to the renter. Renting makes sense economically if the renter is going to only use the item occasionally and for short perods of time, which he mentions later. This isn’t to say that renting storage space on some server isn’t a good idea. They have better equipment and better maintenance routines. Your data can be accessed from anywhere. This doesn’t however devalue ownership it only illustrates an example of a valuable service.

    As far as health info, I hope he is referring to information about healthcare and not about Medical Records.

    Kevin Kelly: “Sharing is not very different from renting.”

    Sharing is very different from renting, no value is exchanged in the act of sharing.

    Kevin Kelly: “As more items are invented and manufactured – while the total number of hours in a day to enjoy them remains fixed – we spend less and less time per item. “

    The assumption here is ludicrous. He is assuming that each person has to spend time with each and every item that is manufactured instead of selectively choosing the items that are needed. I don’t have to carry around a camera and a phone since I can use my phone to take pictures. However there are many more types of phones and cameras and phones with cameras that are available in the market than there were five years ago. All of those products are available and now I only have to interact with one. Which means that the following hypothesis derived from the previous assumption is flawed.

    Kevin Kelly: “In other words the long-term trend in our modern lives is that ALL goods and services will be short-term use. Therefore all goods and services are candidates for rental, sharing, and the social commons.”

    Lastly, the author uses the words public commons, social common good, and community good regularly and seemingly interchangably. In a different instance “social property” which seemingly means property with social network access, but because of the indiscriminate use of the previous words the compound word sounds more like economic priciple. This seems intentional as social property slips effortlessly into “common property”, with lots of sharing, when discussing automobiles. The reason we have private property is because there is an ethical basis in its existance. You have a right to your life. If you work to create something, that thing is a product of your life and therefore a manifestation of the work you did in the past. It is your property and your can trade it for food, lump-sum payment, or wages. When you own a thing you are more likely to take care of that thing. This is why we even have the concept of the “Tragedy of the Commons”. A concept evidenced by all the trash on the freeway.

    Private property is not going away. The things that are valuable will continue to be owned for as long as they are valuable, and rightfully so. This may mean that music, movies, and books ultimately aren’t that valuable to most people, but that seems rather grim. However if you think of value in terms of scarcity, there just isn’t much scarcity with digital copying.

    Oh yeah, I like books, too.

  39. Think how easy it would be to censor and spy! You’d be saving the government billions dollars!

    Ownership and access have their pros and cons. I don’t think either one should completely dominate.

  40. don’t get me wrong i’m all about CC and F/OSS, but c’mon now, let’s be real

    you can’t possible get all media from one site, so how many monthly subscriptions can you afford to avoid “owning” stuff?

    are you rich? i’m not. most people aren’t.

    just sayin’

    if the economy doesn’t shape up, entertainment-based $9.99/mo bills are gonna be the first to go.

  41. Setting aside the information paranoia blinders (without which it just wouldn’t be BB), you’ll see that this transition from ownership to access occurred quite a while ago for movies, and is pretty close to complete for music.
    I’m speaking from a general cultural perspective, of course, but if you laid the total hours of movie viewership in an “access” mode (theaters, physical media rentals, VoD, pay-TV) in one column, and set it against an “ownership” column, it would be overwhelming.

    Yes, there are those for whom the value is in physical ownership, and there are certainly times where local copies — either physical or digital — are preferable, but the cultural tide has already turned.

    I would also argue that we’ve lost sight of history here. The whole ownership model as a cultural norm is a pretty recent development. Ask your parents (or grandparents for you younger folk) about “ownership” of movies, music, books — you might be a bit surprised at how odd the idea of a personal collection really is.

  42. @GROGGYJAVA

    Eh? You lost me somewhere. I’m certainly not rich (the value of family and friends excepted, of course), so I’m missing your point entirely.

    How many things would you buy to avoid “renting” stuff? From a purely cost standpoint, based on my own consumption, $9.99/mo is significantly cheaper than buying media at $15-20 a pop.

  43. Mrk: y’r drk fr thnkng ths s gd d.

    millionpoems:

    …and all should cry, Beware! Beware!
    his flashing eyes! his floating hair!
    Weave a circle round him thrice,
    and close your eyes with holy dread!
    for he on honey-dew hath fed,
    and drunk the milk of Paradise.

  44. @SG

    Um……

    The phrase:

    so how many monthly subscriptions can you afford to avoid “owning” stuff?

    struck me as suggesting that “owning” is cheaper than “subscriptions”, with the implication that the hypothetical consumer would be driven to subscribe multiple times, the sum of which would be greater than the cost of similar purchases.

    Maybe I’m showing my age, but I consider “owning” to be the state that follows “buying”.

    I could certainly be wrong (and am on a regular basis, no doubt) — how did you interpret it?

  45. @#1

    I think I can articulate what’s wrong here. See, I am poor. Extremely poor. I live on 339 cash and 170 food per month. I made 60,000 at a big bank doing web development a couple years ago. The bank is gone now. Anyway, I was unexpectedly disabled. I lost my job, car, downtown apartment, was separated from my cat and had to fight armageddon to ensure we would be reunited… put all my stuff in storage, my nice things, my books. Things I got when I was flush. Then I was homeless for a little over two years. My stuff was in storage. My Mom helped me pay for it. Social Security disability takes three plus years in the state of Washington to get a hearing. So it’s still just food stamps. After two years, I got a subsidized apartment throught the City of Seattle Porchlight program. It was worth the wait, yet so many of us can’t make it this long. Two years is a long time. Social security is completely fucked, even with an attorney. the backlog is incredible. So when you see a schizophrenic homeless guy yelling at his shadow in a doorway downtown… well, he has to make it three years to get a hearing on whether he can get SSD. I’ve been kind of like that off and on, but have seen folks much worse off than me. A lot of people cannot navigate the Byzantine system of social services at all. They get frustrated, and when they get frustrated, many of them get furious. They storm back out onto the street where their darker destinies are. Okay, I had two Sparks.

    Anyway, the problem here is that you need to OWN things so they will always be there for you. Because when you are down, you will not even be able to justify micropayments.

    So I got my shit back. My wonderful cat, and my books, and my Atari Asteroids machine, and my computers, and my tanning canopy, and I think you see my point. I am at home again, though there are a few days this month where I won’t be able to eat.

    A huge part of our very identities is our stuff. It’s not materialistic. It’s memory. My precious photos, my books, my keepsakes, everything.

    Try going without your stuff for a while if you don’t believe me. It is the objective part of our identities. How else would you show someone who you are? Or remind yourself? We must have some stuff. Everybody must have some stuff.

  46. Church: No, the article about voluntary collective licensing that you described as being a “tax,” in which the word “tax” doesn’t appear, and in which the scheme is characterized, over and over again, as a voluntary (e.g., not mandatory) scheme.

  47. #20 Millionpoems, #26 Dougrogers, #39 Eclectro, #62 Devophill – I’m part of the Xanadu team and a faithful BB reader. Onward and umpward, to Xanadu!

  48. Groggyjava @56:
    Actually, history suggests that entertainment will be the last to go. In the (First) Great Depression, families would give up eating regularly before they’d sell their radio.

  49. Most of the comments made have failed to address the major issue.

    The rather simplistic view expressed by Kevin works on the assumption that everyone has access to a good communications network. I’ll not dwell too much on the key issues affecting many people in the world, but it is important to remember the MAJORITY of the world does not have access to potable water, medicine, freedom, information… etc.

    The basic idea is useful, but do we not already have access (if you are privileged) to vast amounts of information already? Even Google, with its vast amounts of information mining and storage, has not yet resolved the ‘how do we make all this stuff available?’ issues. In a book or library there is a good method for indexing and referencing the content. Where do you begin with an index/filing system as vast as Google’s? If you do not know what is in the index, how do you ask/type the right questions.

    I believe Douglas Adam’s touched on this in “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”.

    42

  50. @Cory #64, Just because the word ‘tax’ doesn’t appear, doesn’t mean it isn’t one. If individuals can’t opt out, it’s effectively the same thing.

  51. I hate the way these discussions often pits the two concepts as mutually exclusive paradigms. Like one will entirely supplant the other.

    Like in his own article Kevin says, “For many people this type of instant universal access is better than owning. ” (i.e. for some it isn’t)

    & then he concludes, “The trend is clear: access trumps possession. Access is better than ownership.”

    If all the “ifs” in his article (reliable access in all regions, for instance, alteration and control of material.. etc) there is still value to owning, as systems of access do fail etc.

    Owning may simply become the insurance for access, for those things that the consumer values the most. No need to trump.. they serve different purposes.

  52. Recordings didn’t kill live performances. TV didn’t kill movies. P2P didn’t kill CDs.

    This is just a different model of distribution. It won’t kill what we already have.

    People here sure love to scream and run around in panic. It’s like every thread is a reaction to a zombie invasion.

  53. Personally, I want both options. I like owning MP3 files outright, and I like a library/subscription option.

  54. I think Svenski nailed it. What happens when the power goes out?

    When the power went out in Toronto last week for a large swathe of the city, there was nothing to do but lie on the couch with the dogs and read actual, hard-copy books. And try to make coffee with a bodum and some tea lights. (It was also the coldest day of the year.)

    You can’t play CDs either when there’s no juice, but at least treeware is accessible as long as it’s light enough.

  55. When the power went out in Toronto last week for a large swathe of the city, there was nothing to do but lie on the couch with the dogs and read actual, hard-copy books. And try to make coffee with a bodum and some tea lights. (It was also the coldest day of the year.)

    Batteries buddy… batteries.

    The OMFG BUT WHAT IF THE WORLD ENDS HU!!!!!????! Arguments are silly. If my internet access gets cut, the government changes the words to music, or all of the other paranoid OMF what if scenarios are absurd. If any of those things happen, the fact that I can get into my Rhapsody account will be roughly last on my list of worries. I guess if the zombie invasion comes you will totally be able to tell me that my unlimited music account was a totally rip off and that I should have been shelling out for CDs. Otherwise though, I smirk at even the most hardcore music dork’s collection.

    I download and listen to in a year more than what most people buy in their entire life time. As a result, my taste in music is more diverse and more exploratory than most. Yes, I certainly could focus on a single narrow genera and obsess over a small handful of bands. They is a very economical way of approaching music when you don’t feel like shelling out thousands of dollars to be more diverse. I on the other hand enjoy the fact that I can decide I am in the mood for blues, know jack and shit about blues, and download a 500 hundred dollars worth of music in a couple of hours for a my monthly subscription of $15 month. And do you know what? At the end of the day I, a casual listener, will end up listening to more blues than a hardcore blues nut for a tiny fraction of the cost. Instead of being wed to my $500 blues collection, I could merrily ignore it and go download a few hundred dollars worth of ska the next week.

    Hey, if you like collecting crap, more power to you. Shell out a few hundred for a paltry handful of CDs and DVDs. Personally, I hate collecting crap. Any time I can find a way to shed excess stuff and get the core of what I want, I am a happy fellow. I’ll be merrily listening to all music ever made while you pack rat horde your music collection in a bunch of annoying, bulky, and expensive media. When the nuclear holocaust comes, you can rub it in my face. Until then… mmmm… I feel like some big band music.

  56. “I would also argue that we’ve lost sight of history here. The whole ownership model as a cultural norm is a pretty recent development. Ask your parents (or grandparents for you younger folk) about “ownership” of movies, music, books — you might be a bit surprised at how odd the idea of a personal collection really is.”

    Uhhh….IsolatedGestalt…you sure you aren’t confusing ‘ownership model’ with ‘technological progress’?

    Did you really think people didn’t own books, sheet music, paintings, or plays before the dawn of the 20th century? I mean, no, of COURSE they didn’t own movies…because movies (even in theaters!) hadn’t been *invented* in previous generations. Music was performed live, there was no WAY to buy it and take it hope…except by purchasing the sheet music and musical instruments to play it yourself. And, hey, surprise! – people did just that!

    There is nothing – at all, in ANY way – “new” about the “ownership model”. (Indeed, about 1/4 of my wife and I’s personal library are books that are nearly 100 years old from her grandmother’s collection)

  57. I would rather own a musical instrument than access music in an iPod, so perhaps I am obsolete.

    When I was a child, during heavy snowfalls (or rains powerful enough to cause flooding) everyone but police, doctors and firemen stayed home for the day. Businesses where the owners lived upstairs were still open, so you could walk to market. People who ran out of milk or sugar walked to the nearest neighbor and borrowed some. Children used the roadways for sledding, because there were no cars to avoid. My mother made snow-cream in a big bowl from sugar, fresh snow, a little egg white and a few drops of vanilla, and we shared it in front of a toasty fireplace after supper and sang songs by candle-light if the power was out. Normal people didn’t die because they could not get a fuel delivery, or because they had no electricity; people were expected to be able to deal with such things and neighbors helped each other.

    Now, when it snows, enormous filthy trucks scrape the roads and scatter salt so that people can rush to work and create new intellectual property for the sofa-dwelling children to consume with their genetically engineered food pastes. The trucks smash mailboxes and signs that have leaned a little too close to the road and make the roads break down faster so that we can spend more time and money fixing them, but every year there are fewer people employed fixing the roads because we keep automating away the need for simple labor. Nobody knows their neighbors anyway; most of mine, even the children, do not ever leave the house except to get in the car. We know the underpaid illegals who cut the lawns better than we know their employers! My children play together outside in the snow wearing the chest-waders and woolen coats that they own, while the neighbor children (many of whom they have never met) fatten in their spandex and watch Youtube videos of professional sledding through their rented access electrons.

    I think personal and/or communal ownership is a necessary part of a life that is sustainable and satisfying. But perhaps we no longer value sustainability and satisfaction, or perhaps we now find it in self-mutilation and televised wars.

    I’m sorry this post is so long and unfocused. One of the reasons I like BoingBoing is that it seems like a conversation between myself, the site owners, and the other people here – not a totally passive consumption.

    I tried to make snow-cream a few years ago, and it tasted like automobile exhaust and the exudate of coal-fired power plants generating electricity.

  58. I’m afraid this would create a bottleneck in the distribution where any meddling group can censor content. It’s like that already with radio, we get the right wing bluenoses in charge of the FCC and suddenly drug references in 60’s songs are getting bleeped.

    Content owners could pull or modify their stuff at any time, the threat of this would encourage illegal hoarding.

    Without the old VHS tapes how will future generations ever know that Han shot first?

  59. If the article was correct, libraries and movie rental shops would have destroyed the purchase market for books and videos years ago.

    Strangely this hasn’t happened. TV access hasn’t hindered the sales of TV shows on DVD- by contrast, it’s a huge industry. People like owning stuff. I know I do. I’m a big fan of removing useless stuff from your house- I use the 3 year rule (if you haven’t used it in 3 years you likely won’t)- but media is an exception to the rule. If nothing else people come over and see a few hundred CDs a few dozen records, a couple hundred book and the same of DVDs and from reading a few titles know a lot about you.

  60. So who decides what content to make available and for how long? For independent booksellers in particular, such a system can mean only one thing. As I wrote in a recent post on the Changing Hands Bookstore blog:

    http://flapcopy.blogspot.com/

    “For us it’s the same old story: increased traffic to online megastores and the continued homogenization of the national taste — more J.K. Rowling knockoffs, more star-crossed teenage vampires, more adorable dog stories, more novelists lounging on Oprah’s sofa masquerading as memoirists, more Kindle readers, more reader apathy, more devoted readers unwittingly cutting the throat of an industry they would save, if only they knew they were killing it. (Many readers, it seems, are no more concerned about where their books come from than they are where their food comes from, or their running shoes, or the gas they put in their cars on the way to Applebee’s. Just ask the heartbroken booksellers at Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops in Milwaukee, who this week announced that, after 82 years in business, they’re closing all four of their stores.)”

    By the way, it’s authors and booksellers I’m concerned about, not the New York publishing industry.

  61. Enya was pretty much a straw man. I think I have her first album somewhere in my garage. I guess it would be better to say if you have 10 CDs or records or less and one of those is Enya you either need to have a six pack of Louis Ferdinand Celine novels, or give it up on the first date.

  62. @DDERIDEX,

    Your objection makes my point better than I had in the original post. It is precisely the advance of technology that has enabled the “recent” rise of the “ownership model”.

    I may have been a little unclear as to the scale, however, so perhaps I can clarify a bit…I’m speaking in terms of the general American culture and its chain of ancestry. My suggestion is not that these kinds of experiences could not be owned, but rather that over the course of a very few generations, we have made the cultural transition from less personal ownership to more. A few generations ago, the idea of a personal movie collection was unthinkable; now, it’s quite common. Two generations ago, a music collection was rare, now it’s de rigeur.

    Did you really think people didn’t own books, sheet music, paintings, or plays before the dawn of the 20th century?

    Yes, I did (and do), considering the question in terms of cultural norms. Certainly there were people who owned these things, just not in a culturally significant proportion.

    Movies (and plays as an earlier analogue) are easy and obvious — it’s only been a few decades since the very concept of their personal ownership has even existed in terms of general cultural consciousness. Paintings are an odd choice of counterexample, since they have not yet crossed into the realm of personal ownership as the norm — again, this is not to say that people don’t (or didn’t) own paintings, just that the general experience of paintings is more consistently associated with a shared model than personal ownership.

    In both cases, the volume of consumption has historically been enormously weighted towards transient shared experience, and away from personal ownership.

    Admittedly, the personal ownership of books has had a bit more time to work its way into our norms, but even there I’d still wager that per-capita book ownership was significantly lower 50 years ago than it is now, and 100 years sees it shrinking further. Is a book something to be bought or something to be borrowed? Would your parents’ or grandparents’ answer be the same (well, in your specific case, it seems like it would be, but do you suppose that it extrapolates to the country as a whole)?

    Music was performed live, there was no WAY to buy it and take it hope…except by purchasing the sheet music and musical instruments to play it yourself. And, hey, surprise! – people did just that!

    Again, I think you’ve misunderstood the scale of my original comment, or perhaps you’re suggesting that this was the norm? Are you suggesting that personal ownership of music (in terms of sheet music and instruments) was more ubiquitous in 1909 than MP3s and CDs in 2009?

    There is nothing – at all, in ANY way – “new” about the “ownership model”.

    You spent the previous paragraphs describing ways in which something (personal ownership of media related to creative expression) could not have been, but then was enabled by technological advance, and I agree heartily. You then posit that this new set of capabilities and access methods isn’t in any way “new”.

    Thanks in no small part to the progress made in technologies for distribution of these sorts of experiences, we and our children have a significantly greater sense of these experiences as things that can be — and are — “owned” rather than rented, than our parents or grandparents.

    (Indeed, about 1/4 of my wife and I’s personal library are books that are nearly 100 years old from her grandmother’s collection)

    Count yourself extraordinarily lucky. That is a fantastic boon to any family.

  63. I’m with you FF3300: using Spotify and loving it. In fact, I’m typing this listening to Kind of Blue, something I’ve never done before but which was recommended by Michael Leddy at 38 and which ten seconds with Spotify sorted out for me. Beautiful music.
    And yeah, Ito – poetic post.
    Ownership and subscription can coexist though, especially with books.

  64. IsolatedGestalt

    ..the general experience of paintings is more consistently associated with a shared model than personal ownership.

    Actually, like you said to Dderidex, I would question whether your example here supports your claim at all.

    These days, with public galleries and public art, the “shared ownership” model is far more prevalent than in times past when paintings were held in private collections, painted for patrons and hidden away from general consumption.

    Although more people own art these days (as a function of the greater prevalence of art forms) art was far more “owned” then, than it is these days. We can go look at original art works (without owning them) far easier now than we ever could.

  65. @Everybody, thanks.

    Rindan makes some good points. And while I agree that having media stored centrally means it would be easier for malicious institutions to photoshop our collective memory, I also think that said institutions already have a great deal of control over the selection of who gets to do art and journalism, and which art and journalism gets to be distributed. That happens without regard to an access or ownership model of the product. So a democratic and transparent culture might be as or more important than how you get your stuff, if the integrity of collective memory is what worries you.

    I think it’s also a good point that the great majority of the world doesn’t have the technology to make an access model work in any case. And I would add that, for all our happy mutant ideas about scrappy linux-based cell phone users bubbling up in the developing south, the reality is that for much of the human population there simply is no such thing as an available computer, nor is their a swift trend towards that fact changing. That doesn’t make KK right or wrong, but it puts the importance of the argument in some kind of perspective, I think.

    I think what bothers me more than storing the media I consume on somebody else’s cloud is storing the things I *create* there. That’s what people do with flickr and facebook and blogger and the rest. I’m with Danny O’Brien (and Cory apparently) on that one. I’d rather keep my shared media on my own network-facing machine, and backed up physically too, in case the Cloud Owners change their minds about something, or in case the power goes all intermittent once The Change comes. (And y’all know it’s coming. Oh yes.)

  66. @Arkizzle,

    I think that the phrase immediately preceding the quoted portion is pretty explicit in that I don’t consider paintings specifically, or other museum or gallery art generally, to fall under the same general ownership model as most of the others.

    I think we’re talking about two distinct trends, though. I completely agree that for any given nonreproducible (or not easily reproducible) work, it was more likely to have been owned and experienced as an owned object historically than now. I’m not taking the view from the work itself, though, but rather from the populace.

    Consider a commissioned sculpture as an example; it would likely have been privately commissioned, owned, and experienced by a very few, whereas a public sculpture now would be experienced by many more in a shared mode. From the point of view of the work, it is historically owned, but presently shared (if you’ll forgive the vast generalization). From the point of view of the general public, however, the transition is from no experience to a shared experience.

    It is only in the development of easily reproduced works that we see the trend of ownership move into the hands of the general public, and that only over the last few generations. In 1650, extraordinarily few people owned a musical work (or could command it to be performed); in 1850, a much higher, but still small, portion of the populace could claim ownership, thanks to the common printing of sheet music and technologies for making instruments less expensive. Now, ownership of musical works is the norm, not the exception.

  67. Arkizzle – I can send you one but I think it is mainly europe at the moment but hey, maybe you are over this side of the world? You will find my email address via the link to my blog in my bb profile I think.

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