Open Question: Digital Ownership vs. Digital Subscriptions

Two tips in Dear Author’s recent post “10 Things Epublishers Should Do for Readers” caught my attention:

1. Eternal Bookshelf. An eternal bookshelf means that every purchase you have bought can be downloaded at any time. Most of the larger etailers have this feature but not all.

2. Mass Downloads. Along with the eternal bookshelf should be the ability to re-download all of your books. This is necessary in the case of a computer crash or some other computer related malfunction.

The focus on ownership is interesting, particularly since the concept of “owning” a digital file is inherently quirky. You can purchase and download books, music, TV shows, movies and software, but the tangible qualities of ownership don’t apply in the digital realm. You don’t categorize your digital movie collection on a DVD shelf and you don’t thumb through a just-purchased ebook.

There’s a weird dichotomy at play here. Many people (myself included) have come to terms with the ambiguous aspects of digital purchases, but a significant portion (again, myself included) gravitate toward digital ownership over digital subscriptions (e.g. the iTunes model vs. the Rhapsody model). The only clear difference between these models is access: purchased files are accessed from your local storage, subscriptions are accessed from a company’s servers. But if your chosen material is available through your chosen device at your chosen time, does ownership really matter?

I’m interested in hearing how members of the TOC Community view the differences between ownership and subscriptions. Here’s a few questions toward that end:

  • Do you purchase digital content and store it on your own devices?
  • Do you expect retailers to allow you to download additional copies of your purchased content?
  • Do you subscribe to digital content?
  • What would it take for you to switch from ownership to subscription?

Please share your thoughts in the comments area.

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