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Brett Nordquist (Customer Experience Engineer)

Ownership is Dead

Written on September 1, 2013 by Brett Nordquist

During my teens, when music was at an apex of importance in my life, I stumbled across two large boxes full of albums in the back of my closet. Of course I was curious and began shuffling through them. Most album covers were in good shape, while others had seen better days. Their design and colors drew me in to the point I had to inspect each one.

It didn’t take long to realize that I’d discovered my father’s album stash. It was his playlist before the playlist had been invented. I began flipping through the boxes to see if I recognized any of the bands. Fleetwood Mac and the Beatles were well represented as was Three Dog Night, you know, the one with Out in the Country.

But most of the albums came from bands I’d never heard of before. I kept flipping through them until I got to the final few, and then I saw it. The Doors eponymous first album, often regarded as their finest achievement and one of the best classic rock albums of all time. My father must have stashed it near the back, hoping my mother wouldn’t find it because she thought Jim Morrison was disgusting.

Looking through those albums gave me insight into a side of my father that was new to me. If music provided a way a connecting generations this was one such example. I was just beginning to listen to rock and roll, and didn’t particularly like the Doors. But I enjoyed a lot of music from that period, and learning that my father’s taste in music didn’t deviate far from my own, made him a bit more approachable.

It’s hard to imagine a similar scenario playing out today between me and my son given the degree to which the music landscape has changed.

Albums gave way to cassette tapes and then to CDs which have been in decline for several years now. Gone are the creative album covers and sleeves often covered in lyrics. The trips to the music store to thumb through section after section, in search of something new are history. Even the scent of a newly opened album is a distant memory.

The physical media has given way to the digital. Sharing music today requires little more than linking a friend to Spotify or YouTube. It’s not unlike SPAM; it’s almost too easy to do. The friction is gone, replaced by a shared video on my Facebook wall demanding I listen to the latest American Idol flavor of the month.

While in high school, a friend showed up at my locker, placed two albums in my hands, and beckoned me to listen to them from start to finish. That night I went home and listened to both sides of “The Wall” and “Dark Side of the Moon”.  If my friend was willing to give up two of his favorite albums for a week, I had to give them a try. Of course, I was hooked.

Having a huge swath of all recorded music just a Spotify search away is mind numbing. For a few bucks each month, I’m able to sample music from every possible genre, not just classic rock. That’s worth something. But it’s almost too much. Like trying to drink from a fire hose.

I’m afraid ownership is dead. Blockbuster was decimated by Netflix and music stores all but gone, unless you count the few rows of Top 40 CDs you’ll find at Walmart or Best Buy. The idea of buying a DVD feels as out of fashion as creating a mixtape for your girlfriend.  I was in denial initially, telling myself the Pixar and Disney films were too good not to own. But the frustration of those unskippable FBI warnings and trailers and cases that are designed to encourage my children to break the disk upon removal were enough for me to kiss DVD ownership goodbye.

Software is following a similar trend with companies like Salesforce and 37 Signals touting the advantages of software rental. Gaming isn’t immune to the trend either with a number of companies like Gamefly and Gamerang offering games on DVD or download for rent. The days of spending 15 minutes to patch your game could be over soon. Hallelujah!

Even Adobe is betting that you’ll forgo ownership of their most popular applications, such as Photoshop, in exchange for access to the latest versions tucked into their private cloud. Pony up the monthly fee and you get it all. Of course, Adobe wins as well with a more predictable revenue model and significant decrease in pirated products.

That brings us back to music where nostalgia is losing out to convenience . And convenience means letting someone else manage your collection of music, video, and software. You don’t have to like it. A few hard-core album hipsters appear to be enough to keep a handful of record stores around. But it’s not a winnable battle. Digital subscriptions are here to stay and ownership is dead. 

This is, unless you're lucky enough to stumble upon someone's music stash. 

Tags: Music, Spotify, Netflix
Raymond Ellis

You know the title is a bit miss leading. (Puget systems does sell hardware after all)

My first thoughts when reading the title was, "What hardware is licensed now!?!"
Thinking that if I bought something new I could no longer mod it. (case/etc..)

I am still waiting for the day that music services can actually find similar music based on the Sound not based on genre/artist/region/etc..

Posted on 2013-09-02 07:09:19

Well, although you can rent CPU cycles (and a lot more) from Amazon today, I was referring primarily to ownership of media that's migrating to digital instead of physical ownership. I've tried nearly every musical service available in the US, and the best one for music discovery has been Slacker. I prefer it to Pandora.

Posted on 2013-09-02 08:50:26
Raymond Ellis

That's why I thought the title was miss leading. 'Ownership is Dead - Puget Custom Computers'.
At first glance it looks like it could be about hardware.

Just looked at Slacker. Looks nice. (algorithms seem to be based on artist though)

Posted on 2013-09-02 10:40:10

I believe Slacker playlists are curated by a human which might explain it does such a good job over the others. Pandora seemed to focus on music I liked but already heard where Slacker helped me discover songs I liked but had never heard, if that makes sense.

Posted on 2013-09-02 17:57:11
Daniel Brown

Personally, I'll keep my ownership until I'm able to get all the artists I want for a reasonable price. Spotify and even iTunes still have pretty big gaps in their catalogue. I think the best way to go today is Murfie. They let you own your albums, plus you get lossless downloads and online streaming. Plus you can often buy albums for even less than you'd pay Amazon's third-party sellers for shipping an album. Ten dollars for a license to play a lossy digital album you'll never be able to resell is generally not worth it IMO.


Posted on 2013-09-02 20:43:47

Murfie is a very interesting idea that has remained a cool but niche service. One weakness is that it assume people will continue to purchase CDs which are declining each year. In fact, I have kids that love music and they don't own a single CD. I don't recall the last time I've purchased a CD either. Maybe someone will buy Murfie, but I don't see it ever being anything more than a cool, but niche service.

Posted on 2013-09-02 23:38:09

How well the sharing services feel the need depends on how closely you listen and how good your hi-fi is. Just as some want the best PC, some of us want the best music and sound, and that surely doesn't come from mp3s, no matter whether you rent them or buy them. For background music or listening in the car or gym, they are great. But for enthusiasts who sit down and LISTEN to music, there is no substitute for the original, or a losslessly compressed flac file. I do imagine that, if the public demands it, sharing services could offer better-resolution music within a few years.

Posted on 2013-09-02 22:40:08

Of course I meant "fill the need," not "feel the need."

Posted on 2013-09-02 22:41:19

Sure, there are still many who demand quality, only listen to lossless, and purchase high-end speakers and quality headphones. But all those white headphones tell me that most people just don't care or they consider mp3s and streaming at 160 kbit/s is good enough.

Also, Spotify does offer 320 kbit/s streaming to its Premium members. I see a day where sound quality isn't a barrier, even for those discerning listener. Kids today want to listen to their music instead of spending time ripping CDs, editing ID3 tags and organizing their music.

Posted on 2013-09-02 23:42:51

I want that, too! But I'm not ready to settle, not even for 320k (which to me sounds great on an iPod or car stereo, but a little lifeless on my main system).

Ripping 2,000 CDs has eaten up far too much time. Pop music goes fast, as does most jazz, but classical music takes forever, as downloaded tags are often broken.

When I can get lossless over the net at a reasonable price, I'm signing on! Still, I imagine some treasured performances will never make it onto the services. Interesting to think about what that means . . . will only the most popular survive? Hmmm.....

Posted on 2013-09-03 04:59:25
Dave Nordquist

Oh how I loved those old albums. Brett's Father here!

Posted on 2013-09-03 03:36:25
Angel Stewart

I think this is something that users need to start rejecting. There needs to be legislation passed either at a global ITU level or at government levels that protect the rights of consumers.

When these companies go out of business, users need to be allowed to download and store their data in an unencrypted format.

We have accepted the notion of "licensing" software for too long, and it is the only business model that can survive such a practice. "Selling" a license to use a product at full cost and then placing severe restrictions on how the user can use that product.

That model has now been transferred through technology to the content we purchase, to be consumed on the hardware devices we purchase. There are restrictions based on your geography, based on the devices you own, and based on the level of service you pay for. But when you really do the math, for what we are paying *we* should be in control of our content.

We purchase the subscriptions, the music files, AND the devices. How long before we don't even own our cellphones, and just have a license to use them that can be revoked by Apple/Samsung? It's something that is totally anti-consumer. It's an established fact that in all but the rarest of cases the average person pays a lot more via a subscription model. That's why Adobe shifted from selling boxes, to selling subscriptions. (and then still attempted to vary the cost of this virtual subscription depending on where you lived. )

Posted on 2013-09-03 13:34:33

There are many advantages to the Adobe's subscription model too. I no longer have to shell out $2500 for Creative Suite up front, nor do I have to spend time patching and upgrading each time a new version is released. If I only need Photoshop for 6 months, I pay for 6 months and get the latest version. But this allows Adobe to service their best customers and it helps them decrease piracy to near zero. This is where we the marketing is moving.

Posted on 2013-09-03 13:53:50
Angel Stewart

Actually, it does not decrease piracy, and that was never the intention in my view. The day after it was released, it was pirated and the DRM was stripped. The Pirates can still get their software to own. If they were interested in reducing piracy, they would reduce the boxed cost and not mark it up to the point where it was cheaper to fly from Australia to the US and back than to purchase in a store in Australia ;-D

What it does is for the majority of users who need the Adobe products yearly, it increased their cost of ownership. Many people did not upgrade every cycle, and for those persons the cost of ownership went up with the subscription model. http://tech.slashdot.org/st...

The whole idea of the cloud for businesses is not to save the consumer money, or to add value to the consumer. It is to sidestep commonly held best practice and long established consumer rights through technology and to boost their profits as a result.

What happens to the thousands of dollars that you spent on Creative Cloud if Adobe decides to discontinue the service? What protections and assurances do you think you have that prevents them from doing so or protects your purchase when they do?

Did you think they would ever have stopped selling boxes?

These are the questions that users need answered, and which should be placed in the service agreements.

The Cloud can be convenient, but cost effective and safe right now? I don't think so.

And a lack of ownership of the items we purchase is, in my view, not a good thing for the consumer at all. It also is not necessary to provide these services and to add value.

I would like to see us move toward a model where consumers own DRM free versions of their software, music, video and all other content. You purchase it, you own it. Something goes wrong with the company that sold it to you, you still own it and you can still use it.

Posted on 2013-09-03 14:09:39

So you see no advantages for consumers when products like Adobe move to a subscription model? It absolutely cuts down on casual piracy and makes it a lot more affordable to those who can't afford the large up-front costs. There are problems but this is where the market is headed. Adobe just happens to be a company that creates software millions of customers rely on each day to do their job. It reminds me of Valve adding strict DRM to Half Live 2 because they knew enough gamers would be willing to put up with it. Adobe is in that same position of power. Even Microsoft wants to move away from 3-5 year upgrades and eventually "rent" you their latest version of Windows for an annual fee. Hopefully by then, many of the kinks you mentioned will be worked out.

Posted on 2013-09-03 21:00:56

I prefer to spend my weekends organizing B-sides that I have never heard. #ownershiprules

Posted on 2013-09-04 00:17:09
Lara Graham

I still buy DVDs and I still love getting "mixtapes" (okay, CDs) from my husband.

Posted on 2013-11-23 01:49:59

Ownership being dead isn't the worst thing. Ownership has implied responsibility associated with it. You have to realize that people who lease cars aren't stupid, they have a practical reason behind the choice. They may not have a lifestyle where in they want to deal with certain hassles associated with true ownership, so they pay for that convenience. If there was a car brand that you could only access by leasing, but it was the safest, most reliable, eco friendly car in the world with great features, and you could afford to lease it, you would if you value those things, more than "owning" your car. You will pay for the experience of the car. In the same way Apple users pay a higher price for a "better experience" while doing the same things, or less things than a PC or Android user.

Posted on 2014-01-31 18:53:57