Will we buy media ever again?

As I was stumbling around the internet a few days ago, I came across a very interesting question: Do younger generations who have never paid for music have interest in owning digital content? Are we exiting the age of ownership?

That got me thinking, and I realized that yes, we are exiting the age of media ownership. I bought my first cassette tape when I was 9, “Pretty Hate Machine” by Nine Inch Nails (I promptly hid it from my parents). The first CD I bought was “Master of Puppets” by Metallica (another great choice, I must say). I remember these things because they were important to me at the time. Within ten years, moments like this won’t exist anymore. Music will be streamed on demand via high speed connections, and will cease to exist as a physical medium for all but the most avid fans.

I remember installing Napster in middle school, and being in awe over the immediate wealth of music it allowed me. I didn’t understand how it worked, I just knew that I could instantly listen to whatever music I wanted. I had become spoiled. I began to assume that this is how music should be, that it was a readily available commodity rather than a product I should be paying for. I can’t explain why, but I never felt like I was stealing. I would never take a candy bar from 7-11, but downloading music wasn’t the same at all; I guess I felt like I was doing enough to support the bands by seeing them live. Anyway, when Napster was shut down, I moved on to other private services that satisfied the same need, instant access to whatever music I wanted. I had already exited the age of music ownership. Then along came streaming music services.

Streaming services offered me everything I liked about downloading music, and made me feel like I was giving back to the artists. I started out on Rhapsody, paying $12/month to use a clunky desktop-based application, and then shelled out $35 for a Sansa music player to take my music with me. I was happy with it until I got a smartphone and realized my app options with Rhapsody were limited. I discovered MOG and started paying $10/month to use a web-based system with a good mobile app, and have been happy ever since. One of the few limitations of current streaming music sites is the unavailability of big bands like the Beatles and Led Zeppelin, but that is universal and will change when the number of subscribers goes up and companies can license them. Although I’d gotten used to the convenience of downloading music, I have stopped downloading entirely because paying for streaming music is so much more convenient — it’s available all the time, on any device I want.

Given the convenience of streaming services, I don’t see physical media ownership of any kind within ten years. All digital content will be streamed, and ownership will be irrelevant. Analog connoisseurs will still be able to purchase albums on vinyl, as long as they continue to sell, but for the other 97% of the population, ownership of media will cease. The next generation will likely have no conception of what it was to own an album, and I’m just fine with that.

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