Downloads Don’t Do Social

Social media seems to be the current trend, with websites whose sole purpose is to allow us to connect with other people and share everything and anything.  Practically all online environments offer ways to link into these platforms via little ‘tweet this,’ ‘share this’ and ‘like’ buttons so you can tell all your friends/followers/random people about it.

This isn’t new though, people have been sharing things in the offline world for a long time.  I’m thinking specifically about entertainment media: books, DVDs, CDs and the like.

How often have you borrowed something from a friend or loaned something to someone because you thought it was great and wanted them to see it?  How will you do it when you buy all your media electronically and it’s wrapped in DRM?  The media conglomerates don’t want to make it possible for you to copy it, so focused they’re likely to miss out on an area of marketing they have almost no control over and no sight of, but is the most powerful: personal recommendation.  Lending goes hand-in-hand with word-of-mouth.

There are possible ways to solve this.  Making your content available for others (some sort of media server that has your details on it, for example) via a hosted service or your own server is one possibility.  Guest accounts for your content might be another (iTunes allows you to authorise a certain number of computers, for example.  Extend this so you can authorise an unlimited number of computers but for a limited time, say seven days).  Whatever system we decide needs to be universal (so you don’t have to sign up for umpteen schemes), flexible (to allow different access durations based on content type, you need longer to read a book than watch a film) and be easy to administer.

Assuming you solve the issue of lending, what about the second-hand market?  At the moment you can buy a book, DVD or CD and sell it on at any time without providing money back to the original copyright holders (which must drive the corporates nuts).  You won’t be able to do that with electronic copies (at least not with the current version).

I’ve touched on this before, with regards to textbooks, where much of the initial cost can be recouped after the course by selling on your copies, and likewise people can save money by buying used versions (I run a second-hand book site don’t forget).  Not so with electronic copies though, not as it stands, unless the DRM is changed to allow some sort of ownership change, allowing only one copy to be sold on (maybe each copy is digitally signed to you and a central database stores the owner’s details and allows one transfer, but not multiple).

Media publishers probably don’t care about these issues, or at least don’t think of them as a big enough problem to address now.  For consumers, however, it spells a massive change in the way we buy, use, consume and share media.


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