Rethinking ownershipThe death of possession
by Rozzyn Boy
It’s no secret that the paradigm shift from physical to digital has left an indelible mark on society at large. But just how drastically our consciousness has been altered is only now becoming apparent.
Every industry on earth has felt the inexorable advances of the digital age. What started as an opportunity to take advantage of a new media format has rapidly resulted in the extinction of some of our most fundamental world views, most notably that of ownership.
Stretching back to a time now almost immemorial, the right to ownership has been closely tied to the physical possession of a given item, a relatively straightforward argument until recently. For the first time, we are forced to question what it means to own something. What right does one have to an item that is practically intangible? How can one be accused of theft when the original item is still in in its owner’s possession?
To put it simply, our world view is too often a byproduct of our physical universe. When these parameters change, our first instinct is to rely on conventional methods that we’ve learnt to trust.
Take music for example. The compact disk (CD) format was introduced as a means of physically containing an intangible product that was otherwise all too easy to duplicate. When the means to write CDs became commercially viable, increasingly complicated versions of CD-writing technology were devised in an effort to safeguard their contents. When this failed, laws were implemented in an attempt to intimidate the public from acquiring or using music illegally, reinforced by heavy-handed ad campaigns likening piracy to violent crime.
It was not realized until now that each of these methods had been created to treat the symptoms instead of the problem, that to halt the spread of “illegal” digital media was near impossible, but to make it unnecessary to do so was entirely within scope. You see, the impetus for piracy was never the desire to actually possess media but simply to have access to it in a convenient and cost effective way.
The recognition that digital technology could allow for an alternative model of monetization for content like music, books and video has created an opening for mobile operators, especially in markets that major digital businesses have so far overlooked. Other opportunities involve partnerships with established digital content suppliers.
Mobile operators have a particularly interesting role to play in such partnerships, as aggregators of digital content. Take one example, Kyivstar, VimpelCom’s Ukrainian operating company, which had 10 million customers for its various digital multimedia services involving music, books and games even before the introduction of 3G. Network operators can also steer customers to specific services, as our local business Wind in Italy, is doing with a Napster digital music service package that involves a preferential rate for data used for audio streaming.
From a customer perspective, not having to physically possess content in order to use it is very liberating – as evidenced by the take-up for services such as Spotify, Apple Music and Napster, and the popularity of the Amazon Kindle. For VimpelCom, a key area of opportunity will be to develop local services and partnerships that deliver the benefits of access to great content without the costs or trouble of possession.
What do you think could be the next great product or service to be digitized?
And how do you think digital services change form when they move from the developed world to the developing world?