Apple (News - Alert) and Amazon—and a host of other content providers—have a growing problem. People aren't buying media any more. It's not that people aren't consuming any more, but that urge to own is starting to fall off. Rather, people want to rent media more often, and that's leaving many companies scrambling to catch up.
While some predicted that Netflix would be the death of the video rental store, the end of renting media was far from over. The numbers spell it out: growth at Amazon is slowing, with North American media sales growing just five percent over the same time the previous year. That actually represents the lowest growth rate in the last five years, according to BGC Financial analyst Colin Gillis.
Part of the blame lies with Amazon's own complicity in making streaming media easier, and it's easy to see why developing a library at home doesn't make much sense against having access to a massive cloud-based library.
It's reached the point where New York Times Magazine's Dan Brooks despairs over the loss of the record collection and the ability to find new people based on common tastes in music. If it's reached the point where the culture is beginning to bemoan the loss, it's safe to say that the businesses that offer such services are likewise feeling the loss in the pocketbook.
While online services have made it vastly easier—though still not really easy—to develop a following, those services have also meant drops in sales, which makes it a little tougher to get those acts paid, and artists can't live on the love of art alone. But physical libraries are tough to maintain. Just finding the room can sometimes be difficult, no matter what media is involved. Throw in the damage physical media can suffer and the difficulty—physical and legal—of making backup copies, and the idea of a rented library looks far more inviting. But even this comes with costs—bandwidth, storage and so on—that make it pricey to even maintain that online cloud library. Some have suggested digital advertising as a means to fill in the gaps, but consumers have already registered an opinion about ads with routine use of tools for time skipping, ad blocking, and more.
Some might say we're all just a little too focused on profit, and that there's more to life than the bottom line, like art. But as long as artists don't get free food and free shelter, profit will always be a part of the equation. The increased drive to rent rather than buy makes a lot of practical sense for the consumer, but it may be killing art vendors like Apple and Amazon. Not to mention the impact it may ultimately have on art itself.