When you "buy" a movie on, say, Amazon Prime, as I have done many times, you don't really own it in the same way that you own a DVD of said movie. What you own is a license to go to Amazon's site and access the movie. This feels like ownership for only as long as Amazon.com exists, which I suppose is fine if we think of Amazon as "too big to fail," to misuse a term from almost a decade ago.
But consider Barnes and Noble, a company that, for a while at least, fancied itself Amazon's rival. In case you missed it, Barnes and Noble is now closing down its international Nook store. (The Nook is the B&N equivalent of Amazon's Kindle e-reader.) Imagine you're a Nook user, and you've spent the past few years amassing a large library of e-books that can only be read on a Nook. Now, unless B&N sells its platform to someone else, you're basically fucked. Here's how the above-linked article lays it out:
With Nook revenues having fallen to half that of the previous fiscal year ($264 million) and expected to continue declining (authors are already reporting that the malfunctioning website has killed their sales) the odds are very good that B&N is going to throw in the towel on their ebook money pit.
Should that happen, the only question will be whether they will sell the Nook platform or simply shutter their ebook operation.
If Nook users are lucky, B&N will find a buyer. Kobo, for example, could take over the customer accounts just like they did when Sony pulled out of the ebook market last year.
But B&N could still simply close the Nook Store, and there is a chance that incoming B&N CEO Ron Boire might pull a rabbit out of his hat and save the Nook.
"Might pull a rabbit out of his hat." If B&N shuts the Nook arm of its operations down and eventually dismantles the facilities where e-book data are stored, all those books (and videos, etc.) that you thought you "owned" will basically go... poof.
This turn of events has caused me to seriously rethink my current bad habit of buying movies off Amazon Prime and purchasing e-books instead of dead-tree books. Dead trees are actually an amazing storage medium, when you think about it: they can retain data for centuries with very little degradation (the pages might yellow, but the words and images remain clear), and when it comes to books, the only skill you need in order to access data is the ability to read. Despite my current e-bookish spending habits, I'm old-school at heart, so I'm partial to the heft and fragrance of dead-tree books. I may be part of the last generation to feel this way.
"Ah," you say in your wise-sage voice, "But e-books and videos are two different animals! You, with your Kindle, will never lose the books you've already bought because they're stored on your device, not on Amazon's servers—unlike Amazon Prime videos, which require the internet for access." My reply: true enough for me as a Kindle-app user; by extension, a Nook user might be able to keep his current library of e-books, but he's still screwed if he wants to purchase more books or get customer service for the 'brary he has (e-libraries can deteriorate, after all, and the e-reader itself can develop bugs or otherwise go wonky).
All in all, it's not looking good if you're a Nook owner. Such are the perils of e-ownership: it's not really ownership at all—not in any tangible sense. Dead trees, by contrast, will never let you down.
ADDENDUM: this BBC article says the following:
Many British Nook owners received the news on World Book Day.
The UK versions of the online book shop, Android app and store accessed via Nook devices will all close.
Barnes & Noble said it is teaming up with supermarket giant Sainsbury's to ensure that customers can still access content they have already paid for.
"We thank you for your patronage and are working closely with Sainsbury's to make this transition as smooth as possible," it said in a statement to customers.
Customers must take action by the end of May in order to retain purchased content, it added, with instructions to follow by email.
Why customers should have to "take action" at all, if they truly own their wares, is a mystery.