The launch of Amazon’s new “lending library” feature through its Kindle devices this week means that another form of content or media — namely books — is becoming something that we rent or stream, Netflix-style, rather than owning a physical copy of. There are plenty of reasons to prefer renting or streaming over actual physical goods: It’s often cheaper, and you don’t have to lug around heavy books or CDs or DVDs everywhere, since your content is (theoretically at least) available anywhere. But there are also downsides to renting content; moving to a rental model changes our relationship to that content, and not always in a good way.
Like many services that are enabled by always-on connectivity, rental or streaming of content such as books, movies and music has a lot of potential benefits: It can save money and be more convenient, and it can free us from having to worry about where the content is. But at the same time, it also removes certain rights and abilities that we’ve grown used to — just as renting a home instead of owning does — and that is something we are all going to have to learn more about as the world becomes increasingly digital.