Why do people own things?

A loyal MR reader asks:

This is related to a recent post and something I’ve been thinking about a lot as I pack up my house to move: Why do we buy books and videos?  Doesn’t it make much more sense to outsource their storage to libraries and video stores or services like Netflix?

I have an intrinsic desire to collect and flood my house with nuggets of joy (not Natasha’s phrase), but that doesn’t explain everyone.  Often people own books and DVDs for reasons of identity and self-expression; that is why iTunes outcompeted Rhapsody, even though the latter in some ways offered a better deal.  Ownership, especially of the non-digital kind, also allows you to lend out, to send to friends, and to show off.  The ownership puzzle is related to the "why do we buy mostly new music" puzzle.

It makes the most sense to own songs and CDs, if only because the desire to hear them is more spontaneous, and renting them is harder.  The costs of renting are falling, but the costs of personal storage are falling too, as houses become larger.  The mail isn’t getting much quicker, but the demand for immediacy is growing.  Ownership remains robust.

#3 in a series of 50.


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