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Do I really own it?

Watch Rebecca Watkins discuss how the ownership and control of digital assets will impact the future of our photos, networking profiles and avatars.
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LISA HARRIS: OK, so, I’m here with Rebecca. And we’re going to be talking about a subject that’s probably new to many of you, and that is digital assets. So, Rebecca, perhaps we could start by telling us, what are digital assets.
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REBECCA WATKINS: So, often when people say the term, digital marketing, the first thing you think of is promoting or distributing goods through digital channels. So people will think straightaway of any commerce, platform, or of running a social media campaign. But actually what we’re increasingly seeing is these huge markets for goods that have only ever existed, and only ever will exist, in digital form, so things like ebooks, digital music, digital films. But then there’s a whole other range of things that we might consider digital goods, so, social networking profiles, blogs, email accounts, content within video games, within apps. So we see consumers increasingly accumulating all of this digital content or digital stuff.
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And so we need to kind of have a better understanding of what this means to people, how they relate to it.
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LISA HARRIS: Well, that’s certainly quite overwhelming. So who are the companies involved in this then? Who are the big players?
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REBECCA WATKINS: The thing is with digital goods, it’s because it’s such a broad term and there’s, as I said, there’s kind of such a broad array of things that we might consider a digital good. It’s hard to really estimate the size of the market. But to give you an indication, there are a couple of figures. ITunes sold 25 billion MP3 files to date. Also it’s been estimated that Amazon sells 300 million ebooks every year. So it’s this huge, quantities. Access based models are increasing popular. So Spotify had their subscriber base, well, their base if paying subscribers, had doubled to 10 million in May. So that’s a really rapidly growing market, companies like Spotify and Netflix.
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LISA HARRIS: OK. So how does your research fit into all of this?
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REBECCA WATKINS: So my recent is looking at how people actually relate to this content once they’ve acquired it or created it. So there was some objects which people see purely as being functional, they’ve got quite a transient relationship with it. If they lose it, it’s not the end of the world. But at the same time, there are objects which people describe as being really meaningful. Perhaps they’ve got sentimental value, perhaps they’ve got autobiographical value. They remind us of our past or who we used to be. So they’re kind of things that we reflect on.
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So a really good example of that from my research which looked at video gamers, is one person who described her avatar in World of Warcraft as her baby. And said she actually had nightmares about somebody hacking her account and deleting her avatar. So this was really important to her. And it emerged that the reason why this avatar was so treasured was because over the many years she’d been playing World of Warcraft, it had become associated with so many memories that it was completely irreplaceable. In particular, she’d actually come out to her friends in the game in World of Warcraft before she’d actually told her friends and family offline.
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So for her, this avatar was kind of a key, played a key role in a very pivotal moment in her life. And it’s completely irreplaceable for her, which explains why she was so worried about losing it.
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LISA HARRIS: Well, gosh, that’s really quite an extreme example, isn’t it? But more generally, what do you think are the benefits to consumers of this type of activity?
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REBECCA WATKINS: So, one of the main benefits is that we can form very liquid relationships with digital possessions that perhaps we couldn’t with material goods that we had to buy and own.
Rebecca Watkins introduces her PhD research which examines the ownership and control of digital assets.
Since this interview was recorded, Rebecca has been awarded her PhD from the University of Southampton. She is now a Lecturer in Marketing and Strategy at Cardiff University Business School.
What does this mean for the future of our photos, music, e-books, social networking profiles, or the avatars we might have created for computer games?
Our digital assets such as music collections are very cheap and convenient but do they really belong to us? What may happen to them in the future?
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Digital Marketing: Challenges and Insights

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