Microsoft killed its books service — are Movies & TV next?

Surface Laptop on desk
Surface Laptop on desk (Image credit: Windows Central)

It wasn't so long ago that Microsoft killed off a major content category in the Microsoft Store, music, causing many to question whether buying content from the Microsoft Store was a wise investment if Microsoft could pull that content at any time. Yesterday, Microsoft did it again, this time with its books service, which arguably wasn't as popular as the music category, but the move provides more reasons to be unsure about the Microsoft Store.

Microsoft has proven that it will pull digital content categories from its storefront without a moment's notice, so should you be worried about your Movies & TV content from the Microsoft Store? Let's think about this logically. The reasons behind Microsoft pulling music and books from its online store is simple: not enough people were using those categories to warrant the money Microsoft was spending to keep those services alive. This is slightly different than books, but we'll get into that in a minute.

Why Microsoft pulled music and books from its Store

If Microsoft wants to sell music on the Microsoft Store, it needs to buy the licenses to sell it. In addition, Microsoft had a music-streaming service, which again, required Microsoft to pay streaming license fees to music companies. For that music to be available, Microsoft must pay licenses for that music up front. This means that if not enough people are subscribing to Microsoft's music service, or buying music in the Microsoft Store, Microsoft is spending more than it's making.

So, it's very likely that because most people are subscribed to Spotify or Apple Music, not enough people were subscribed to Groove Music or buying music in the Microsoft Store. The death of Windows 10 Mobile played a huge hand in the development, as well. But that doesn't explain what happened to books.

Not enough people were using Microsoft's book store; Movies & TV is a different story.

Microsoft's book store is going away because not enough were using it, just like its music offerings, but this time we're coming at it from a completely different perspective. Unlike music, Microsoft doesn't have to pay licenses in advanced to sell books. The author or publishers host the book on the Microsoft Store, and if someone buys it, the author or publishers get most of the revenue and Microsoft takes a small cut. There's very little upkeep in hosting books in the Microsoft Store.

So, the reason books are going away is more from a technical standpoint. For those unaware, Microsoft's book store was tied heavily to Microsoft Edge, in fact, the book reader on Windows 10 was the Edge browser. But Microsoft Edge is changing and moving over to Chromium, which means Edge is being rebuilt from the ground up as a new browser. Because of this, Microsoft is required to rebuild all of Edge's unique features to be compatible with the new Chromium version of Edge.

As you can imagine, rebuilding features takes a lot of resources. So with the move to Chromium, Microsoft is looking closely at all the features Edge users use today and weighing the ones that are most popular to bring over the Chromium. The features that are less popular are much less likely to be ported over. With that in mind, it's likely that since so few people were buying books from the Microsoft Store and reading them in Edge, it's not worth rebuilding that support into the new Edge browser. Without an app to read books, there's no point selling them in your store.

Will Movies & TV suffer the same fate?

When it comes to Movies & TV, what's stopping Microsoft from pulling this category as well? We can't know for certain, but I'm betting the reason Movies & TV is still around today is largely because of Xbox. Unlike music and books, which are primarily enjoyed on mobile devices, movies and TV are enjoyed more on TVs and tablets. Of course, there are people who watch movies on their phones, but it's likely more people are willing to watch long-form content on a bigger screen.

With that in mind, I'd bet Xbox is the primary reason Movies & TV is still available in the Microsoft Store. Users on Xbox can buy movies and watch them right on the big screen. They can even watch them on their Windows 10 PCs and tablets. Admittedly, this service would make much more sense if it had iOS and Android apps to go with it. But it doesn't.

I can't imagine many people are buying movie and TV content from the Microsoft Store on their PCs, so the bulk of this category must be hanging on Xbox. Of course, Microsoft could pull this category at any time, but it would leave Xbox without a native platform to buy movies. Unlike music, which is usually made available on streaming services around the same time it's released to buy, movies can take months to show up on streaming services like Netflix. Of course, Amazon is another movie and TV marketplace, but it doesn't come with the Xbox by default, the Microsoft Store does.

Xbox might be movies & TV's key to survival.

So, if you're an Xbox user and you want to watch the latest movies, it's likely those new movies will only be available in the Microsoft Store for months before it shows up on Netflix. This is why I have a collection in the Microsoft Store, because many of the movies I want to watch aren't available on streaming services yet. I bet a lot of other people are the same.

I can't say for sure that Microsoft isn't going to pull the Movies & TV content from the Microsoft Store, but I can at least outline reasons for why they might not. I am not defending Microsoft, the company shouldn't venture into content categories it isn't willing to stick with. Even with Microsoft offering refunds, it's just a waste of users' time and trust.

There's also Movies Anywhere, a service that lets you store all your digital movies in the cloud, and access them across different devices and services. If Movies & TV were to ever go away, some of your content would be safe if you have a Movies Anywhere account. (There are some licensing restrictions on what is available on which service.) Unfortunately, Movies Anywhere is U.S. only, so those outside the U.S. would be out of luck. It also doesn't support TV content, only movies.

Microsoft, if you're listening, a public statement reaffirming your commitment to Movies & TV in the Microsoft Store would go a long way right now. Perhaps explain why these other content categories are going away, and why Movies & TV content is safe to buy. Your silence is deafening. And you're going to lose customers, and customer faith, if you don't say something.

Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter and Threads