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Cover Story

Rent or own? The new sharing economy values access over ownership

To rent or own, that is the question posed by the burgeoning sharing economy. For a growing population engaged in this high-tech, low-cost 'collaborative economy,' access to cars, clothes, cuisine – or even a cat –  is better than ownership.

By Eilene ZimmermanCorrespondent / September 30, 2012

The new sharing economy, which values access over ownership, is a high-tech, low-cost lifestyle for a growing number of Americans. Their story is the subject of the Oct. 1, 2012 CSMonitor Weekly magazine cover story.



San Diego

Lisa Gansky likes to share, and usually with strangers. A typical day for her looks something like this:

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•She leaves her house in Napa, Calif., at 7:30 a.m. and drives to the ferry, parks her Mini Cooper, and takes the 60-minute ride across the bay to San Francisco.

•If it's raining, she'll pull up the RelayRides application on her iPhone and see if someone nearby has a car she can rent to get around that day, usually for less than $10 an hour. If there's nothing available, she'll open the mobile app for Uber and book a ride with a nearby town car sitting idle, waiting for a customer.

•Fifteen minutes later she's at her office, a co-working – or shared – space known as the Hatchery, which is open to those in the social innovation industry. There, Ms. Gansky manages Mesh Labs, an incubator she founded focused on "sharing economy" companies and, a global share-economy business community and directory.

•At the Hatchery she pays about $100 a month for access to a desk, quiet spaces, meeting rooms, drinks, and Wi-Fi. There, she meets with her team – two full-timers and colleagues that include investors, new start-up founders, and friends – but also with others who share the same space. Those working there also share knowledge, feedback, connections, and problem-solving ideas.

•If Gansky wants to meet a friend for lunch and the restaurant is too far to walk to, she'll open up the app for SideCar and search for someone driving his or her car – with an empty seat – in the same direction she's going, and coordinate with that person for pickup.

Welcome to the sharing economy – also known as the collaborative economy or the access economy – where tangible things are shared, like power tools or kids' toys, as well as intangibles like space, time, car rides, and knowledge.

At a time when many feel a kind of cyber isolation from so much interaction on social networks, the idea of community and connection through sharing seems both retro and revolutionary.

It's also quite marketable. Research consulting firm Frost & Sullivan projects that car-­sharing revenues alone in North America will be $3.3 billion by 2016. The number of car-sharing members in North America is expected to reach 9 million by 2020, according to a forthcoming Frost & Sullivan study, written by industry analyst Ratika Garg.

Investors have shown interest, too. In February, international car-sharing service Zipcar led a $13.7 million investment in Wheelz, a peer-to-peer version of Zipcar (which owns all its vehicles) that is based on college campuses and matches car owners with would-be borrowers. In August, Getaround, another peer-to-peer car-sharing service, closed a $13.9 million round of financing led by Silicon Valley's Menlo Ventures.


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