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.
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Gansky is one of the movement's biggest evangelists. She is author of "The Mesh," a book about the sharing economy. The movement's mantras are "access over ownership" and "value unused is waste," and this rapidly growing economy-within-an-economy represents a shift in cultural consciousness, toward valuing experiences rather than goods.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures The Sharing Economy
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Gansky and other sharing-economy gurus like Neal Gorenflo, publisher of the website Shareable.net and coeditor of the anthology "Share or Die," say the rise of the sharing economy is partly a reaction to the gluttonous overconsumption of the late 1990s and early 2000s, which led to a bad McMansion hangover in the United States and one of the worst global recessions in modern history. But it wouldn't have been possible without recent advances in mobile technology and the spread of tablets and smart phones.
Gansky also credits its acceleration to demographics – more Americans are moving to urban areas, where sharing becomes easier because there are more people in one place. Sharing-economy companies began appearing about four years ago, and since then they have been spreading through various parts of the economy and among a variety of demographic sectors.
In fact, Gansky says, the collaborative economy has hit an inflection point where sharing is more convenient and less costly than ownership: "That means accessing goods, services, and talent is – and will continue to be – very compelling for businesses and individuals. Last century, ownership was thriving. I believe that is on the wane. We are seeing evidence of that in how quickly these services are being created, funded, supported, and copied – all over the world."
Sharing-economy businesses range from a corporate model, where a corporation owns the item being shared – like Zipcar, Netflix, and sports clubs – to the peer-to-peer model, which includes businesses like Airbnb and RelayRides, for sharing accommodations and cars, respectively.
The third category includes companies with a much looser definition of what constitutes a transaction. For example, there is CouchSurfing, where no money changes hands and travelers are given access to a local host's spare bedroom or a couch, plus their local host's companionship and knowledge; or Trade School, a network of barter-for-knowledge schools, where teachers propose classes and barter, instead of charging money.
Access versus ownership
The trend toward having access rather than owning – be it couch, lathe, or hammock – started with cars. Zipcar is usually cited as the first example of an American company founded on the sharing model. It now has more than 730,000 members and 11,000 vehicles in urban markets in the US, Canada, and England. The $300 million company charges $60 annually for its "Occasional Driving Plan" and there's a one-time $25 application fee. Reservation rates vary depending on location, day of the week, and the type of vehicle reserved. In Boston, for example, reservation rates start at $8 an hour and $73 a day, while in San Francisco, it's $8 per hour and $78 a day.
Car sharing is the gateway to the sharing economy, says Mr. Gorenflo: "Automobile ownership is a linchpin of the consumer economy. I think once we change our relationship to cars, we change our relationship to everything. People can get their head around car sharing. When you try it and it works out for you, you're like, 'What else can I share?' "