Owning access – collaborative consumption

Martin Thörnkvist is a media market analyst at Media Evolution and runs the music company Songs I Wish I Had Written. The text is taken from our publication “Access over ownership”, about the trend of wanting access to things instead of owning them.

In the last couple of centuries, we have increasingly accumulated our own tools, household goods and media in our homes. Most of us own a drill and, until very recently, we bought music and film pressed on plastic discs.

Something is changing. We humans are changing our behaviour. Not because we think it is ugly to own things, but because access can give us so much more than ownership. Instead of owning 300 records, we can get access to 15 million songs.

In area after area, we are abandoning ownership and instead paying for access. At first thought, it feels like a new trend. But thinking about it again we find that it is human behaviour that is old and a very nice approach to gadgets and media consumption. Before money existed we exchanged things with each other. Before we had money left over each month to consume we borrowed things from each other.

Collaborative consumption

The collective English name for the platforms that make up this trend is collaborative consumption. It’s about different ways of using the idling capacity of things, of letting your neighbour use something instead of it lying unused on a shelf. The classic example is the average electric drill, which is used 13 minutes in its lifetime.

You can divide collaborative consumption into two rough parts. The first are platforms that help people make their things available, and to tie them together with people who need them, peer-to-peer platforms. The second is when a company buys a stock of things or rights which they then sell access to. (B2C)

Three factors make this old behaviour take on renewed importance for how we do business, technological innovation, economic decline and environmental awareness.

It is relatively easy to build a platform that creates trust between people who do not know each other using statistics and social graphs. This ensures that there is sufficient supply and demand for the service to be interesting.

The recent economic crisis has also led to people having less money and it makes even more sense to have access to things instead of owning them.

In the media industries

Thanks to the Internet, many of us have developed a desire to share things when we surf across something interesting. We share links, and services that bring people together around common interests are growing by the day. Sharing is caring is a comparatively well used phrase that goes well beyond the pirate world.
The reinvention of behaviour where people want to have access instead of owning things may have started with apartments and cars, but it won’t stop there. The success of streaming services has resulted in a full-swing shift in the music industry, and similar services for TV programmes are growing in the United States. We have been borrowing books from the library since time immemorial.

The behaviour is not new, but models for how the media industries will do business using it will need to be.