In some instances, the sharing economy appeared to inflame the very problems it purported to solve. The supposed activation of underutilized resources actually led to more, if slightly different, patterns of resource consumption. A number of studies have shown that the ease and subsidized low cost of Uber and Lyft rides are increasing traffic in cities and apparently pulls passengers away from an actual form of sharing: public transportation. Students at UCLA are reportedly taking roughly 11,000 rides each week that never even leave campus. In putting more cars on the road, ride-hail companies have encouraged would-be drivers to consume more by buying cars with subprime loans or renting directly from the platforms themselves.
Alongside making it easy to rent out spare rooms, vacation rental platforms encouraged speculative real estate investment. Whole homes and apartment buildings are taken off the rental market to act as hotels, further squeezing housing markets in already unaffordable cities.
Early sharing champions were ultimately correct about technology enabling a shift away from an ownership society, but what came next wasn’t sharing. The rise of streaming services, subscription systems, and short-term rentals eclipsed the promise of nonmonetary resource sharing. The power and control wasn’t decentralized; it was even more concentrated in the hands of large and valuable platforms.
Why go through the trouble of swapping your own DVDs for a copy of Friends With Benefits, after all, when you can stream it through Amazon Prime Video for $2.99? The idea of paying for temporary access to albums rather than outright owning them may have been galling at first, but we’re increasingly comfortable with renting all our music, along with our software, and our books. Downloading and sharing the materials that live on these streamed resources is impossible, illegal, or both.
The evolution of the subscription business model has helped to streamline balance sheets and has essentially turned the lumpy cashflows of technology companies into the equivalent of consumer staples. That is one of the primary reasons they have continued to be able to command such high valuations.Click HERE to subscribe to Fuller Treacy Money Back to top