Losing the stiff upper lip: a truly British sharing economy

By Chris Lee

In the UK we are still trying to get to grips with the “sharing economy” – the sharing and trusting in strangers to provide services and recommendations – according to one industry entrepreneur. Chris Book, founder of UK subscription based iOS audiobook streaming app Bardowl, believes the sharing economy represents the new age of consumerism, as consumers no longer want everything to be mass produced.

Instead they are open to sharing and trusting in strangers to provide services in the same way a company would.

“The generation of the sharing economy do not want mass production, they want a truly personal and unique experience, they want to share resources and they want access to goods and services on demand,” he told NMK.

Share and share alike

Book says that the book What’s Mine is Yours initiated the conversation and recently a seminal article was published on this topic in the New York Times, entitled Welcome to the Sharing Economy, which has since been shared widely in the US and further afield.

“In the USA this [concept] has taken off immensely with Netflix, Zipcar, Spotify and Airbnb leading the way – no surprise the sharing economy is popular there.  In Seoul, the sharing economy is also starting to take off, as it is in Brazil with initiatives like Catarse, Brazil’s first crowdsourcing platform,” Book added. “In the UK we’re still trying to wrap our heads around this concept, as it just beginning to take off with services like Airbnb, Ecomodo and Taskhub some of the most popular. We’re about 12 months behind the more switched on economies though.”

Take advantage of the networked economy

According to Book, one of the most successful sharing services is holiday rental site Airbnb. It was born out of a personal predicament: the founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia needed money for rent so decided to turn their house into a bed and breakfast for the attendees of the San Francisco Industrial Designers Society of America, as all the hotel rooms on the conference website were sold out. In the process of this all, the idea of Airbnb was born. Since then, Airbnb has blossomed into a multi-million dollar company. Without mass producing anything, it created a whole new way for people to consume and also to make money.

“With today’s global networked economy anyone can share things anywhere and monetise on this sharing concept, setting the trend of the sharing economy. Innovative new business models are emerging as we speak and they reach consumers online in new ways, as consumer trends are increasingly shifting towards sharing,” Book added. “Just take a look at Liquid’s bike sharing model or vacation home exchange service Love Home Swap. New businesses are trying to make a real change, almost in a social enterprise type of way, like NeighbourGoods which encourages a safe community where you can save money and resources by sharing stuff with your friends and neighbours.  Unsurprisingly, all of the above companies are American.”

Book concluded that in the UK we may be behind the US and others, but things are picking up fast. The UK government has begun putting its weight behind the concept with JANET, the government funded organisation, having begun providing a computer network to allow educational institutions to share collaborative services.  

Other, smaller UK companies that have had success using a sharing business model include car sharing service goCarShare where people looking for a ride can link to those with spare seats, storage sharing site storenextdoor.com and garage sharing site parkatmyhouse.com.

Book concluded: “With the sharing economy saving the UK £4.6bn a year, according to a recent survey, the UK may find that this is not just a new consumer and business trend but another step closer to putting the economy on the mend.”

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