Who remembers the sound of unwrapping a newrecord album, the smell of a new car or the thrill ofopening the front door to a newly purchased home? At different points in my life, each one stood for thejoy of possession, and the sense of having reallyarrived.
My teenaged children and their peers do not seethings the same way. They would rather pay forSpotify and Netflix subscriptions that let them play selections from huge online music and videocatalogues than purchase DVDs or permanent downloads of a smaller selection of titles.
Streaming is at the forefront of a trend that threatens to upend a much wider range ofindustries. Technology-based groups are encouraging consumers to rethink their approach toeverything from textbooks and party dresses to housing and transportation. The changescome in several categories. Platform apps are linking owners of goods and services — bicycles, spare bedrooms, even solar energy — to a host of potential users. And companies thattraditionally focused on selling their wares, including clothing retailers and carmakers, are nowexploring subscription and rental options.
Taken together, the growth of these services suggests that we are entering an era in whichconsumers will value access over ownership and experiences over assets. The new US taxreform law may well help push the process along because it shrinks the two biggest tax breaksthat encourage Americans to own their homes — homebuyers will only be able to deduct theinterest on the first $750,000 of the mortgage on their houses and the deduction for stateand local property taxes is capped at $10,000. Without those benefits, people who live in high-cost, high-tax areas may well decide to keep on renting. The cresting of British house prices atlevels that are not affordable for most ordinary people is likely to have a similar effect in partsof the UK.
This transformation has a precedent. Many companies shifted to an asset-light model yearsago — supermarkets and professional services firms sold and leased back their stores andoffices, airlines started leasing rather than buying aircraft, and big tech groups such as Applehired other companies, most notably Foxconn, to make iPhones.
For the most successful companies, the decision to focus on intangible assets, such asintellectual property, has been a huge boon. The move allows them to grow rapidly withouthaving to invest in building factories or hire enormous amounts of staff. But for those at theother end of the scale, the lack of real property leaves them with little to borrow against orsell when they run short of cash. When British budget airline Monarch collapsed in October, itsmain asset turned out to be its UK landing slots.
“Once companies go asset light they can scale up tremendously. But I don’t think people havereally thought through the implications of consumers being asset light,” says Jonathan Haskel, professor of economics at Imperial College, who has co-written a book on the subject, Capitalism without Capital: The Rise of the Intangible Economy. “Consumers will be able to bemore flexible but they will also have to change their lifestyle.”
“一旦企业实行轻资产模式，它们可以大大提高规模。但我认为人们并没有真正考虑清楚轻资产对于消费者的含义，”伦敦帝国学院(Imperial College)经济学教授、《没有资本的资本主义：无形经济的崛起》(Capitalismwithout Capital: The Rise of the Intangible Economy)一书作者之一乔纳森?哈斯克尔(JonathanHaskel)表示， “消费者可以变得更灵活，但他们也不得不改变他们的生活方式。”
Those consequences are likely to be profound for both consumers and the companies thatsupply them.
First of all, when companies are supplying services rather than tangible goods, the relationshipbetween consumers and the things that they use becomes infinitely more complex. If I have arecord album on my shelf, my husband can clearly play it. But when I link our Amazon Echospeaker to my son’s Spotify account, I have no idea whether I am violating one of thethousands of terms and conditions he agreed to with his account. Furthermore, does that actgive Amazon the right to send him advertisements based on the songs we play? “Consumersare going to have to deal with the contested nature of assets. They need to figure out theirrights,” says Prof Haskel.
In many cases, the shift to a sharing economy will also affect the nature of the goods that arebeing shared. Currently, most cars spend most of the time sitting idle. If drivers stop buyingtheir own cars and instead sign up for a rental service or use Uber’s ride-hailing app, eachindividual vehicle will receive a lot more use. That means carmakers will face pressure toproduce fewer, better-made cars that are able to withstand constant usage. The obviousparallel would be to supplying a laundromat versus a home: commercial machines must befaster, heavier and stronger.
Increasing the usage of durable goods such as washing machines, cars and bicycles wouldclearly be good for the environment and should also benefit consumers by bringing downtheir overall costs. It would also fundamentally reshape the broader employment market. Inthe sharing economy, the winners will be companies that can effectively match people andresources, rather than simply those that can sell the most goods. Jobs, meanwhile, will shiftaway from manufacturing and into tech and services.
No wonder carmakers Ford and General Motors have invested in Uber’s US rival Lyft, andDaimler last week snapped up French ride-booking app Chauffeur Privé. If they succeed, I maynever inhale that new car odour again.
难怪福特(Ford)和通用汽车(General Motors)等汽车制造商投资了优步在美国的竞争对手Lyft，同时不久前戴姆勒(Daimler)收购了法国打车应用Chauffeur Privé。如果这些企业成功了，我可能再也闻不到新车的味道了。