Commercialized Sharing

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Maurie J. Cohen:

"Present-day commercialized sharing falls mainly into two categories: mediated micro-entrepreneurship and serialized rental.

1) Mediated Micro-Entrepreneurship entails the brokerage of individual assets and/or labor and irregular work opportunities for which the match-making platform receives a commission. Applied within the field of urban mobility, this is the strategy operationalized by Uber, which relies on iterant drivers to provide on-demand taxi services using their own cars.

2) Serialized Rental, by way of contrast, is common to anyone who has picked up a car at the airport from Hertz or one of its competitors, but the business model has more recently been adapted for intra-urban travel and spur-of-the-moment city trips by ZipCar (a subsidiary of the Avis Budget Group), Car2Go (a subsidiary of Daimler AG), and a host of other companies.

3) By contrast, a third alternative -- Communitarian Provisioning -- promises a more credible form of sharing. With respect to mobility services, this option includes "transit oriented" nonprofit and cooperative providers like City Car Share in San Francisco and Modo in Vancouver." (


Developing Communitarian Provisioning as an alternative

Maurie J. Cohen:

"Development of a more efficacious sharing economy will require constraining expansion of mediated micro-entrepreneurship and serialized rental in favor of modes consistent with communitarian provisioning. Fortunately, the last year has given rise to a few interesting propositions and many innovative social enterprises (first reported by Shareable in "Owning is the New Sharing") with the potential to steer us in a more democratic and accountable direction. Especially notable is a recommendation by Nathan Schneider and Trebor Scholtz urging workers to become owners under the aegis of what they call platform cooperativism. The movement they intend to catalyze through an upcoming event in New York City calls for a deep reconfiguration of the sharing economy premised on producer collaboration and a vision of progressive economic transformation. And Schneider and Scholtz are correct to counsel urgency. Decisive action is indeed necessary before the current VC-backed frontrunners solidify impregnable monopolies in their respective markets. In moving toward platform cooperativism, the availability of open-source software like Sharetribe, which enables social entrepreneurs to easily create new sharing networks is likely to be an important new development.

While this idea is unquestionably laudable, there is opportunity to push it a little further. Why limit cooperation only to producers while implicitly treating consumers as little more than a mass of aggregate demand? Why elevate workers over their customers when the distinction is artificial and rarely static? A more creative and ambitious application of platform cooperativism would embrace consumers as co-equals and seek to formulate novel business models that span production and consumption. The uniting of these two domains would dissolve predispositions that treat buyers and sellers as rivals rather than allies, prioritize return on investment rather than solidarity, and emphasize value appropriation rather than community improvement.

In the non-digital world, so-called multi-stakeholder cooperatives that combine producers and consumers are starting to emerge, especially in conjunction with local food movements. A prominent example is Eroski, a subsidiary of the venerable Mondragon Corporation, which operates more than 1,000 supermarkets in Spain. The Weaver Street Market is a worker- and consumer-owned cooperative based in North Carolina that runs three stores specializing in organic produce and fair trade products, as well as a restaurant. Applying this hybrid approach to a revivified sharing economy would involve the payment of an annual subscription fee by consumer-owners who would then be entitled to a predetermined number of, say, taxi trips or overnight stays provided by their producer-owner colleagues. Since few people are exclusively producers or consumers, affiliation with a multi-stakeholder cooperative would facilitate seamless shifts between roles. On some days, a particular member would find herself working as a producer and on others she would be consuming goods or services provided by the mutual association." (