Is Spotify Leading the Way to an Ownership-Free Society?

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From Airbnb to Uber to Netflix, the way in which we consume the things we want and need is changing. Think of shared playlists, digitally rented films, unlimited access to second homes, shared offices … as temporary access to these things becomes more reliable, and the concept of ownership as a desirable entity disappears, is this the end of ownership as we know it?

An evident advocate of this societal shift, Chris Forrester, UK country manager at streaming giant Spotify, points to a piece of Spotify’s market research from last year: “58% of people generally prefer access to something to ownership”; a statistic backed up by his son requesting an Uber account rather than a car for his 17th birthday. According to Forrester, the main thing driving the 100 million active users of the global music streaming service are the possibilities for personalisation, rather than just convenience. In Spotify’s case, the main draw has been putting the curation of the music people listen to into the customers’ hands. “Very quickly it’s become personal. Everything is there to broaden your musical taste, but also to broaden your enjoyment.”

Another cheerleader for the move away from ownership is Rikke Rosenlund, founder of BorrowMyDoggy, a subscription based service dedicated to connecting dog owners (and dogs) with people willing to look after them for short periods of time. Rosenlund, who founded the company after spending the day with a “very cute brown Labrador”, ended up asking herself the reasonable question: “Why are people spending so much money on dogwalkers or kennels, or leaving their dog at home, when I would love to take care of a dog for free?”

Beyond such cut and dry cases though, the question for Rian Shah, chief strategy officer at OMD UK, is whether or not society is ready to do away with the idea of ownership altogether; suggesting that the sharing economy is too young to know how it will evolve. He says: “The interesting thing is watching which behaviours stick around and which ones actually change permanently… There’s lots of people who will say anecdotally ‘I’ll never buy a car, I’ve got no reason to buy a car’ and then that first child comes along and that’s it – the car is bought.”

Andrew Mortimer, director of media at Sky, also attests to this reluctance – many Sky customers still request a tactically offered DVD copy of a film they buy in a package digitally – but emphasizes that, as a business, an acknowledgment of the changing landscape is essential to survival. “The access and the ownership economies have never been more exciting… if you’re going to survive you’ve got to be able to adapt quickly; to evolve and change your business models. What brought you success in the past isn’t going to bring you success in the future.”

The question that remains to be answered is – to what extent are we still attached to the idea of ownership? How long will we consider the idea of owning our own homes, cars, and record collections as necessary milestones on the way to a successfully lived life? With most businesses still hedging their bets, the end of ownership may not quite be in sight, but even that may be temporary.

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