4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss Kindle Ed.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Collaborative Consumption - A new business paradigm?

What is collaborative consumption? In a word, collaborative consumption is sharing.  Sharing but not in the traditional sandbox sense. Collaborative consumption is the redistribution of used goods from where they are idle to where they are usable.  Collaborative consumption is taking once product driven markets such as selling automobiles and turning them into car rental services. Collaborative consumption is renting out unused and idle space, tools, and equipment so they can be commercialized. It is Peer-to-Peer (P2P), trust and reputation based, fueled and made possible by technology and the power of networks. Collaborative consumption is rapidly becoming the new paradigm of consumption and forever changing the landscape of marketing, sales, and product development.

Human needs have evolved over the course of time and exploded rapidly due to the industrial age and mass production. Goods that satisfy needs could be had for relatively cheap, and all of it wrapped neatly in colorful plastic packaging and cardboard.  All of this at the expense of the environment and what is left of the natural world.

In 2008 the great recession occurred. Consumers now faced with lowered spending power and lowered confidence in the marketplace, began looking elsewhere from traditional consumer outlets to peer-to-peer networks and friends to fulfill their needs.

Technology and particularly the Internet have fueled this throwback to traditional, pre-monetary modes of exchange: barter, swapping, lending, and gifting. The ability of social networking platforms to connect and build trust between strangers is staggering. The groundwork laid by Facebook and Ebay, among others, has allowed consumers to become accustomed to the idea of communicating with strangers or casual acquaintances on a daily basis. Collaborative consumption that leverages this built-in network of communication is only the logical next step. First, people communicated with words over networks on the Internet. Now they are exchanging their unwanted items for wanted items, all without explicit payment for the items.  A perfect example of this phenomenon is Swap.com (Formerly SwapTree). The site utilizes technology and algorithms pioneered by Facebook.

Swap.com was created to match people’s swappable items with others. For example User A has a Star Wars DVD that he wants to swap. He posts the DVD on Swap.com and the site automatically matches that item with other items that other users are willing to swap for the wanted Star Wars DVD. User B has a Family Guy DVD that he would like to swap for the Star Wars DVD. User A just so happens to be looking for that Family Guy DVD. Swap.com connects the two swappers and an exchange is made.

In the new paradigm Users A and B can log onto Swap.com and both come away with a “new to them” DVD and have their needs met without creating more garbage floating in The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. If User A then wants to watch his new Family Guy DVD in the next town, he can drive out in a Zipcar and stay in someone’s spare apartment bedroom via Airbnb. This and other examples we will present are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what collaborative consumption can do. But perhaps the most important thing about collaborative consumption is what it can save.

Instead of new raw materials and added pollution and increased entropy in the universe needed to create new consumer products, existing copies of the same can be meaningfully swapped in a virtual marketplace that connects users from all over the globe in order to fulfill their needs. The impact on manufacturing and product design is immense. In the hyper-consumption model knowing that consumer goods would be thrown away after use led to the practice of planned obsolescence. Now that manufacturers realize that their goods will be swapped and traded after the first user perhaps we will see a return to seeing products built to last.

Collaborative consumption is returning us to how exchange was practiced before money. We are going back to basics: barter, trading, swapping, lending, renting, and a trust based economy. Access is better than ownership. Reputation is more vital than credit score. The new idea behind this way of thinking and behavior is the assumption that the primacy of experience trumps having more stuff.

Or in other words, “I just want to watch the funny cartoon on the DVD, not own it.” What a novel idea. 

For More Information on Collaborative Consumption,
What's Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Music Industry Post File Sharing

U.S. Copyright law as it pertains to artistic works if very clear on what is and what is not copyright infringement. After sifting through the many pages of the US Copyright Act of 1976, the latest iteration of copyright law we can distill one central tenant behind the letter of the law: Anything that "displaces" a sale of copyrighted material or could potentially do so is illegal.

Prior to the Internet "bootlegging" and copyright infringement could only be done on a small scale. Old school copyright infringement in the days of LPs consisted of making a negative mold of the record and then pouring molten wax into the mold until it set. Once completed you had an illegal bootleg copy of the LP. After the Internet, P2P networks like Kazaa and Limewire made it easy to download many full albums and .mp3s of your favorite music for free.

This practice unfortunately signalled the downward spiral of music industry revenues from then on. Instead of paying upwards of $18.99 for a 12 track CD (plus tax), anyone with an Internet connection could download that same CD for practically nothing.

So who does this practice of illegal downloading hurt the most? Is it the artist or the record labels? The answer is complicated, to say the least. If you are a big name artist illegal downloads will hurt your bottom line, but then again, most of the money that big artists make is in touring, radio royalties, merchandise, and synchronization royalties such as getting their songs in commercials and tv shows.

If you are a major record label the practice of illegal downloading seriously changes your business model. Prior to filesharing record labels were willing to keep artists who needed development and took time to produce albums. After filesharing the record labels knew that they needed to make money even more so they ended up dropping lesser known and developing artists in order to focus their resources on the few but popular artists. The end result is homogeneity in the music you hear coming out of your radio and from the major labels.

The music industry needs a new business model that is able to monetize the practice of getting music from the Internet. It is naive to think that consumers who are now used to getting music for free will go back to paying for it. Possible solutions would be ad-based Internet radio such as Pandora or Last.FM.

The essential question is are you hurting your beloved music artists by downloading their songs for free? Yes and no. Artists usually only get $0.09 per song on an album sold anyway. The rest of the money that you pay for that CD goes to the record label. So the primary loser in this scenario is the recording industry. However, having more of the artists' music out there and being played increases the artist's popularity, and thus increases their ticket sales at live shows.

In my opinion, I don't see filesharing or illegal downloading of copyrighted material to stop. The music industry needs to figure out a way to monetize the act of getting music on the Internet. Possible solutions are ad-based Internet radio and merchandising.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Isaac Asimov: The Last Question

Isaac Asimov, prolific science fiction author, said his favorite story he ever wrote was The Last Question.

What is the last question? It's about Entropy and how based on what science tells us the Universe as we know it will one day run out of energy. We know this because the stars that power our Universe will all, eventually, burn out.
What will Mankind do then?

This is a superb story about Asimov's vision of cosmology and it takes less than 15 minutes to read. It also has one of the best endings of all time.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Consumer Privacy Online and the FTC

The issue of online privacy can be argued from the standpoints of two main camps: consumers and marketers. Which side are you on?

If you are a consumer, most likely you do not want marketers using their websites to gather personal data on your websurfing habits, purchasing patterns, and what you are most likely to click on. It's creepy.

If you are from the marketer camp, your argument will be that the more data you gather on your market and consumers, the better you are able to serve your market and consumers.

A recent report by the FTC promotes guidelines for online businesses to follow in how they respect the privacy of their consumers.

An excerpt from this report:

“Companies should adopt a ‘privacy by design’ approach by building privacy protections into their everyday business practices. Such protections include reasonable security for consumer data, limited collection and retention of such data, and reasonable procedures to promote data accuracy."

I love how the report uses the word "reasonable" over and over again. What is the definition of "reasonable" in this regard? Who sets the standard for "reasonableness"? The word "reasonable" is just like the word "normal". When you really think about it, there is no such thing. It is all subjective. For example what is a "normal teenager" nowadays? In a previous post, we see that a "normal teen" is one that sends an average of over 2,000 text messages a day. I do not consider that normal.

But I digress...

Back to the issue of online privacy, we can see that the FTC has adopted what I like to call "strategic ambiguity". The phrase is used often in military strategy and foreign policy, allowing policy-makers wiggle room for their decisions. This is just a nice way of saying that it lets them do what they want.

The FTC will use the "reasonableness" standard to persecute who they want to persecute and ignore who they want to ignore.

My opinion is that the consumer culture in America should be an Opt In culture and not an Opt Out culture. In other words, it should be assumed from the start that consumers do not want to be contacted by marketers, but if they do, they can Opt In to be part of the marketing data collection. This is not how it is now, where you have to check or uncheck a box saying that, "no, I do not want to be spammed."

The great thing about Opt In consumer culture is that it forces marketers to offer value up front and soft sell their product. Soft selling is offering value first that compels the consumer to seek out the product/service for themselves. Hard selling is all the SPAM you find in your inbox.

Hopefully the new FTC report will guide marketers away from hard selling and direct sales techniques. I've just had to call a telemarketing firm to stop calling me and threaten to sue them. These new guidelines should make marketers go back and refine their techniques.

Until next time...

Monday, December 6, 2010

JWUs Farrow Midterm Study Guide

Dear fellow IMBA students, I have prepared an exhausting but not "exhaustive" study guide for chapters 4-8 on the exam. I am meeting with Farrow this week to confirm what is relevant material and I will update the document accordingly and make it available on this blog.

Here is the link.

JWU's Farrow Mid Term Study Guide

Please if you download leave a quick thanks in the comments!

PS. If you have any free time (yeah right) please check out my favorite blog in the world, Four Hour Blog by my hero and mentor, Tim Ferriss.

Good luck on your exams!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Texting: An Insidious Threat To Society

Imagine walking with your gaze directly forward while walking through a crowded breezeway. Nearly everyone else you see has their eyes cast down focusing squarely on their hand-held device. Their somber faces are lit by an bluish light giving them an unnatural glow. Their fingers move quickly and deftly from built in routine. Their legs--they are barely aware of them as they cycle forward--carry them onto their next destination. It's a wonder how they can avoid crashing into each other with out looking up.

"Who walks without texting nowadays?"

A legitimate question, but a disturbing one. Indeed, who does?

Has it become acceptable to completely shut out your immediate surroundings? I feel like the words PAY ATTENTION should somehow be inserted into our daily consciousness.

Does it take the sensational to make us snap out of our absorption with distractions such as Facebook and text messaging? Studies on the Reticular Activating System show that there is a link between ADHD and the constant distractions that texting provides.

Your real friends are the ones you spend more time with in person than online or in a chat session.

Lets face it: Texting is a crutch for real interaction:

Particularly disturbing from this clip:
"Oh I don't have to, like, carry on a conversation, or, oh, I don't have to like, think of things to say..."

Looks like Aldous Huxley was right.