Stop calling it the sharing economy, cries marketer Olivier Blanchard in a blog post describing how the label is inappropriate and doesn’t accurately describe the imbalances in the relationships between providers, users and the online platforms that facilitate them.
The question is what do we call the business model of companies like Uber, AirBnB and the myriad other services that take providers’ time and resources – cars in the case of Uber, homes or spare rooms for AirBnB – then make them available to people who can use them, taking a commission in the process of course.
Blanchard wonders if much of the success of these companies is because America’s cash strapped middle classes are desperately trying to find additional source of income and there is very much a strong argument for that.
More importantly, is what do we actually call these businesses? While they are potentially are as exploitative as the free labour models that have evolved in the media with businesses like Huffington Post, at least they provide some type of income even if for Uber drivers the net returns may be marginal at best.
Blanchard himself suggests the Microtransaction Economy however that’s not a satisfactory label as the transactions – which may be many thousands of dollars for some AirBnB rentals – are not always small.
Maybe we should call it the downtime economy, where we’re using the time we’re not busy or when we’re not using our homes, cars or others assets to earn income. That too though doesn’t strike me as satisfactory although it does seem to address the underlying idea these services are really only intended to supplement somebody’s earnings, not be their primary livelihood.
None of these labels though are satisfactory and maybe we have to ditch the economy moniker. It’s time to start thinking about what we really should call these businesses.