From ownership to ‘access-ship’

I sold my entire CD collection last month: 2,000 CDs. It was traumatic, but I couldn’t justify keeping them. Since the advent of iTunes all I’d done on buying a CD was remove the shrinkwrap, upload it to my computer then place it on a shelf.

Since subscribing to Spotify last year, I’ve not even done that: I simply stream the music I want. The launch of Apple Music last month was the final straw.

Traumatic for me – and much more so for the music industry – it’s just one manifestation of a major trend: away from ownership towards ‘access-ship’. It’s a perfect storm of economics and technology: post-Recession desire for thrift meeting growing demand for convenience, empowered by new time- and space-saving technologies.

Sharing, on-demand, subscription-access and ‘All You Can Eat’ are growing as demand for manufactured goods falls. Virtual film and TV libraries have become the norm. AYCE has shifted from restaurants to dominate Travel and Telecoms. ‘The Week’ magazine just announced 95% of its revenue comes from subscription. Car sharing and clubs like Zipcar are increasing. PWC believes the UK sharing economy will be £9bn by 2025. Home rental is rising, and spreading to clothes, toys, tools, pets, even – eww – hair extensions.

It’s down to an attitude change. Media reports on house rental growth frequently describe those involved as ‘having to’ rent, as if by definition it’s the worse option. Yes, economics has a role to play. But actually many young people just don’t rate ownership as highly as their parents. They’re the mobile generation: for them, life is about shrinkage and portability. They might treasure a few objects, but typically see access as more convenient than ownership: less ‘stuff’ to carry around.

Those who say “but people naturally like to own things” need to reconsider. When I grew up, owning a car or house was a status symbol, a right of passage. But for the young today, not so much. Most don’t even own their most prized ‘possession’: their phone. Access-ship is being driven by a radical attitudinal shift. That’s typically the sign a new trend is here to stay.