Access Over Ownership: Who Benefits from the New Consumption Culture?

access over ownership

Some are calling it a paradigm shift. Consumers are redefining their relationship with products and seeking greater value and a more fulfilling experience. Because of the nature of online content delivery, this shift in values has resulted in a concept of access-over-ownership, with consumers abandoning the idea of owning content (i.e. the iTunes model) and instead are paying for the right to have access to content (i.e. the Spotify model).

Online content providers have no choice but to adapt to this shift. It’s a consumer-driven trend, so businesses that fail to respond to it will fail to survive it. The biggest challenge to you as a business owner lies in how you can meet the demands of your consumers without harming your suppliers. In an age when consumers are less willing to purchase content directly from its producers, you as a provider need to facilitate that transaction in a way that allows all three parties to benefit.

Payment Models

Access-over-ownership is essentially a subscription-based model. With the ubiquity of free content online, publishers have had to experiment with different ways of making money from their properties. To use newspapers as an example, the New York Times has chosen to hide their content behind a paywall, while the Guardian has gone the route of advertiser-funded free content.

There are other models between those two extremes, the most common of which is the “freemium” model. Freemium products or services provide free access to the bulk of their content but require consumers to pay for additional access. This can take the form of hiding premium features behind a paywall or limiting how much free content a user can consume within a certain timeframe before they are required to subscribe.

An Industry-Agnostic Phenomenon

The discussion of access-over-ownership and what it means for content producers most often centres on either the newspaper or music industries because those are the industries where the traditional ways of making money have been most disrupted. But the shift in the way people pay for products is far more wide-reaching than that.

One of the most successful is, of course, Netflix, where consumers don’t pay to watch particular films and TV shows but instead subscribe to have access to a database of entertainment to choose from. Even Apple is challenging their own iTunes, where consumer purchase and own their products, with Apple Music, an access-over-ownership service to compete with Spotify.

The trend also extends beyond just content – for example, car-sharing services such as DriveNow have cropped up all around the world, revealing how young consumers today are more comfortable paying to have access to a vehicle when they may need it, as opposed to owning a vehicle of their own.

Selling Loyalty

One of the most fascinating side-effects of access-over-ownership is enforced loyalty. When buying products, consumers can compare prices and other variables among several different retailers and then make a one-time purchase for the product. But when paying for access, the consumer is committing to that particular content provider.

What is yet to be determined, as some of the early innovators like Netflix begin facing some formidable competitors like HBO Go, is whether enforced loyalty will prove to be as long-lasting as traditional brand loyalty, which had to be earned and maintained as opposed to subscribed to. What consumers want is seamless and instantaneous access to content, and brand loyalty today may not stop people from switching to whomever can best provide that.

Quantity Over Quality

While content providers are facing their own challenges in adapting to this new paradigm, where does that leave content producers? On the one hand, with the amount of affordable (or free) tools and services available online, it’s cheaper and easier than ever for writers, musicians, filmmakers and video game developers to create and distribute their products. On the other hand, consumers are increasingly unwilling to buy and own those products.

At their best, content providers act as a middle-man between producers and consumers, so as consumers increasingly value access over ownership, producers are reduced in their ability to sell directly to consumers and some of their potential revenue is being scooped up by those providers. At their worst, content providers are struggling to stay afloat and losing their ability to pay for good content, leaving talented producers out of a job.

Just a Phase?

It certainly looks as though access-over-ownership is steamrolling our traditional consumer culture and that there is no turning back, but that may not entirely be true. A Dutch start-up is showing the world that there is still a desire to purchase content even in the online newspaper market.

Blendle, an app that allows consumers to circumvent digital subscriptions and instead pay for individual newspaper and magazine articles in micropayments, just last week announced that it has signed up every major national newspaper in Germany – 18 dailies and 15 weeklies. Blendle’s success shows the world that access-over-ownership is not the only option and that consumers are still willing to buy individual products.

A Proven Model

Even with this crack in the veneer of access-over-ownership, paying for access is a model that will always be a part of the marketplace. It isn’t going away, so producers, providers and consumers of content all need to be prepared to work with (or around) this model.

As traditional attitudes about loyalty, ownership and the value of content are challenged and redefined at a rapid pace, those who can anticipate the minds of consumers, like Spotify, Netflix, DriveNow and Blendle are going to succeed where others fail. But as the market grows increasingly competitive, consumers faced with more choice will only become more discerning, and you as a provider can only succeed by strengthening your ties to your content producers and delivering the highest quality content to your customers.

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