The journey from ownership to access.

Pete Beeney

Global Holding Company Lead, Spotify

Sometimes the world’s rate of change can obscure how quickly ideas that once seemed sacrilegious, seem to become the norm, almost overnight. One such concept, which has powered the growth of Spotify and other streaming platforms over the past decade, is the shift from consumers desiring access to media, rather than the ownership of it.

It was not all that long ago when I used to introduce Spotify to friends and family, and while everyone was impressed by the original product, it was not uncommon to hear the response ‘That’s really cool, but it will never replace my CD collection’ or ‘I have 1,000 songs on my iPod, why would I use this?’

Fast forward a few years, and many of those same people have now abandoned, sold or given away their entire physical music collections in exchange for the limitless choice, not to mention convenience, afforded them by the access model.

This door was arguably opened by Netflix, which proved that the consumer would opt for choice and convenience, over ownership, provided the price was right. Netflix, however, has to work with a limited catalog; yet, in music, the general depth of catalogue has made the attraction of access that much more potent.

When the entire history of music is available at your fingertips at all times, we start to see how all-encompassing this change can be, especially in its effect on a user’s consumption habits. For example, when we look into Spotify data as it relates to listening patterns, we find that over a three-year period between 2014 and 2017, the average number of artists listened to by a Spotify user increased 37%, from just under 30 to 41 artists per week. Over the same time period, Spotify listeners' weekly listening hours grew by 25%.

What we can deduce from this is that—on the Spotify platform at least—access engenders an increased diversity of listening and more overall listening from its fans. This can only be a benefit to the music ecosystem as a whole, as the access model deepens its consumers' connection to music and provides a broader base of potential fans to artists.

CONSUMERS DESIRE ACCESS TO MEDIA,

RATHER THAN OWNERSHIP OF IT.

Obviously, this is not confined just to entertainment, in fact, many of the next wave of fast-growth internet businesses have been entirely predicated on the consumer’s transition from valuing access over ownership. It underpins a whole new economy, with businesses scaling to provide a range of services, from mobility (Uber, Lyft), to hospitality (Airbnb) and even domestic chores (TaskRabbit).

This move away from ownership also exhibits a social dimension, in which ownership of big-ticket items ceases to act as the social currency it once did. Younger audiences are now placing a greater emphasis on shareable experiences over the collection of possessions as indicators of status. This is indicated by the increase of consumer spending on experiences and live events, which has shot up by 70% in the US since 1987.

What’s fascinating is the speed at which the consumer paradigm of ownership, a key feature of Western economies for the best part of a century, has declined. Today, many major car companies (Toyota, Ford and Volvo to name a few) are pivoting to provide access-based offerings as they experience a sharp decline in desire for ownership among younger audiences (down 17% in under 20 years in the UK). Much of this has been brought on by the advent of ride-sharing and ride-hailing services, almost all of which are less than a decade old.

While we may now take it for granted, if you told anyone 10 years ago that they would be more than happy not to own a home, a car, their music or their movies, they would have told you to seek psychiatric help. Stat.