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Looking for a way to do business with urban white people? Look no further
on February 28, 2011
I should feel bad saying negative things about this book considering I got it for free from a Seth Godin pre-order, but...
Gansky obviously knows a thing or two about starting businesses. No question. She has done it before and she'll do it again no doubt. The thing is, her big idea doesn't go quite as far as she wants it to, or as she wants you to think it will. The big idea: if you can find a way to monetize having people share, you'll be able to open new business opportunities. She's got some insights: the idea of a baby clothes exchange definitely shows that sharing-based models aren't just limited to big-ticket items. But she overextends by suggesting that any type of business will be able to work this way. I would imagine that if you live in rural North Dakota on a farm, you can't exactly share your harvester in a Zipcar kind of network. You need it at exactly the same time as your neighbors. And I don't care how many shirt-sharing services you can think of, there's just no way I'm sharing shoes or underwear, and I'm sure I'm not alone. I am always more impressed when a book acknowledges the limits of its hypotheses. If you read this book, there's no reason everything can't work with sharing. If you think about the world, you know that can't be true.
There's also something so very "farmer's market" about starting a web-based business based upon sharing. There's nothing new about sharing. Rural communities have done it for years. I made the harvester/Zipcar example for a reason: rural communities have *always* shared big-ticket items and purchses. They've just never made it a business. Barn raising, crop harvesting, etc. aren't at all new and noteworthy and Gansky doesn't talk about them. Why not? My theory: because they don't send the right semiotic. There's nothing hip about them, because urban hipsters don't raise barns or harvest crops. Extended families have shared clothing for hundreds of years but there's two differences between that and what Gansky praises: (1) these people all know each other so there's no need for the Internet to help put them together, and (2) no one charges anyone any money, so there's nothing new-economy about it.
I'll also acknowledge that I may be wrong. For example, Best Buy has just started (as of this review date: February 2011) a program where you can agree that when you buy your electronics, you can bring them back when you're done and get trade-in. But I see this as more of a vendor lock-in, less of a true sharing service (they haven't started a service to allow you to buy the used products when they come back, for example). If they go that extra mile, that starts to parallel the hope Gansky has here about Walmart starting a sharing-based business. Time will tell.
But at the end of the day, I look at this book as being an interesting but flawed hypothesis. More limited in scope, it would have stood up to investigation. But because it overreaches, it falls.