The Rise of the Collective Market

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Over the course of the last decade, we have seen a significant transition of power – the stranglehold of the market loosening from the hand of the corporate gatekeepers as they are largely replaced by more efficient systems built by the citizens of the internet.

These markets crowd-source the knowledge of community members who are proficient in a particular field of interest, who develop databases, forums for discussion, and flat-hierarchal markets in which to distribute goods far more effectively than by previous corporate models.

For example; Abebooks and Alibris each do a magnificent job of empowering consumers and booksellers alike, by creating an easily navigable flat structure marketplace where bookshops large and small can offer their titles to a global community without any additional overhead.  This creates a buyer’s market where millions of titles are available at impressively low prices.

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Discogs is another successful user-supported market.  The site’s users construct and maintain a detailed database and thriving marketplace of millions of music titles ranging from Billboard chart toppers to incredibly rare test pressings.  By adhering to a core, (and greatly facilitated) organizational structure of data submission, the site is able to crowd-source a vast and well-organized database.  The site also automates personal collection appraisals based on market history, right down to the condition of each item.  The site even offers catalog submissions via UPC scanning to make library building a snap.  And its marketplace is empowering for record sellers great and small as well as for music consumers the world over.  Like other online markets, there are significant cycles of inflation, but regulation likewise occurs naturally.

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Etsy offers a market for artisanal creative projects.  And Audiogon is a community to help educate users about pro audio gear with both a forum and a trade-and-sell market of its own.  For every need that arises, knowledgeable users in the community establish a market specializing in that service.  This is a core tenant of the cooperative nature of the internet community.

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As with any eBusiness construct, several key advantages separate these ideal virtual markets from the antiquated corporate retail brick-and-mortar chain stores which came before them.  Firstly, their operating overhead is minimal to non-existent, whereas physical stores must constantly grapple with expenses like construction, maintenance, electricity and heat, staffing expenses, and insurance.  And the physical limitations of a building cripple a store front’s merchandise selection which is often restricted further by the distributors with which the corporation has aligned itself.

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By stark contrast, online markets shed all of the restrictions of physical space.  Most of these markets are user-supported so little staffing is required, and buyers can purchase any of millions of available products from other users anywhere in the world without corporate loyalty to a particular supplier.

These independent markets are far superior to their predecessors in every way, disseminating operating expenses and rendering the monopolistic behemoths obsolete and irrelevant.  And as digital media rises to overtake the physical goods market, this obsolescence will only exponentially increase.

We are witnessing the end of the gatekeeper era.  The Net has given rise to a new and better model of distribution –  marketplaces which empower buyers and sellers alike.  These markets, built upon fundamental automation structures and cooperative operation far more effectively serve the interests of the community.

As John Perry Barlow famously declared in his Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace to the governments of the world:

Cyberspace does not lie within your borders.  Do not think that you can build it, as though it were a public construction project.  You cannot.  It is an act of nature and it grows itself through our collective actions…

You have not engaged in our great and gathering conversation, nor did you create the wealth of our marketplaces…

You are trying to ward off the virus of liberty by erecting guard posts at the frontiers of Cyberspace.  These may keep out the contagion for a small time, but they will not work in a world that will soon be blanketed in bit-bearing media.

The century-long corporate dominance of our marketplaces is at its end.  Together we have built something better which works for all of us.

We have won.

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