February 2015. Written by DMCPI+
“We are just beginning to glimpse the bare outlines of a new economic system entering on to the world’s stage - it’s called the collaborative commons. This is the first new economic paradigm since the onset of capitalism and its antagonist socialism in the early nineteenth century.”
Jeremy Rifkin, economist, author and social theorist
“We used to live in a world where there were people and there were businesses. Now we live with a third category, which is people as businesses. What that’s doing is bringing the world back to [an older form of economy].”
Brian Chesky, Airbnb Co-founder and CEO
“The UK is embracing new, disruptive business models and challenger businesses that increase competition and offer new products and experiences for consumers. Where other countries and cities are closing down consumer choice, and limiting people’s freedom to make better use of their possessions, we are embracing it.”
Rt Hon Matthew Hancock MP, Minister of State for Business, Enterprise and Energy, UK Government
We are excited to present to you the findings of the Back to the Future - the Sharing Economy report.
The members of our small interdepartmental team, like many of our peers, were already active in the sharing economy (e.g., ride and car-sharing, home-sharing, co-working spaces, co-housing, etc.) prior to being asked to write this report. This first-hand familiarity with this emerging new economy allowed us to dive into the subject matter - this time with a singular focus on what the sharing economy will mean for Canadian society and governments. A few things stayed with us following many conversations with experts, sharing economy entrepreneurs, prosumers1, naysayers and fellow government colleagues.
One, people are ready to have a meaningful conversation about the sharing economy: this topic is in the process of moving from trend-to-watch to the mainstream. It is growing rapidly and has the potential to transform many traditional sectors of our economy.
Two, we have been surprised by the depth in the level of discussion about the sharing economy, and not just from sharing economy practitioners: Canadians we spoke to, including federal public servants, wish to engage in nuanced, honest discussions about the positive and negative implications this disruption will have on the way our society is organized and functions. They also feel that the sharing economy is an important area for the federal government (the Government) to explore but recognize that so far little work has been done on the topic.
Three, as a growing number of governments at all levels are starting to respond to the sharing economy, the Canadian federal Government has the opportunity to formulate its own response and decide on how best to react in order to amplify positive impacts and lessen negative ones.
Lastly, this report could not have been more timely. Since we started this project, there has not been a day without media coverage on the topic. Most recently, CBC Radio’s Ideas show undertook a 3-part series on the sharing economy, dedicating most of its December 2014 episodes to the topic. Parliamentarians have also started asking questions with respect to the Government’s role in taxing and regulating selected sharing economy companies.
The report does not represent the official views of the Government of Canada. However, we are hopeful that it will serve as a first step toward the development of a federal response to the sharing economy.
We look forward to continuing the conversation.
The sharing economy describes how peer-to-peer technology and changing economic and environmental values are dramatically altering the fundamental questions - who, what, where, when and how - related to the production and consumption of goods and services. These and other factors are driving a growing number of sharing economy companies, consumers, and people-as-businesses to choose shared access over ownership for an increasing number of goods and services.
Global revenues of five key sharing economy sectors (accommodation, transport, music and video streaming, online staffing and peer lending/crowd funding) are estimated to grow from $15 billion in 2013 to $335 billion by 2025. Canada is embracing the trend, with an increasing number of Canadians using Canadian-based sharing startups and Canadian chapters of international startups. At the same time, not all are enthusiastically receiving the disruption; negative aspects do exist. As the sharing economy continues to grow, so will the list of winners and losers, prompting a growing need to carefullyexplore all aspects of this new economic model. Governments at all levels have attempted to respond to the rise of the sharing economy and there are now a patchwork of rules and regulations worldwide. Several governments have clamped down on sharing economy companies while others have developed proactive legislation or policies to encourage peer-to-peer businesses.
This report summarizes the results of our primary and secondary research on activities and views related to the sharing economy, from both a global and Canadian perspective. It also incorporates insights from leading Canadian sharing economy entrepreneurs as well as views from federal public servants. The report provides a list of possible actions the Government of Canada could pursue as it formulates a response to the opportunities and risks offered by the sharing economy. Key potential areas of focus for the Government are identified as follows:
- Understand and measure the impact of the sharing economy.
- Review and update relevant policies, regulations and codes to ensure they remain relevant and reflect the changing nature of the way goods and services are produced and consumed.
- Develop guidance and clarify rules for consumers, prosumers, and businesses.
- Amplify positive impacts created by the sharing economy while mitigating its negative effects.
- Explore opportunities to collaborate and convene other actors interested and involved in the sharing economy to develop proactive policies.
- Lead by example and embrace the opportunities offered by the sharing economy to make its own operations more efficient and achieve its policy goals.
In the spring of 2014, the Deputy Ministers’ Committee on Policy Innovation (DMCPI) launched a Virtual Policy Challenge - the first federal government attempt to crowdsource public servant input on medium-term policy challenges and opportunities. The “sharing economy”, one of dozens of cross-cutting themes identified through this exercise, was chosen by DMCPI as an area of interest for further work. As such, in September 2014, the Committee formally asked a small team of public servants to examine the issue and report back.
Approach and Outreach
With a mandate to understand the sharing economy (locally and globally) and assess the risks and opportunities for the Canadian federal government, our small team focused on engaging Canadians active in the sharing economy, as well as public servants in departments which could have direct interest in the subject. To both explore and exemplify policy innovation, our team designed a collaborative approach that included: (a) using virtual and social media tools (e.g. Google Drive, GCConnex, Poll Everywhere, Twitter, Piktochart); (b) reaching out to team-members’ pre-established networks (e.g. MaRS Studio Y and CSI in Toronto; HUB and the Institute on Governance in Ottawa; the Sharing Project’s in Share Vancouver network) and (c) using face-to-face interaction where possible (twice weekly team meetings, departmental lunch and learns, and in-person events in Ottawa and Toronto).
Below is a snapshot of the extent of our out-reach both virtually and in-person across Canada:
Our nimble and non-traditional approach (aggressive timelines, no budget, fairly junior-level team, largely working off the sides of our desk) has led to some constraints (limited time and resources to process large amounts of research, inability to showcase more voices from across Canada), but also many unique opportunities (ability to leverage personal networks and work in a manner consistent with the sharing economy, ability to have frank conversations and to hear voices from different levels in government).
Part I: Overview of the Sharing Economy
What is the Sharing Economy?
Back to the commons
The term “sharing economy” is being used today to describe a technologically-fuelled return to pre-industrial market behaviours where communities pooled, loaned and shared their resources through networks of trust. Now, a rapidly growing number of individuals and companies are “sharing” (i.e. providing shared access, giving, loaning, renting) an ever-increasing array of goods and services (see Annex A) at unprecedented rates and with an ever-increasing community of strangers. According to the Mesh Index, there are now more than 9,000 startups in the sharing economy space. This revolution is enabled by today’s social, digital, mobile and location-based technology which allows all users of the system to build trust and reputation by exchanging, where required, peer reviews and payment instantaneously.
What are people sharing?
Market disruption: from digital to physical and beyond
Digital file sharing and live streaming have already disrupted the music, movie-rental, newspaper and book-publishing industries, among others. Now the sharing economy is moving this market disruption from the digital sphere into the realm of physical goods, services and beyond. Today, individuals, groups, companies and governments can easily “share” or have shared access to everything from tools and bikes to heavy equipment and science labs. The sharing economy is quickly moving beyond traditional sectors (entertainment, housing, transport) and beginning to disrupt new industries such as education, utilities, retail and the labour market as a whole. This, in turn, is spurring the creation of a secondary layer of services (tax, legal, etc.) and organizations (sharing economy advocacy, workers rights, etc.) in order to respond to this emerging economy.
While many users and practitioners in the sharing economy view the space as a positive development, negative aspects exist. For instance, in most cases, sharing economy companies do not provide insurance, benefits, or training to their workers. This shifts the risks onto individual sharing economy workers who remain unprotected and unsure of their rights and responsibilities. As the sharing economy continues to grow, so will the list of winners and losers, prompting a growing need to carefully explore all aspects of this new economic model.
Is it really about sharing?
Many have criticized the degree to which the “sharing economy” lives up to its name. The term “sharing economy” is an admittedly imperfect umbrella term with loose, ever-evolving boundaries. Early experts in this field, such as Rachel Botsman2 agree that the sharing economy lacks a shared definition and suggest that this emerging economic and social phenomenon is best understood as a combination of terms: the peer-to-peer economy, collaborative consumption, the collaborative economy, the collaborative commons, platform capitalism, the circular economy, the rental/subscription economy, the gig economy, the maker movement and the gift economy. Whatever differing motivations may be driving sharing economy companies, prosumers and consumers, no one can deny that the sharing economy is quite simply making access over ownership easier for a growing number of goods and services.
Overview of the Global Sharing Economy
Size and Impact Infographic
PriceWaterHouseCoopers has estimated that global revenues of five key sharing economy sectors will grow from US $15 billion in 2013 to US $335 billion by 2025. However, understanding the size and impact of the sharing economy is, and will continue to be, a complex task. This is not only because the boundaries of and industries affected by the sharing economy are ever-evolving but also because our ability to measure this new economic activity (not to mention its impact on public good, sustainability, etc.) has not kept pace with the ever-evolving growth in number and type of transactions. To add further complexity, the sharing economy embraces alternative forms of currency not currently captured by standard economic accounting: reputation scores, alternative currencies (e.g., bitcoin, SolarCoin), conservation points (e.g., negawatts), and platform credits (e.g. Yerdle credits) - to name a few. From daily value generated - to growth over time - to lucrative partnerships - the following infographic illustrates just a few examples of the current and projected size and impact of the sharing economy in select areas.
Poster Children - Aged just seven and six years old respectively, Airbnb and Uber are arguably the “poster children” of the sharing economy. Their widespread impact is not only felt in the short-term accommodation and transportation sectors but is having significant ripple effects, evident in such startups as the “Airbnb for Airbnb” and expressions such as “the Uber-ing of everything”.
The Sharing Economy and Emergency Response
The sharing economy is starting to be seen by governments as a tool to help with disaster preparedness and emergency response. Through partnering with local sharing platforms, cities, provinces and countries are exploring how they can become more resilient in face of disaster.
Sharing economy companies helping to strengthen emergency response
- Following Hurricane Sandy in 2013, Airbnb launched a separate disaster preparedness site, called Airbnb Disaster Response. In the event of a disaster, the Airbnb platform instantly redirects users to a page where hosts can offer beds for free (including no services fees for Airbnb). As of January 2015, Airbnb is offering its platform for people in Malaysia affected by the flood on December 29, 2014.
- In July 2014, the White House invited a number of sharing economy platforms to participate in a Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Initiative Demo Day. The White House’s goal is to promote the connection between the sharing economy and disaster response so that both government and the private sector can aid survivors in the event of large-scale emergencies
At the same time, potential unintended negative impacts of sharing economy platforms, such as the situation described below, show the growing importance of pro-actively building emergency policies and other social considerations into the sharing economy. This will only become increasingly necessary as sharing platforms continue to displace traditional industry providers.
Surge pricing in effect during hostage situation in Sydney, Australia
- On December 14, 2014, Uber briefly charged its users in downtown Sydney a minimum $100 for a ride in an armed hostage crisis area, a result of automatic surge pricing meant to get more drivers online.
- Reports showed the company was charging up to four-times the normal rate because of increased demand. As the press announced the price hikes, Uber reversed course, stating that all rides in the area would be free, and promising refunds for anybody who had been charged the higher amount. The surge pricing remained in place to incent more drivers to pick up passengers from the area, with Uber picking up the tab
- In July 2013, Uber had agreed to put a cap on prices during “abnormal disruptions of the market” (e.g. natural disasters, emergencies) in New York, to comply with state price gouging regulations.
How Governments are Responding
While a growing number of governments are beginning to embrace the sharing economy, a small number of disruptive companies are leading to raging public policy debates and conflicts. In this section, we explore diverse examples of government responses.
Municipal and Regional Governments
Municipal and regional governments have arguably been feeling the impacts of the sharing economy the most, as current municipal bylaws and regulations are posing compliance challenges for sharing economy companies. This has been especially true in the taxi and hotel industry. A scan of municipal and local responses indicates that consensus is yet to be reached on how governments should respond to these disruptive startups. In some cases, municipalities have updated their bylaws and policies to enable and legitimize sharing economy companies. In others, cities have taken special enforcement actions to limit the growth of disruptive businesses.
- In June 2013, the United States Conference of Mayors, an official non-partisan organization for cities with populations exceeding 30,000, adopted a Shareable Cities Resolution which resolves to support policies for more shareable cities in three key ways: (1) raise awareness of the sharing economy by creating new methodologies to measure its impact; (2) create local regulatory review task forces to support the sharing economy and ensure public protection; and (3) actively participate in the sharing economy by “making appropriate publicly owned assets available for maximum utilization by the general public through proven sharing mechanisms.3
- San Francisco has been one of the leaders in incorporating the sharing economy in its municipal laws. For example, in October 2014, the Mayor approved a law permitting short term rentals on home-sharing platforms. The law allows residents to rent out their primary residence, but stipulates that they must collect tax on the revenue they are collecting and must purchase insurance. The law came into effect on February 1, 2015.
In Europe, major sharing economy companies have run into regulatory challenges, exposing the European Union’s uneven response to the rise of the sharing economy. While Barcelona recently fined Airbnb for breaching regional property rental rules, politicians in Amsterdam have passed legislation to enable the local sharing economy. Similarly, Lisbon recently enacted a new rental law meant to help home-sharing companies grow, while also encouraging apartment owners to register their property and pay taxes. Paris is considering a tax on peer-to-peer (P2P) transactions and a levy on Airbnb rentals.
In Asia, since September 2012, the Seoul Government has been implementing the “Sharing City Seoul” project in partnership with local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private companies in recognition of the sharing economy’s ability to “resolve many economic, social, and environmental issues of the city simultaneously by creating new business opportunities, recovering trust-based relationships, and minimizing wastage of resources.”4 Seoul’s Sharing City strategy has three parts: change outdated laws and systems, support sharing enterprises, and encourage citizen participation.
National and Federal Governments
The intersection of the sharing economy and federal public policy is still extremely nascent. Involvement in this area seems to be emerging mainly as a reactionary response to the complex issues faced by municipalities and the increasing interest in and uptake of the sharing economy.
Up to now, The United Kingdom (UK) has distinguished itself by leading research on the potential of the sharing economy with the goal to make the UK the global centre for the sharing economy. A recent report commissioned by the UK Government’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills highlights the fact that the sharing economy is already playing a disruptive role in several sectors such as accommodation, skills and transports but also spreading across new sectors (e.g. food, fashion and consumer electronics). While acknowledging the need to ensure consumers are protected, the report encourages the UK to ambitiously embrace the potential of the sharing economy. More specifically, it includes more than 35 recommendations on how to manage the risks and opportunities offered by the sharing economy. While some recommendations are sector-specific, several touch on broad areas of interest to the UK federal government, such as innovation, insurance, procurement, digital inclusion and taxation.
In addition, the British Insurance Brokers’ Association has recently released an insurance guide on the sharing economy which aims to address some of the insurance barriers that have been faced when sharing items or skills. The guide looks at the potential confusion around various sharing economy scenarios (e.g., whether a property owner would need a specialized landlord policy if they are renting out a room in their home).
Overview of the Canadian Sharing Economy
Following the format of the previous section, we’ve gathered examples of available figures, research and case studies that provide a snapshot of the landscape of sharing in Canada.
Size and Impact Infographic
Here are just a few examples of the growing impact of sharing economy platforms in Canada:
In fall 2014, Airbnb opened their first Canadian office in Toronto. The move reflects the growing economic value of home-sharing transactions in Canada. It can also been seen as the company positioning itself to more effectively influence regulatory development of the industry in Canada.
Airbnb - In the year 2014 alone, Airbnb saw a 125% increase in the number of Airbnb guests staying in Canada. According to Aaron Zifkin, Airbnb’s country manager for Canada, Airbnb sees Canada as “a top-five priority market around the world” and wants to position the Canadian Airbnb community “to grow as the favourite option for domestic and international travellers.” In November 2014, Airbnb released the results of its “positive impact study” for Montreal - Canada’s largest Airbnb destination. The following are just a few of the highlights of the study, which examined economic, social and environmental impacts related to the Montreal Airbnb community from April 2013 to March 2014:
Rates of Sharing: How Does Canada Compare?
Thanks to a 2014 study from Crowd Companies, a thought-leader in the sharing economy space, we now have early evidence of self-reported rates of “sharing” (i.e. use of sharing platforms) amongst Canada, the US, and the UK. The study surveyed more than 90,000 people across these three countries and found, for example, that Canada has a higher percentage of “sharers” than the US (29% vs 25%) and a slightly higher percentage of “neo-sharers” than both the US and the UK (25% vs 23%).
See below for a definition of terms.
How Governments are Responding
Municipal and Provincial Governments
Similar to their American and European counterparts, the public actions of Canadian cities regarding the sharing economy have mainly focused on handling the impact of Uber on local industry, while also keeping an eye on the impacts of Airbnb.
With respect to the recent arrival of Uber in Canada, Toronto, the only Canadian city currently permitting its service, applied for an injunction to end the company’s operations. Nevertheless, Mayor John Tory recently voiced his approval of the service, stating that such innovations were “here to stay.” While Vancouver city council has imposed a six month ban on the Uber service to investigate the potential impact on the public and city’s taxi industry, it has also revised its bylaws to promote car-sharing pursuant to its Greenest City Strategy6. Meanwhile, both Montreal and Ottawa have stated that the service is illegal7. At the provincial level, in December 2014, two Ontario Members of Parliament introduced separate private member’s bills to regulate “bandit taxis”. These bills aim to “provide municipalities with stronger tools to enforce their existing rules around taxis8.”
In the tourism sector, exploding use of home-sharing services has pushed Tourism Quebec to establish a special advisory committee to find a more permanent solution to the problem of illegal renting. Representatives from Airbnb have been involved in these discussions. Victoria has gone even further in their discussions and collaboration with Airbnb by identifying areas where they can work with Airbnb, including
- Reexamining relevant zoning and bylaws with a view towards the use of home-sharing;
- Working to ensure a more even playing field by evolving towards a fair taxation approach;
- Working with Airbnb to leverage emergency accommodations in the event of a disaster; and
- Shared promotion of the city and its neighbourhoods and local businesses.
In Canada, the federal government (the Government) has not yet positioned itself into this space, save for Canada’s Competition Bureau. The Canadian Competition Bureau, an independent federal government agency whose responsibility is to foster competition between businesses, made a statement in November 2014 about “digital dispatch services”. In its statement, the Bureau said that such businesses “offer an innovative and convenient alternative to traditional methods of arranging urban transportation.” The traditional taxi industry operates as, what is often viewed as, a monopoly, through tight regulations that limit the number of available vehicles, creating artificial demand, thereby allowing costs to rise. In acknowledging the lack of competition, the Competition Bureau is recommending to municipalities across Canada that they “consider whether prohibitions on digital dispatch services and ridesharing applications are necessary and explore whether less restrictive regulations could adequately address their concerns.”
On the political front, some federal parliamentarians have started to make public statements related to sharing economy companies such as Uber. In October 2014, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs tweeted support for the ride-sharing service. Most recently, on December 12, 2014, the issue of taxation and Uber was raised in parliament when a Quebec MP asked whether the Minister of National Revenue intends to take action and have the Canada Revenue Agency develop a Canada-wide action plan to rein in Uber and regulate all the individuals who transport passengers to ensure they pay their fair share to the Government.
These examples demonstrate the diversity of responses related to the legislative and regulatory environment in which sharing economy companies function.
Assessing Medium-Term Trends and Implications
Much has been said about the implications and the future of the sharing economy (see google trends graph below)
Proponents of the sharing economy highlight its features: it gives voice to a new social ideal that pushes back against the over-consumption and the connected debt accumulation that caused the Great Recession; it creates new ways to make better use of resources that have remained idle during tough economic times; it democratizes access for resources by lowering prices; it is a boon to cities like New York as they generate income for residents while giving visitors a cheap place to stay, meaning more money is spent in the local economy; it offers huge potential for developing countries which lack regulations to overcome information problems in services and it is, overall, creating a leaner, more efficient kind of consumption.
Detractors argue that the sharing economy: contributes to the commodification of more aspects in our lives; creates a new class of labourer, the ‘precariat’, dependent on precarious work and wages; turns users into ‘perpetual hustlers’; provides fewer services (and income opportunities) to discriminated groups; and has led to the creation of a new type of capitalism, dubbed platform capitalism, where subcontracting and rental economies create big payouts to small groups of people.
Google trends graph results from using the search term
keyword: 'Sharing Economy' (as of December 2014).
Both detractors and proponents agree that despite the opportunities and risks, the sharing economy is likely here to stay and have speculated on where it might be heading.
Views on Medium-Term Trends and their Implications
Nesta recently released six scenarios for the future of the collaborative economy - with a 2025 time frame. The following combines highlights drawn directly from their report:
- The mainstreaming of collaborative consumption creates demand for small-scale production of high quality, ‘shareable’ hyper-productive goods with implications for imports (decrease) and domestic manufacturing (increases).
- The labour force witnesses the rise of the micro-entrepreneur as more people sell their skills and time on collaborative platforms. As a result, precarious and piece work becomes commonplace with implications forincome tax policy(requires updating), tax evasion (increases), and social benefits (decreased access)..
- Alternative currency/time bank hybrids and community-owned assets allow a million local economies to becoming increasingly self-sufficient and autonomous, drawing demand away from national and international markets
- At the same time, a handful of dominant collaborative platforms rise to become international monopolies in their respective sectors resulting in various attempts to increase their profit margin. Competition regulators have minimal success in regulating and differentiating between new ecommerce business models (e.g. B2B, C2C and P2P).
- A collaborative internet of things replaces collaborative platforms as the new standard for on demand, convenient and embedded goods and services. The availability of knowledge/education and financing from any device leads to the decline of formal, centralised institutions (including universities and banks).
- Increased sustainability and the circular economy become default concerns of the collaborative economy given climate change and resource depletion. Governments introduce both incentives and penalties to discourage waste and promote environmentally friendly collaborative economy initiatives.
Nesta’s foresight work suggests that the sharing or collaborative economy will continue to implicate important public policy areas, including in the federal domain. Through the unbundling of employment and the rise of the micro-entrepreneur, for example, a number of federal departments and agencies could be implicated as source tax deductions shift and the relevance of current social assistance models risks becomes increasingly questioned. As more private services move to on-demand, reputation and internet-based mobile platforms, all levels of government services, including government institutions themselves, will be pressured to even further adapt to the changing expectations of their citizens.
As participation in the sharing economy and how it continues to evolve moves more and more from niche to a mainstream source of goods, services and employment, a long list of implications will need to be considered by Canadian governments. These implications and areas for consideration could be wide ranging: from an exacerbation of the rural/urban divide; to the potential use of sharing economy services to aid criminal behaviour; to the creation of new policies and infrastructure to help Canadian sharing economies compete with their international counterparts.
The fact that the sharing economy will create winners and losers is obvious. What remains to be determined is what the overall impact will be on Canadian society and the degree to which proactive government responses can positively shape the outcomes of sharing economy. For a list of possible areas of focus for the Canadian Government, see Part 3.
Part 2: Summary of Engagement
What We Did
Given the emerging nature of this issue, an essential aspect of our research was the primary research we conducted through a series of outreach events both across and outside the federal public service. By conducting our internal (federal public service) outreach both virtually (GCConnex) and in-person (lunch and learns and other events), we were able to connect with and hear from a wide range of public servants. For our city stream, we conducted interviews with sharing economy entrepreneurs and prosumers in Vancouver and Montreal and co-created in-person evening workshops in Toronto and Ottawa. Here is an overview of the unique and diverse collection of insights we gathered on the sharing economy and its implications (for Canadian governments).
- Vancouver - In Vancouver, a series of interviews and informal conversations with practitioners in the local sharing economy occurred during December 2014 and January 2015. Interviewees included: the co-founder of the Vancouver Tool Library and lead researcher for The Sharing Project; and the co-founder and Director of Project Operations for Vancouver Cohousing. Informal conversations occurred with: members of Share Vancouver, a network of sharing organizations (e.g. GoTogether, The HiVE, Modo The Car Co-op, Time Pooch, Share Shed, Vancouver Public Library, The Vancouver Tool Library among others), and individuals involved in the local sharing economy; staff at the City of Vancouver involved in enabling the sharing economy; and with participants in the sharing economy.
- Montreal - For Montreal, an interview with the CEO of E-180 (a peer-learning platform) was organized. The discussion focused on better understanding the Montreal sharing landscape (Breather, Provender, Swap Team, among others) as well as some of the challenges and opportunities local sharing economy entrepreneurs face.
- Toronto - The Toronto event was held on December 1, 2014 at MaRS Discovery District, and was co-organized with the assistance and partnership of MaRS Studio Y, CSI and the hosts of the 2014ShareFEST TO. Participants included local sharing economy practitioners, CEOs and entrepreneurs from the private (AskforTask), non-for-profit (TorontoTool Library, Trashswag) and the social and partnership spheres (Collaborative Consumption Toronto, Social Innovation Generation). The event began with a #mapjam, an asset mapping exercise that brings stakeholders together in cities around the world to “visually connect the dots” and map grassroots sharing projects, community resources, and the commons, hosted by the Canadian Global Curator for CollaborativeConsumption.com. The session provided an opportunity to both bring awareness, as well as update, to the existing Toronto sharing economy asset map.
- Ottawa - The Ottawa event was held on December 6, 2014 and was supported by HUB Ottawa, a local co-working space. In attendance were a small group of local sharing economy CEOs, entrepreneurs and practitioners (VRTUCAR, Hidden Harvest Ottawa, Ottawa Tool Library) and community members engaged in the sharing economy space. The event began with a keynote primer from the lead researcher of the Vancouver-based The Sharing Project (see AnnexB), who spoke about the findings of their report.
GC 2.0 Stream
GC 2.0 platforms, such as GCConnex, provide access to a wide range of knowledge and expertise. Given the diversity of users, the GC 2.0 stream was designed to reveal the full complexity of the sharing economy topic: sussing out the many drivers, countervailing forces, unintended outcomes, and marginal cases.
|Extent||Internal Outreach||External Outreach|
(Nov.2014 to Feb. 2015)
|Departmental Brown Bag Lunch Stream: Eight departments and over 225 public servants from various classifications and levels.||City Stream (Ottawa and Toronto): approx. 40 partners/participants including leading entrepreneurs.|
(Dec. 2014; to Feb. 2015)
|GCConnex Stream: About 30 public servants shared their views to a series of weekly questions over four weeks.||City Stream (Vancouver, Montreal): interviews and informal chats with several leading practitioners and enthusiasts.|
|Transportation||Rides, bikes, cars, boats, planes|
|Space and Accommodations||Homes, rooms, gardens, desks, workspaces, retail space|
|Digital and Physical Media||Music, video, files|
|Lifestyle Services and Experiences||Meals, activities, travel, activism, retirement, dog-care|
|Lifestyle and Household Items||Clothing, jewelry, toys, sports, tools|
|Skills and Education||Skills, trades, university courses|
|Digital Tasks and Employment||Digital freelance, micro-tasking|
|Professional Assets||Science labs, medical assets, heavy equipment|
|Professional Expertise||Expertise from MBAs, doctors, programmers|
|Delivery and Logistics||Global shipping, local errands and services|
|Production||Ideas, products, coding|
|Sharing organizations||Collectives, worker support, industry groups|
|Sharing industry services||Insurance, legal, tax, services to support ride-sharing and home-sharing|
Both the Ottawa and Toronto events had participants engage in a series of activities designed to showcase the already-existing local sharing economy community, as well as to survey practitioners on ways the federal government could be present in this emerging space. In Vancouver, participants were mostly founders, volunteers and employees of sharing economy businesses and so had a high level of familiarity with the sharing economy community, but were generally less able to speak to possible future roles of the federal government.
Participants in all cities expressed their appreciation for the federal government in undertaking such conversations, using non-traditional consultation methods, and being prepared to engage in “real” conversations. Having initially expressed reticence about the role of government in the sharing economy space, many participants indicated they had gained a better understanding of the work currently being undertaken, and possible future roles for federal involvement.
Photo from Toronto event held at MaRS Discovery District (December 1, 2014).
- Total economic activity was valued at $54 million CAD.
- Airbnb guests in Montreal stay an average of 5 nights and spend an average of $909 compared to 2.7 nights and $760 by typical visitors to Montreal.
- 36% of guests said they either would not have come to Montreal or not stayed as long without Airbnb.
In Ottawa, recent coverage has focused on the impact that the sharing economy is having on local tourism, including on preparations for Canada’s 150th celebration in 2017. A spokesperson for the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association pointed to the decreasing hotel room inventory in the area (citing three recent hotel closures in downtown Ottawa) and stated its intention to make sure that “hotels don’t suffer unfairly in comparison to renters whose use of Airbnb frees them of many of the hotel industry’s constraints and responsibilities.”5
Askfortask - Askfortask is a Toronto-based company that connects users to nearby help and work opportunities. Users post a task and what they are willing to pay for its completion. Respondents can accept the offer, or make counter-offers for either less (to undercut others), or more (based on higher reputation or perceived difficulty). People who post the tasks pay only the amount they advertise, with Askfortask taking a cut from respondents’ payouts. According to its website, Askfortask has currently more than 200,000 service providers available Canada-wide, and has generated over $8 million CAD in economic transactions since its 2012 launch.
A growing sharing economy sector in emerging countries?
The sharing economy is rapidly expanding not only in OECD countries but also in the developing world, with hubs for new organizations in a variety of countries such as Brazil, Kenya, and India. Both risks and opportunities associated with this emerging economy have the potential to grow in these countries given their weak regulatory regimes, property rights and governance systems. The International Development Research Center, a Canadian federal Crown corporation that supports research in developing countries, funded a report in 2013 entitled: The Power of Sharing: Exploring the Digital Sharing Economy at the Base of the Pyramid.
Prologue: Now what?
That’s the question faced by hundreds of would-be writers each year, as they finally emerge from their respective basements, home offices, coffee haunts and backyard sheds with that long struggled-over first manuscript in hand. The hard work, the actual birthing of a first novel, seems done. But is it?
Once upon a time, when you finished that book you’d either take it to an agent or simply send it to a publisher and pray someone might read — and like —it. Today, that’s not enough.
There are now fewer publishers and they have fewer employees. There aren’t as many people around to read manuscripts on spec — those works are usually relegated to that heap of unsolicited manuscripts called “the slush pile” — and people in the book business are more bottom-line oriented than ever.
For the most part, manuscripts today will only be considered if they’re polished, promising, and endorsed by a reliable agent, from a respected (and commercially successful) writer, or an impressive prior track record.
But this is no reason to despair, provided you’ve written what you — and certain well-placed others consider to be a good book. If you’re confident that you’ve got something the market can sustain, and if you’ve taken some time to learn how that market operates, you’ve got as good a chance of seeing that book racked as you ever did.
Chapter One: An Unsentimental Education
The world of Canadian publishing, once as mysterious and remote as millionaire’s island in Muskoka, has never been more accessible.
Doug Pepper, president of McClelland & Stewart, the pre-eminent publishing home of Canadian fiction, has observed momentous changes in the industry over the quarter century that he’s worked as an editor and publishing executive. He says that best way for a first-time writer to be prepared for publication is to take advantage of these changes.
“I can’t speak for what kind of discussion groups, chat groups and blogs and everything on the far reaches of all book publishing,” says Pepper, “but if you spend the time and knew something about navigating that world, you could find out a lot. You could probably talk to a lot of other people you would normally not know about.”
Thanks to the internet, it’s now easier than ever to know not only how publishing works but where to meet people who can help you work it.
Pepper points out readings and public events with authors are a good place to start.
“It’s not a bad idea to go and find out more about the world of publishing,” he says. “You also have a better chance of meeting people like me, but maybe more important even meeting agents and editors of literary journals. It’s always a good idea to try and get stuff published in there to make a name for yourself on the smaller scale.”
It’s also important to know your market: which publishers are more likely to be interested in what you’re written. Is it a small-market, quasi-autobiographical book about navigating Toronto by its back alleys and ravines? Then you’re probably thinking a small, locally oriented press, Coach House perhaps. Or is it an epic intergenerational account of an immigrant dynasty’s rise from off-the-boat rags to digital-age riches? Then you might want to take a run at a larger publisher. Maybe M&S. Is it a genre book, perhaps a fantasy novel about a teenaged girl’s adventures in a time-bending alternate universe? HarperCollins might be interested. In this, the internet can be of immeasurable help.
Chapter Two: What Have You Done for Me Lately?
The internet has also raised the stakes. With the advent of computerized sales tracking systems like BookNet, it’s now possible for everyone to know precisely how well an author’s previous books have sold. (Reviews, peer references and word of mouth used to be prime currency in the publishing industry. Not so much any more.) This can have an impact on whether author is likely to sell a manuscript and to whom, whether they’re likely to be kept or dropped by a particular publisher, whether an agent might be interested in taking them on or not, and generally whether or not to waste one’s time trying to get published.
“We know exactly what’s been rung up on the cash registers of many significant retails across the country and that information is fed to publishers and agents, anyone who cares to subscribe to the service,” says agent Dean Cooke, president of The Cooke Agency. “Now everybody has access to that information in a way that we did not have 10 years ago.”
For Cooke, this has changed everything. “Critical response to a book could once make a big difference to a book,” he says. “Now it’s great to get terrific reviews —where it’s possible to still get a review, and that’s harder and harder all the time — but that’s not what a retailer or a publisher looks at first. It’s the sales you racked.”
Here’s the irony. If you haven’t had any sales to rack, you may be better off than someone who has, especially if those sales haven’t been robust.
“One of the positive things about print publishing is that there’s always the opportunity for something exciting and new to be discovered and brought to readers and the market,” Cooke points out. “That still happens.”
“In an odd way,” he adds, “the way the industry runs now, it’s sometimes easier to get something that is fresh and new — a first novel by someone that no one has heard of—published than it is to get the third or fourth novel published by someone who has written in the past but whose book sales haven’t been record-setting.”
As a writer, the more you know, the tighter the seatbelt. Besides, as Pepper says, fiction almost never makes money, which only increases the pressure. The bottom line is always red, the goal being to make it as light as shade of red as possible.
Chapter Three: Ain’t To Proud to Beg
The Cooke Agency is one of the country’s preeminent and respected literary agents. You might need someone like Dean Cooke. Then again, you may not.
Among others, he represents John Irving, Guy Vanderhaege and William Leith in Canada. He’s well aware that he’s now shopping manuscripts around in a much smaller and more profit-oriented business than ever, and even he counsels the advantages of writers knowing a lot more about the industry.
“Being familiar with the way the business works, being educated about publishing is really important to me,” says Cooke, who is highly selective when it comes to signing on new clients. “When I see that someone has made the effort to read about the way publishing works, to attend classes or writing programs, has always been important to me and I think is even more so now.”
In this sense, agents not only act as filters but as editors; if you’re accepted by an agent, a good one can help you polish a manuscript so that it’s more likely to solicit the positive attention of an appropriate publisher. This is why Cooke is happy to work extensively with authors whose work he feels is strong enough to find a readership. If your ego can bear it, an experienced agent can help make your good book even better.
“In some cases, agents are very important. We rely on them, because that’s all they do.” says Pepper. “They go out there and find stuff, and they cut a lot of the dross out. There’s agents I know, they have fabulous taste and they’ve backed it up with success. When they tell me to read a book, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to agree with them, but I’ll read it. It will mean a lot to me that that agent says that.”
Chapter Four: The Long, Hard Look
But here’s the toughest part, harder than any other step, but easily the most essential. It’s the thing you want — no, need — to think about most before even opening that basement door and facing the daylight. Is your book actually any good? Will anyone out there really want to read it? Just who do you think you are, anyway?
According to Pepper, if there’s one universal rule of thumb for the first time author, “It’s being honest with yourself.”
“There’s two ways of looking at it,” he explains. “There’s like 18 billion books published. Why does the world need another book, whether it’s by me or not by me? How am I going to move the meter here? Be honest. Writing should not be a self-indulgent thing, that I’m doing it because I like to do it. If you’re going to ask a publisher to pay money for it, or an agent to spend their time shopping it, then you really do have to believe you can find an audience for it. That audience doesn’t consist of your Aunt May. That audience is people who don’t know you that you have turned on by your writing. I think the biggest mistake always is just thinking you’re better than you are.”
Epilogue: The Future is Unwritten
Take another look at that pile of paper. If you can say to yourself, with complete and ruthless honesty, that it’s a good pile and that someone out there is definitely going think it’s as good as you do, then it may be time to let it loose in the world. But do not do so with delusions: the world of publishing is only as fair and reasonable as any world and it may exercise its perfectly reasonable prerogative not to find the pile quite as lovely as you do. Be prepared for this. It will not only help the frail artistic ego bolster itself against disappointment; it will make happy endings that much sweet.
But most importantly, just be prepared.