Barter, swap, share: it’s the new black

Alex Bruce-Smith 

In the first week of its release, Rachel Botsman’s book What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption sold just 27 copies. Nine months later, Time named it one of 10 ideas that will change the world.

Sydney-based Rachel went from relative unknown to the go-to girl to discuss collaborative consumption. It’s a career path that all new authors should take note of; Rachel’s success is less down to the rise in popularity of collaborative consumption and more to do with hard work and clever strategy.

For those who are unaware of the term, collaborative consumption is an ideological shift, where people are sharing cars, houses, furniture and content in a way that hasn’t been seen since before World War II.

It’s a movement that’s based on trust between people and made possible by technology. When Rachel first explained the idea to her parents, their response was mostly negative. Her grandfather, however, said it reminded him of “old values”.

“It’s like when we used to stay with friends we didn’t know,” she quotes her grandfather as saying. Even a decade ago the idea of staying in a stranger’s house was unheard of.

Rachel Botsman: her own brand

Rachel Botsman: her own brand

Today, Airbnb, a website where people offer their spare rooms, houses and even tents to complete strangers, has more rooms available than Hilton Hotels worldwide. Car sharing is another area where collaborative consumption has taken hold. It is predicted that in the United States over the next three years, 10 per cent of car owners will swap to a car-sharing organisation. Last year alone, $US500 million was invested in collaborative start-ups.

Advancements in technology have helped the rise of collaborative consumption: “It can match millions of wants with millions of haves, without the need for a middle man,” she said. “It creates trust between strangers.”

It’s an idea that has gripped the world and turned the idea of consumerism on its head, particularly in the US. Rachel had the idea for the book while she lived in New York, and her co-writer Roo Rogers is an American.

But why, immediately after its publication in 2010, was her book considered a failure?

“If you don’t sell in the first four weeks, the publishing house thinks they’ve bought a flop,” she said. She still believed the idea had value, but with no money for publicity, she had to explore other avenues.

“I wasn’t a blogger, but I started finding relevant articles,” Rachel said, and she commented on all of them – even the small blogs with little-to-no readership.

She developed strong relationships with people she had interviewed for the book, such as Airbnb founder Brian Chesky, who began to refer her to journalists as an expert on collaborative consumption.

She also began to create shareable content that built on the idea of collaborative consumerism. She built a website, created phrases to repeatedly use in interviews and took every single speaking opportunity available to her. In short, she became a brand.

Today, Rachel is a leader in her field, in demand worldwide. It’s a path new authors would be wise to consider following.


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