WEF publishes report on the sharing economy

The World Economic Forum (WEF), organiser of the annual Davos meeting, published a white paper on the sharing economy. The report, titled Collaboration in Cities: From Sharing to ‘Sharing Economy’ distinguishes between the myriad of oft-confused concepts and terms: collaborative consumption, the peer-to-peer economy, collaborative economy, gig economy, on-demand economy and crowd economy.

It maps out the variety of participants involved in the sharing economy, including individuals, social entreprises and cooperatives, non-profit entreprises, for-profit entreprises, local communities and public sector entities. The report draws on examples from ten cities and explores both the opportunities of this growing sector as well as the regulatory, social and fiscal challenges that surround the sharing economy. 

The report can be downloaded here. 

A more critical and cautious opinion piece on the sharing economy was also published on the WEF website, and can be found here

City4coEN – Steering Committee meeting

The Collaborative Cities for Collaborative Entrepreneurs (City4coEN) project held its Steering Committee meeting on Tuesday, 16 January.

In the first part of the afternoon, project promoter Tom Dedeurwaerdere introduced the project, outlined the team’s view of the collaborative economy and the work conducted to date.

 

Researchers Elisabetta Severi and Louise Lambert respectively presented the mapping of collaborative initiatives in the four sectors of interest (mobility, food, housing and object-sharing) in Brussels and their organisational and economic models, based on the typology developed by Nyssens & Defourny (2017).

 

 

The policy brief that provides further background on this theoretical framework, previously presented at the stakeholder workshop on 4 October 2017 can be dowloaded here

 

Karen Brabant presented two key terms that are crucial for understanding sharing practices and the potential for the collaborative economy to achieve achieve greater sustainability: agency and sociability.

 

 

For further reading on these concepts and examples in the Brussels-based collaborative economy, the relevant policy brief can be accessed here

 

Anne-Grace Kleczewski discussed the legal liabilities of collaborative providers and the challenges presented by the current legal vacuum in this respect. 

 

 

 

The second part of the meeting addressed policy measures that aim to support the collaborative economy. After a brief overview of results collected through interviews with representatives of public administrations, the participants of the Steering Committee meeting contributed, in true collaborative fashion, to completing the list of measures (in Belgium or inspired from abroad). 

 

City4coEN is research project financed by INNOVIRIS and led by UCLouvain, USaint-Louis Bruxelles, KU Leuven and Odisee. Other relevant documents relating to the project are a preliminary report on the multi-criteria assessment: Report #1 Preliminary Assessment

8 March – Debate on the Sharing Economy

In partnership with Full Circle, the Brussels-based Centre for Fine Arts (BOZAR) is set to host a debate on the sharing economy on 8 March 2017. Three guest speakers – Juliet Schor (Boston College), Michel Bauwens (P2P Foundation) and Steve Keen (Kingston University London) – will take the floor to discuss the issues that lie behind an increasingly contested term. 

The debate, titled “Let’s get real, the sharing economy is not about sharing!” will question whether the sharing economy represents a genuine counter-cultural movement that breaks with the past economic system, or if it is a case of offering old wine in new bottles. 

The debate will be held in English. Further information and ticket reservations can be found here

Supporting new policies and initiatives through data sharing

On 4th October 2017, the interdisciplinary research group on the sharing economy at the UCL organised a workshop with stakeholders (platforms, public authorities) in order to present the first results of the City4CoEn project. At the same time, the project leaders showed to the participants the next phase of the research, involving the public management of data. 

You can find the slides of the presentation over data sharing policies here. Please let us know what you think of the research hypothesis. Do you have any idea to enrich them?

Conference on The Platform Economy – lessons from ECJ ruling in Uber Systems Spain SL

Today, the Court of Justice of the European Union held that internet platform Uber does not merely provide an App: it offers a full transport service. Uber exercises a decisive influence over the conditions under which drivers provide their service: the price, the minimum safety conditions, the conduct of drivers and their exclusion from the platform (C-434/15).

This decision addresses the very core of several highly debated questions on the legal status of online intermediaries (e.g. Uber, Airbnb & TaskRabbit). Does the emerging Platform Economy necessitate regulatory intervention? To what extent can platforms be held liable? Does national regulation impose disproportionate market restrictions on innovators? Do platforms qualify as employers? Is the potential loss of social protection of workers detrimental? Do platforms evade tax obligations and other regulations?

Experts in contract law, E.U. law, social law and tax law will discuss these questions during a conference at KU Leuven on Monday 19 February 2018. Deputy prime minister Kris Peeters will open the session. This conference is relevant for all legal professionals who will be increasingly confronted with online intermediary platforms.

 

Register online before 12 February 2018 (fee: 150 euro, incl. participation to the conference, documentation, lunch, coffee break and the hard cover book with a market value of 95 euro).

Click here for further information

Click here to register

Programme

  • 12h15 Registration & Lunch
  • 13h00 Introduction – A political perspective
    Kris Peeters, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Employment, Economy and Consumer Affairs

I. KEY LEGAL CHALLENGES

  • 13h15 Platforms: To Regulate or Not To Regulate?
    Prof. dr. Alain Strowel, Université Saint-Louis & UCLouvain
  • 13h35 Liability of Platforms 
    Drs. Bram Devolder, KU Leuven
  • 13h55 Law Evasion in the Platform Economy
    Drs. Nicolas Van Damme, KU Leuven

II. CHALLENGES FOR E.U. LAW

  • 14h20 A Common Market in the Platform Economy
    Prof. dr. Wouter Devroe & drs. Friso Bostoen, KU Leuven
  • 14h40 Platforms and Consumer Protection
    Prof. dr. Denis Voinot & dr. Aurélien Fortunato, Université Lille 2
  • 15h00 Model Rules on Online Intermediary Platforms
    Prof. dr. Christoph Busch, Universität Osnabrück
  • 15h20 Coffee break

III. CHALLENGES FOR SOCIAL LAW

  • 15h50 Labor Protection in the Platform Economy
    Prof. dr. Valerio De Stefano, KU Leuven
  • 16h10 Social Protection of Non-Standard Workers
    Prof. dr. Paul Schoukens, KU Leuven & Tilburg University & drs. Alberto Barrio, Tilburg University
  • 16h30 Social Security and the Sharing Economy: Dilemma and Paradox
    Prof. dr. Yves Stevens, KU Leuven
  • 16h50 Alternative Methods of Protection 
    Prof. dr. Wouter Verheyen, Erasmus University Rotterdam

IV. CHALLENGES FOR TAXATION

  • 17h15 Direct Taxation of Platforms 
    Prof. dr. Luc De Broe & drs. Dina Scornos, KU Leuven
  • 17h35 VAT in the Platform Economy
    Prof. dr. Edoardo Traversa,UCLouvain & prof. dr. Kenneth Vyncke, KU Leuven
  • 17h55 Closing Remarks – An Academic Perspective 
    Dean Bernard Tilleman, KU Leuven
  • 18h15 Questions & Answers

 

Uber va-t-il mourir?

(First published on The Conversation)

Le titre de cet article n’est pas un effet de manche mais une question, légitime, que de plus en plus d’observateurs se posent. Il est indéniable qu’Uber (la plateforme bien connue de voitures avec chauffeurs) va mal. Au-delà de ses déboires avec les régulateurs de nombreuses villes (comme Londres ou Québec), des plaintes de ses chauffeurs pour salariat déguisé, d’un vol de données concernant ses clients et chauffeurs, d’accusations de sexisme au sein de l’entreprise, ou encore des frasques de Travis Kalanick, son ancien PDG, ce que les investisseurs reprochent avant tout à la compagnie c’est son incapacité à boucher l’énorme trou financier qu’elle n’a cessé de creuser depuis sa création.

Uber a encore perdu près de 3 milliards de dollars en 2016 et son incroyable capacité à lever des fonds (environ 15 milliards de dollars depuis 2009) semble se tarir devant son manque patent de rentabilité.

Derrière le baobab Uber se cache la forêt des plateformes de l’économie du partage, qui tiennent des places de marché dites « de pair à pair » (peer-to-peer ou P2P en anglais, d’où l’appellation également de « plateformes P2P »). C’est une forêt où beaucoup d’arbres sont plantés (les idées ne manquent pas et les capitaux pour les arroser, non plus), où certains arbres poussent très vite mais, pour la plupart, disparaissent (pensez, par exemple, à Take Eat Easy dans le secteur de la livraison de repas), et qui se transforment, au final, en larges clairières où ne subsiste qu’un très petit nombre de grands arbres aux racines peu profondes.

Véhicule Uber. BrennanF30/Flickr, CC BY

À y regarder de plus près, on s’aperçoit que ce n’est pas qu’Uber qui est malade. En fait, c’est tout le modèle d’affaires des plateformes P2P qui subit les assauts de trois maux profonds : (1) la réaction des firmes conventionnelles ; (2) la concurrence d’autres plateformes P2P ; (3) le piège de la fuite en avant.

Réaction des firmes conventionnelles

Voyant leurs parts de marché se réduire, les firmes conventionnelles ont déployé de nouvelles stratégies pour contrer l’entrée de plateformes P2P ou, à tout le moins, pour en minimiser l’impact négatif. Matzler et coll. (2015) répertorient et illustrent les principales stratégies mises en œuvre :

  • vendre l’usage du produit plutôt que le produit lui-même ;

  • aider les clients à revendre leurs biens ; exploiter les ressources et capacités inutilisées ;

  • offrir un service de réparation et de maintenance ;

  • utiliser l’économie P2P pour cibler de nouveaux clients ; développer un nouveau modèle d’affaires via l’économie P2P.

Les firmes conventionnelles bénéficient aussi (à juste titre, diront-elles) des réactions des régulateurs qui, peu à peu, adaptent les cadres légaux avec l’objectif de mettre firmes conventionnelles et nouveaux entrants sur un pied d’égalité.

Concurrence entre plateformes P2P

Souvent, ce n’est pas une mais plusieurs plateformes P2P qui tentent de s’installer sur un même marché. La concurrence à laquelle les plateformes P2P se livrent est singulière en ce sens qu’elle porte simultanément sur plusieurs « versants » : les plateformes concurrentes doivent en effet se battre pour attirer à la fois des producteurs et des consommateurs, tout en sachant que les uns ne viennent pas sans les autres et inversement.

Les effets externes positifs qui existent entre les versants exacerbent donc la concurrence : en attirant un producteur supplémentaire, non seulement la plateforme attire davantage de consommateurs mais souvent, elle réduit aussi la capacité de sa rivale à faire de même (dans la mesure où le producteur attiré par l’une ne peut plus être attiré par l’autre).

Chaque participant a donc énormément de valeur aux yeux des plateformes concurrentes et l’on comprend que dans un tel contexte, la concurrence risque de faire place rapidement à une position dominante : dès qu’une plateforme gagne du terrain par rapport à ses concurrentes, son avance croît naturellement en raison des effets de réseau positifs (une plateforme qui a plus de consommateurs, attire plus de producteurs, ce qui attire encore plus de consommateurs et ainsi de suite).

Il est donc fort probable que le gagnant emporte tout, ne laissant que des miettes aux perdants (des services de niche ou des zones géographiques limitées).

Le piège de la fuite en avant

Qu’une plateforme P2P se batte contre une firme conventionnelle ou contre une autre plateforme P2P, sa principale stratégie à court terme consiste à… grandir. Il faut atteindre ce qu’il est convenu d’appeler une « masse critique » d’utilisateurs, c’est-à-dire cette taille à partir de laquelle la croissance se nourrit d’elle-même grâce aux effets de réseau.

Mais, comme le notent Hagiu et Rothman (2016), il est dangereux de vouloir grandir trop vite et à tout prix. En se braquant sur le nombre de participants qu’elle attire, la plateforme risque de négliger la qualité du service d’intermédiation qu’elle offre ; elle se met alors à la merci d’une plateforme entrante qui aura appris des erreurs de son aînée et sera ainsi mieux à même de proposer des transactions mutuellement bénéficiaires aux participants.

La stratégie de croissance rapide est également très coûteuse à court terme. C’est en fait un pari sur l’avenir : la plateforme s’endette aujourd’hui pour attirer des participants, en espérant pouvoir rentabiliser cet investissement demain, une fois qu’elle aura atteint une position dominante. Pour que ce pari soit gagnant, il faut convaincre les bailleurs de fonds qu’il s’agit là d’une prophétie autoréalisatrice.

Le discours tenu par les start-up peut se résumer à ceci : « C’est précisément parce que vous me financez moi plutôt que mes rivaux que je vais dominer le marché et, ainsi, rentabiliser votre investissement ».

Le défi pour les bailleurs de fonds est alors de miser sur le bon cheval. En outre, ils doivent espérer que leur cheval ne remportera pas, au final, une victoire à la Pyrrhus, c’est-à-dire qu’il s’est certes débarrassé de ses rivaux mais sans pouvoir lui-même être rentable.

William Shu, fondateur de Deliveroo à une conférence RISE Hong Kong le 1 juin 2016. RISE/Flickr, CC BY

Vers une « uberisation 2.0 » ?

Demeure donc cette question lancinante : comment atteindre le seuil de rentabilité ? Évincer les concurrents du marché ne suffit pas (même si c’est indéniablement un avantage) ; il faut aussi empêcher l’entrée de nouveaux concurrents et le retour en force des entreprises conventionnelles qui parviennent à appliquer les nouvelles recettes dans leurs vieilles casseroles.

Or, pour augmenter leurs marges, les plateformes P2P n’ont pas 36 solutions : elles peuvent réduire leurs coûts et/ou augmenter leurs prix. Mais ces deux stratégies n’ont guère de chances de fonctionner.

Du côté des coûts, les possibilités semblent limitées : il ne reste plus grand-chose à améliorer en termes de logistique et les prestataires de services ne peuvent décemment plus être pressurés davantage (comme l’attestent les manifestations des chauffeurs d’Uber ou des livreurs de Deliveroo).

Du côté des prix, l’horizon ne semble pas beaucoup plus dégagé. Les consommateurs des places de marché P2P se révèlent très sensibles aux prix. Par exemple, Owyang et Samuel (2015) ont sondé plus de 50 000 utilisateurs américains et canadiens de plateformes P2P : 68 % des sondés donnent les prix bas comme une des raisons principales qui les poussent à utiliser ces plateformes.

Il y a donc fort à parier qu’une augmentation des prix générerait la désertion de bon nombre de consommateurs, qui entraîneraient dans leur sillage de nombreux prestataires de service vu les effets externes qui sont à l’œuvre sur ces plateformes. Un cercle vicieux s’engagerait donc, qui mettrait encore plus en danger la rentabilité des plateformes.

Bien malin qui peut prédire l’avenir mais il apparaît difficile de soutenir à terme un modèle de plateforme « pur et dur » (c’est-à-dire centré exclusivement sur l’intermédiation, sans véritable activité de production ni actif physique).

S’oriente-t-on dès lors vers des modèles hybrides où des entreprises combineraient l’intégration verticale pour certaines opérations et des fonctions d’intermédiation pour d’autres ? Des tentatives de ce genre s’observent déjà, à l’initiative soit de plateformes entrantes soit de firmes conventionnelles.

Ainsi, Deliveroo revient vers une organisation plus intégrée en investissant dans des cuisines industrielles, Airbnb co-développe des projets immobiliers, et Uber investit dans des projets de véhicules autonomes ou volants. Dans l’autre sens, AccorHotels opère une transformation digitale et se pose de plus en plus comme une plateforme offrant des services aux hôteliers.

On peut donc penser que le salut est dans la convergence entre entreprises conventionnelles et plateformes P2P. Reste à savoir si Uber parviendra à se réinventer de la sorte ou s’il finira par disparaître corps et âme, entraînant dans sa chute des investisseurs qui réfléchiront sans doute à deux fois avant de miser à nouveau sur les plateformes de l’économie du partage.

Lecture series on “The Law of Digital Platforms”

The CRIDES (UCLouvain) and the Centre Perelman (ULB) organise a lecture series dedicated to “The Law of Digital Platforms” from February 6 to April 17 2018.

The seminars will be held in French at ULB (campus Solbosch).

The scope of the lecture series is to investigate the most prominent legal issues posed by digital platforms and their business models.

 

Program

 

February 6 (12-14h)
Introduction – Le droit des plateformes
Benoît Frydman (ULB), David Restrepo Amariles (HEC-Paris) et Alain Strowel (UCL-USL-B)

 

February 20 (12-14h)
Travailler sur une plateforme
Auriane Lamine (UCL) et Céline Wattecamps (UCL)

 

February 22 (18-20h)
Plateformes et algorithmes : audits et régulation
Dominique Cardon (Sciences Po Paris)

 

February 27 (12-14h)
L’Etat comme plateforme numérique
Gregory Lewkowicz (ULB)

 

March 6 (12-14h)
La lutte contre les discriminations sur les plateformes
Ana Maria Corrèa (ULB) et Isabelle Rorive (ULB)

 

March 13 (12-14h)
Gouvernance des données et plateformes
Alain Strowel (UCL/USLB) et Enguerrand Marique (UCL)

 

March 20 (12-14h)
Stratégies des plateformes en Europe
Louise Fromont (ULB) & Arnaud Van Wayenberge (ULB)

 

March 27 (12-14h)
Le droit européen et des plateformes
Vassilis Hatzopoulos (Université Panteion/Collège d’Europe)

 

March 17 (12-14h)
Les plateformes financières
Tilen Cuk (ULB) et Pauline Bégasse de Dahen (ULB/USLB)

 

Download the program

 

 

Crowdfunding and co-opetition

First published on IPdigIT.

On May 22, the Laboratory of Excellence for Financial Regulation (LabEx-ReFi) organized a one-day workshop on Online Alternative Finance: Building a Bridge between Research and Practitioners. The objective of the workshop was “to bring together scholars, industry leaders and regulators to have an open-minded discussion about our current state of knowledge about alternative finance.”

I took part in the first panel discussion on ‘Financing of start-ups by equity/reward crowdfunding‘. My task was to answer three questions about the economics of crowdfunding platforms. I reproduce my answers here; they are based on my previous research (see here and here for presentations on IPdigIT) and on some work in progress.

Can you describe the interactions between participants (funders and fundraiser) that take place on a (reward-based) crowdfunding platform? Justify the neologism co-opetition you use for qualifying these interactions.

The concept of ‘co-opetition’ has been proposed by Brandenburger and Nalebuff in their book in 1996; it is not exactly a neologism but it’s true that this concept is seldom used, although it describes very common situations. The idea is the following: rival firms (i.e., firms operating on the same market) are not always competing with one another; there are also dimensions along which they have a common interest in cooperating. To put it roughly, firms cooperate to make the pie grow and then they compete to divide up the pie among them. Hence the term ‘co-opetition’, which mixes cooperation and competition.

coopetition

On a crowdfunding platform, fundraisers compete with one another to attract the attention and the funds of the funders. In the economic jargon, we say that there are negative external effects within the group of funders. This means that for a given number of funders, any fundraiser who has already her project presented on the platform is not too happy when the platform accepts an additional project, because this potentially reduces her chances to be financed. Another consequence of this competition among fundraisers is that, other things being equal, fundraisers prefer small crowdfunding platforms, i.e., platforms that showcase a small number of projects.

But, this ‘other things being equal’ way of thinking is obviously wrong. In particular, it is wrong to think that the number of funders is given. This is where the cooperation part kicks in: as more fundraisers join a particular platform, this platform becomes more attractive for funders because they have more chances to find on this platform the project (or the reward) that fits their taste. In our jargon, we talk of positive external effects across groups: more fundraisers attract more funders. And, clearly, the reverse is true as well: more funders attract more fundraisers.

Now, what is the net effect? As a fundraiser, do I welcome an extra fundraiser on my platform? The answer is yes, if this extra fundraiser makes the pie grow more than it steals a part of this pie from me. Our recent research (with Armin Schwienbacher and Thomas Lambert) suggests that such positive net effects are at work on Ulule, the French reward-based crowdfunding platform: past contributions to some project A have a positive influence on current contributions to some other project B. A direct consequence of this is that fundraisers, under these conditions, prefer larger platforms to smaller platforms. I’ll come back to this.

What are the best strategies of crowdfunding platforms to internalize interactions between participants and to make money?

It is important to include the platforms into the picture. Even though fundraisers may benefit from one another’s presence, as I just described it, they are not directly cooperating. It is the platform that makes these positive external effects across groups arise. Without the platform, fundraisers and funders wouldn’t be able to interact (the transaction costs would simply be too high). This is what we mean when we say that platform internalize the external effects generated by the interaction between fundraisers and funders.

Chicken-and-egg

Now, how do they do so and how do they make money? There are two big categories of strategies: price and non-price strategies. As far as prices are concerned, most platforms make fundraisers pay (by taxing a part of the funds that they raise) and give free access to funders. This is a general tactic for this type of platforms (called ‘two-sided’ platforms): as they need to attract one group to attract the other, and vice versa, they face what is known as a ‘chicken-and-egg’ problem. Providing free (or even subsidized) access to one group so as to convince this group to join is usually the only way to solve this problem. Think of free entrance (plus a free drink) given to women in nightclubs. To make money, the platform needs to raise sufficient revenues on the ‘money’ side to cover its losses on the ‘subsidy’ side, which usually requires patience (and deep pockets…).

Non-price strategies are as important. Once the two groups are on board, crowdfunding platforms must do whatever they can to facilitate the interaction between the groups. A first strategy concerns the choice of a mechanism for raising funds. Platforms usually adopt one of two models: ‘All or Nothing’ (the fundraiser gets the money only if the goal that was set initially is reached) or ‘Keep It All’ (when money can be kept even if the goal is not reached). These two mechanisms have their advantages and disadvantages, which I don’t have time to discuss here. Platforms also design strategies to address asymmetric information problems. There are hidden information problems (funders have a hard time estimating the chances of success of the proposed projects) and hidden action problems (funders also face trouble monitoring what fundraisers do with the collected funds). Typically, platforms spend resources to screen the projects that they accept; they also facilitate the provision of information by the fundraisers and the circulation of information among funders.

How with the crowdfunding platforms industry evolve? More concentration, less fragmentation? Which complementarities for reward-based and equity-based CRP?

As I explained it before, there are strong reinforcement mechanisms at work on crowdfunding platforms: more funders attract more fundraisers, who in turn attract more funders, and so on so forth. Even if the competition among funders exerts a force in the opposite direction, I believe that this is of second order, at least nowadays as crowdfunding as a whole is still growing (things may change when the crowdfunding market will reach its maturity). Add to this, economies of scale and a learning curve; that is, platforms get better at what they do as they grow.

snowball

Put together, these forces induce a snowball effect: the big gets bigger and the small smaller, which should push the crowdfunding platform industry towards more concentration and less fragmentation. This being said, I don’t believe that the crowdfunding market will be dominated by one or two global platforms (like Google for search, or Facebook for social networks). There is (and there will still be in the near future) a lot of room for differentiation across platforms. Differentiation indeed takes place along the following dimensions:

  • the type of crowdfunding (reward, equity, donation, lending, …),
  • geographical lines (because of different regulations, because funders prefer financing local entrepreneurs, …),
  • sectors (artistic projects, real estate, you name it).

As far as complementarities are concerned, I don’t think there is much to be found among different types of crowdfunding platforms. My understanding is that reward-based and equity-based crowdfunding are two worlds apart (these platforms don’t attract the same profile of fundraisers, let alone the same profile of funders). However, complementarities exist – and are increasingly exploited – among crowdfunding platforms and other forms of financing. I mean banks primarily, but also venture capitalists or business angels.