Prosumism: The Buyer Becomes Producer and Seller

GDI researchers write in the study "The End of Consumption as We Know It" that there is no longer a classic way for a product to reach the consumer via manufacturing and retailing. Anyone can take up any position in the chain.

This text is based on an excerpt from the study "The End of Consumption as We Know It – When data makes retail superfluous”.

Since the beginning of civilisation, the “product” has typically followed two pathways to the consumer (P = Production; R = Retail; C = Consumer/consumption; S = Sales):

P > R > C: First production, then retail, then consumption. This is the path taken by supermarkets and department/specialty stores: A finished product is brought to the market, where it is available to buyers who then consume it.

R > P > C: First retail, then production, then consumption. This is the path usually taken by craftsmen. The tailor finishes the suit, the contractor renovates the kitchen, the upholsterer sews the slipcovers in response to a customer order.

With digitisation, these clearly defined paths have not disappeared, but they have become blurred with more entangled pathways. Some examples:

C > P > R: First consumption, then production, then retail. This is a typical path for Beta tests of software or clinical trials for pharmaceuticals. A product not yet ready for the market is made available to users free of charge. User feedback and other test results influence the deci- sion of whether the test version should go to market.

P > C (> S > C): First production, then consumption of part of the product. Sales then occurs afterwards offering consumption of the complete product. This describes the business model of media Pay- walls. The complete product is there, however only a part of it is avail- able free of charge.

C1 = P1 > P2 > S > C2: This is a path used by platforms such as Facebook. Users can consume (C1) as well as produce (P1) content. In both roles they produce data (P2), which are sold by Facebook (S) to advertising clients (C2).

The boundaries between production, retail and consumption are dissolving. Every hub in the network can be anything – producer, product, seller, distribution channel, purchaser or user. If everyone can be everything, what is consumption?

Consumption can no longer be understood as a site-specific act. It transforms to a transitory state or mode that can be changed at any time, seamlessly. If goods are exchanged not only for money, but also for data and attention, the involvements and entanglements among humans, objects and systems can become so complex that it is hardly possible to see through them and deconstruct them. Counter to this increasing complexity, the most radical simplification enjoys increasing popularity.

P = C: The consumer is also producer. Acquisition is shifting to sharing, swapping and the maker movement. In the future, fewer products will be produced centrally and globally, and increasingly will be produced locally. Individual households will produce more things them- selves, including energy (solar), objects (3D printer) and fresh vegetables from their community gardens. Local production will become competitive again.

This trend is offering economic and social benefits: Self-production gen- erates a sense of satisfaction, is often more sustainable, and can create status. Mass products could become increasingly insignificant and disap- pear entirely from the market. This would solve the problem of abun- dance, which is constantly devalued by knockdown prices.