What the fight over Airbnb means about Producing.

The photo featured in this blog is a weapon.

It’s an ad placed by the DIY real estate website, Airbnb, to stir up supporters as the battle between the site and the NYC hotel industry wages on like the fight over the Iron Throne.

Don’t know about Airbnb?  Well, if you’re looking to make a few extra bucks, you’re going to be very intrigued.

Airbnb matches up residents of a certain city with visitors to that city who are looking for a place to stay.  To use an example, say you’re coming to NYC to see . . . oh, I don’t know . . . It’s Only A Play . . . and you don’t want to spend the astronomical amounts charged by a midtown hotel . . . or, you’d rather stay in a more residential neighborhood . . . or you want a kitchen . . . whatever.  And I, the owner of an apt on the Upper West Side, am going away for the weekend.  I list my apartment on Airbnb for $X/night.  You click it, rent it, and bam.  You’re happy.  I’m happy.

And the hotels (and the city governments themselves that are losing out on tax money) are POed.  So they are fighting back with laws and fines.  Airbnb is fighting back with popular opinion.  Since the people are happy, shouldn’t the governments listen to the people, and not the hotel lobby?

What fascinates me about this latest struggle is that it’s another sign of the transfer of power from big corps to individuals.

The internet birthed what I call “The Age of the Independent.”

Sites like Airbnb, eBay, and yes, even StubHub have given millions of individuals the opportunity to make money online, and have made consumers tremendously happy by delivering them products and services cheaper or of higher value then they can get at their local mall.

And, like the city governments and hotels, some industries try to resist.

Others, like Amazon.com, embrace the Independent seller by saying, “Hey – if you don’t like our price, you can get this from one of our partners cheaper if you want,” and then just takes a cut.  They may make less, but they keep the customer.

The Era of the Independent continues to artists as well.  Painter?  You don’t need a SoHo gallery anymore.  There’s 20×20.  Filmmakers?  Well, we all know how the Independent Film movement has rocked big studios over the last decade.

And, yes . . . the Era of the Independent is coming to Theater too.

Things always take a little longer to take on Broadway . . . but the Era of the Independent Producer . . . the David Merrick, the Cameron Mackintosh . . . is coming back.

And just like NYC’s attempt to keep Airbnb away . . . resistance is futile.

I know what you’re thinking . . . Broadway is different.  Unlike the unlimited web, there are only so many Broadway theaters, so there’s only so much an Independent can do.

And you probably thought a hotel room could just exist in a hotel.


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  • Alex Beech says:

    And who says that this new brand of producers will need traditional theatre spaces to produce big shows? Maybe the entire model will change.

    Here’s an interesting article on the “1099 economy”:


  • Len says:

    Always love the way government spends the people’s money to fight against what the people create, want and benefit from. I’ve already been using AirBnB for future vacation in Europe. Not just because it’s more affordable but I get to live among the people and with the people as opposed to hiding in a non-social hotel room.
    Government is a cesspool of waste fighting against social enterprise.

    • Jared says:

      Not all the people want AirBnB. As a resident of New York, I am uncomfortable with the idea that completely unvetted people can stay in my neighbor’s apartment with no supervision. Even though they can’t get into my apartment, they can cause all kinds of commotion with noise, filth, and generally being a crappy neighbor. Not to mention the possibility they could attack other residents (unlikely, but still possible, and the reason that apartment buildings in the city all have locks on their main entrance).

      Another problem that hasn’t been adequately addressed is the fact that some landlords have realized that they can make more money renting out rooms by the week than by the month. It is not a large group, but currently there are some buildings that continually rent out rooms via AirBnB rather than leasing them to tenants in a city with a notoriously low housing inventory. New York is a major tourist destination but we don’t need to get so carried away catering to visitors that we create additional hardships to those who live here.

      • Ann says:

        People who rent on Airbnb, after the first stay, are rated. If you get a bad rating, chances are no will rent to you in the future. There are checks and balances. More than there are in a hotel, where you also have no idea who is in the room next to you or if someone could attack you in the hall or the elevator.

        As far as the Landlords are concerned, if someone owns the building it is there right to do what they want with their property as long as they abide by the same rules they have for their tenants.

        There are ways around all of these complaints, whether you are for or against Airbnb. Parameters for how it functions in this city, wouldn’t be a bad idea though.

        • Jason says:

          “As far as the Landlords are concerned, if someone owns the building it is there right to do what they want with their property as long as they abide by the same rules they have for their tenants.”

          Not even vaguely true. You don’t get to turn your apartment building into a hotel because you can make 4 times as much money as you would by leasing it. AirBNB allows landlords to avoid hotel taxes and the regulations that make hotels safer for overnight guests at the expense of the rest of the city.

          As usual with this sort of nonsense, it’s privatized profit and socialized loss. The “sharing economy” doesn’t exist. It’s just regular business, with the added element of the company in question – whether it’s AirBNB, Uber, or Ebay – structuring things so their users (or society at large) have to handle any of the negative consequences.

  • Carvanpool says:

    Unfettered capitalism has funneled most wealth up to the one per-centers.

    It’s caused the worst distribution of wealth since the Gilded Age.

    It brought the world to the economic brink just a few short years ago.

    Maybe the “hotel lobby” (pun?) is right to object to unregulated competition. The complaints outlined above are just the tip of the iceberg. Who verifies the safety of airbnb? What of lost taxes? What of tax on income of renters?

    Not every novel new business idea deserves a free ride.

    • Ann says:

      People who rent their homes on Airbnb, have to pay taxes as it is considered income (duh). So the gov is getting it’s piece of the pie.

      Your argument that it hurts the economy to be enterprising, doesn’t really hold water. The hotels have been raising their prices to make it impossible, as did the airlines, then you got priceline orbitz and expedia to name only a few.

      All these new ways to go about things, broadens peoples desire to travel, shop and buy. That is good for everyone.

      The hotels will have to figure out a way to get their customers back. if the Airlines can do it, so can the hotels.

      • Carvanpool says:

        Not my argument.

        Why do legitimate businesses need to subsidize competitors? No sales tax on Amazon for years?

        That went a bit too far, didn’t it?

        • Blair says:

          I don’t think I understand your argument either. how is the hotel industry subsidizing Airbnb? Airbnb issues a 1099 to owners each year. The government can regulate and require renters to register and pay tax on each rental, if they so choose. The only problem is the hotels don’t like lost revenue and competition…

          • Carvanpool says:

            It’s as if a food cart opened on the corner of the restaurant you owned.

            The hotel must pay insurance, business taxes and fees, etc. The food cart, not having as many legal requirements to operate can eat your lunch.

            Fair or unfair?

  • Ann says:

    As a painter, I didn’t know about 20×20 so thank you for that!

    There is also Uber and now Postmates, to rival taxis and messenger services.

    I used Postmates to pick up some books for me at Barnes and Noble when I was sick in bed and they came within 40 minutes.

    I’ve had huge success with Airbnb and VRBO in other cities.

    Then there is Kickstarter.

    I wonder if there is a website for finding legitimate business investors? A Kickstarter but where you buy a stake in a real business?

    Cool article Ken!

    and Hah! Seeing it’s Only A Play next week!

    Ann LaG.

  • Eric Grunin says:

    The fight over airbnb is not the David vs Goliath case you assume it to be: http://nymag.com/news/features/airbnb-in-new-york-debate-2014-9/

    Personally I hate those ads: don’t tell me what’s good for me.

  • elinor says:

    I was robbed by my airbnb guest and airbnb will not return my emails. I do not recommend hosting. Maybe in the beginning it was safe, but now it has gotten too big. I now don’t feel unsafe in my apartment. Watch out!

  • As it relates to theater I totally agree. I just had a very, very successful site-specific performance in Manhattan, the kind that is a major shift in the way people come together to experience live theater. I did it almost completely independently, on a budget of $1000 (no budget essentially), full of barter and creative acrobatics to pull it off. Let’s go independent producers!!

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