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Prosumer is a portmanteau formed by contracting either the word professional or producer with the word consumer. The term has taken on multiple conflicting meanings: the business sector sees the prosumer (professional–consumer) as a market segment, whereas economists see the prosumer (producer–consumer) as having greater independence from the mainstream economy. It can also be thought of as converse to the consumer with a passive role, denoting an active role as the individual gets more involved in the process. More recently, in the mental health field, the word "'prosumer'" has come to mean "consumer/provider," also known as a "peer provider," such as a peer support specialist or other mental health consumer who also provides peer support mental health services (background on peer-run mental health services). The word "Prosumerise" has been coined by Widality to represent the merging of the IT and mobility requirements of the prosumer, consumer, and enterprise.

Contents

Definition variations

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General meanings

  • Producers or professionals using consumer-grade products.
  • Consumers using retired professional-grade products.
  • Consumer targeted products, at consumer prices, but containing some professional-grade functionality.
  • Progressive consumer.

Producer and consumer

Marshall McLuhan and Barrington Nevitt suggested in their 1972 book Take Today, (p. 4) that with electric technology, the consumer would become a producer. In the 1980 book, The Third Wave, futurologist Alvin Toffler coined the term "prosumer" when he predicted that the role of producers and consumers would begin to blur and merge (even though he described it in his book Future Shock from 1970). Toffler envisioned a highly saturated marketplace as mass production of standardized products began to satisfy basic consumer demands. To continue growing profit, businesses would initiate a process of mass customization, that is the mass production of highly customized products.

However, to reach a high degree of customization, consumers would have to take part in the production process especially in specifying design requirements. In a sense, this is merely an extension or broadening of the kind of relationship that many affluent clients have had with professionals like architects for many decades.

Toffler has extended these and many other ideas well into the 21st-century. Along with recently published works such as Revolutionary Wealth (2006), we can recognize and assess both the concept and fact of the prosumer as it is seen and felt on a worldwide scale. That these concepts are having global impact and reach, however, can be measured in part by noting in particular, Toffler's popularity in China. Discussing some of these issues with Newt Gingrich on C-Span's After Words program in June 2006, Toffler mentioned that The Third Wave is the second ranked bestseller of all time in China, just behind a work by Mao Zedong.[1]

Don Tapscott more fully elaborated on the concept in his 1995 book The Digital Economy calling it "Prosumption."

However, mass customization has not taken place in most areas of the economy. Most consumption continues to be passive as critics of television, recorded music, and fast food would argue. Indeed, people are generally uninterested in going to the effort of customizing the myriad products that comprise modern consumer culture. In The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, Barry Schwartz argues that diminishing returns from a confusing abundance of consumer choice is producing stress and dissatisfaction.3 Still, one key area of high-customization is taking place: highly involved hobbyists.

Professional consumer

With customization focused on leisure pursuits, Toffler's initial combination has been largely supplanted by a second pair of blurring roles: that of the professional and consumer. In particular, hobbyists have become ever-more demanding in the pursuits of their hobbies, often rising above the level of dilettante (an amateur, someone who dabbles in a field out of casual interest rather than as a profession or serious interest) to the point of commanding skills equal to that of professionals. Key examples of such hobbies are:

This professional slant of the prosumer term is most common in photography which is a field that highlights prosumer trends. Access to professional-level equipment and skills is made possible by combination of factors such as:

  • high disposable incomes by some sectors of the population
  • increased leisure time, again, for some sectors of the population
  • continuously falling prices of ever more advanced products (especially electronics)
  • media geared towards amateurs and hobbyists:
  • Pertaining to electronics; are considered to be "on the fence" as a product of lower quality than a professional product, and higher quality (sometimes in the form of bells and whistles) than a consumer product. Some examples include:
    • Digital camcorders
    • Still cameras
    • HDTVs

Non-corporate producer and consumer

Yet a third meaning or usage of prosumer is springing up, especially among some activist groups. That is, the producer and consumer roles are being combined so as to exclude (or at least diminish) the role of the corporate producer; thus, rather than generating higher corporate profits from value-added products, producers would, at best, be reduced to supplying lower-profit commodity inputs. Indeed, the more consumer-oriented prosumer spin is irrelevant to many people with diminished disposable income caused by various economic trends such as globalization, automation, and wealth concentration. Identifiable trends and movements outside of the mainstream economy that have adopted prosumer terminology and techniques include:

  • a Do It Yourself (DIY) approach as a means of economic self-sufficiency or simply as a way to survive on diminished income
  • the voluntary simplicity movement that seeks personal, social, and environmental goals through prosumer activities such as:
    • growing one's own food
    • repairing clothing and appliances rather than buying new items
    • playing musical instruments rather than listening to recorded music
  • use of new media-creation and distribution technologies to foster independent media (see Indymedia); many involved in independent media reject mass culture generated by concentrated corporate media
  • self-sufficient barter networks, notably in developing nations, such as Argentina's RGT have adopted the term prosumer4

These blurrings of the roles of consumer and producer have their predecessor in the cooperative self-help movements that sprang up during various economic crises e.g. the Great Depression in the 1930s.

Influence on a company's R & D budget

A fourth view of the Prosumer is as one who can influence the R & D spending of a company in ways which directly benefit them. For example, say you’re a manufacturer of widgets. One of your customers changes their requirements and asks that all their widgets sing. This customer is important enough that losing them would seriously hurt your bottom line. Based on their request you direct a portion of your R & D budget to solve their specific problem. While the customer didn’t directly make the changes they did influence your company with their design requirements. This arrangement has positive effects for both parties:

For the customer:

  • Immediate access to the new technology.
  • The technology meets their specific requirements.

For the company:

  • Strengthened relationship with the customer.
  • Demonstrates a willingness to keep their customers satisfied.
  • The company now has a new feature/product/service they can market to other customers.

Progressive Consumer

A fifth definition of Prosumer is “Progressive Consumer” which emerged during the recession in 2008, and identifies a modern consumer who has changed their approach to the traditional methods and habits of purchasing products. A Prosumer is researching a products value, performance, and price through social networks (twitter, tumblr, facebook) and consumer product reviews (such as Amazon.com), and prices comparison shopping engines such as Nextag.com and Thefind.com, before making a final decision or purchase. Within these web sites a Prosumer researches all aspects of a products performance, price and social acceptance in relative comparison to similar products within the same category. The Prosumer is searching for the highest quality product that best meets their personal needs for the maximum amount of money they are willing to spend. Based on that search criteria, the Prosumer is also willing to venture into new shopping distribution channels in order to purchase that product . The Prosumer terminology was identified by the Earl Jean Brand, where the company recognized a new consumer niche of premium denim consumers who because of the economic downturn desired a high quality, status image, socially acceptable and high performing jeans wear products at value prices.

Prosumerise

In their paper entitled "When the Enterprise becomes the Prosumerise",[1] Widality discusses how the very different IT and mobility needs of the prosumer, consumer and enterprise are all now melding into a common set of requirements, driven by the rise of smartphones and downloadable applications that consumers, prosumers and enterprises are consuming in equal numbers. Solutions providers can now address the "Prosumerise" (i.e. the combined needs of the consumer, prosumer and enterprise) with common solutions. Prosumerise can also be used as a verb to describe the act of prosumerising a technology or market.

Prosumption

In their book Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams coined the related term of prosumption (production/consumption) to refer to the creation of products and services by the same people who will ultimately use them. Companies and individuals are increasingly utilizing and involving the end-users to develop final products and services. In some instances, end-users are creating products on their own, without the interference or assistance of third-parties (i.e. companies, organizations, etc). For example, Lego Mindstorms allows users to download software from Lego's website so that the users can edit and update software as they wish.

References

Lui, K.M. and Chan, K.C.C. (2008) Software Development Rhythms: Harmonizing Agile Practices for Synergy, John Wiley and Sons, ISBN 978-0-470-07386-5

External links


Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

English

Etymology

Blend of producer and consumer, coined by futurologist Alvin Toffler in his book The Third Wave (1980).

Noun

Singular
prosumer

Plural
prosumers

prosumer (plural prosumers)

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Wikipedia has an article on:

Wikipedia

  1. (buzzword) A person in postindustrial society who combines the economic roles of producer and consumer.

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