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Airbnb is just the beginning of a global economic transformation: Rifkin

Airbnb, the online marketplace where people can book or list a room, house, or even a castle, is reportedly in advanced talks to raise capital that would value the company at about $10 billion. This news made headlines and raised eyebrows, as this is more than some major hotel chains are worth. The deal would make Airbnb one of the world's most valuable startups and also make the co-founders the first billionaires of the so-called "sharing economy," according to Forbes.

"This success story is really about a great economic transformation occurring in the global economy, with far-reaching implications for all of us," says Jeremy Rifkin, author of the “The Zero Marginal Cost Society.

"We're actually seeing the emergence of a new economic system alongside the traditional capitalist market, and the new system is a sharing economy."

Rifkin says Airbnb owes its success to near-zero marginal costs. More broadly, he thinks this phenomenon will lead to a paradigm shift in the economy.

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There seems to be evidence Airbnb is already disrupting the traditional hotel industry. For starters, the company would be worth more than Wyndham Worldwide (WYN), valued at $9.3 billion, and Hyatt Hotels (H), at $8.4 billion. That's without ever breaking ground on a hotel or shelling out for a hospitality staff to turn down beds or deliver room service. The chief executive at hotel consulting firm Lodging Advisors told the Wall Street Journal he estimates that the 416,000 Airbnb guests who visited New York for the 12 months ending in July 2013 cost the city's hotel industry about one million room nights.

Another company that has created a new market by letting people share excess resources is Uber, which has enabled qualified car drivers to be chauffeurs. Valued at $3.8 billion, Uber has faced taxi industry opposition ranging from cab-driver strikes in Paris and Milan to bans or caps in Miami and Seattle.

Then there are sharing economy startups such as the peer-to-peer online marketplace Style Lend, which allows users to share and rent each other's designer clothes. And 1.7 million people have joined car sharing services including Car2Go and Zipcar.

Rifkin says Airbnb is the first example of the tremendous disruption we'll see when it comes to the impact of the zero marginal cost phenomenon on the physical world, not just in the virtual world where information-sharing has already disrupted the music, newspaper and book publishing industries. The "Internet of Things" and 3D printing are developments Rifkin thinks will enable the transformation -- check out the video above to see why.

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So who will the winners and losers be in the paradigm Rifkin is predicting? Rifkin says the winners will be the hundreds of millions and then billions of consumers who can become "pro-sumers," or people who produce, use and share services at very low costs. (He believes the capitalist market will play a niche role in the next half-century, aggregating some of these goods and services.)

Losers will be traditional brick-and-mortar companies such as big retailers and energy corporations -- "those that have traditionally organized around economies-of-scale vertical integration ... there's just too much expense." Rifkin says the sharing economy allows you to remove middle men and democratizes the economy.

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