Caitlin Deweym, OneZero:
The Covid-19 pandemic crushed vast swaths of the economy, slashing consumer demand, closing businesses, and vaporizing millions of jobs. But it’s been good to the nascent sliver of the digital economy that helps people channel their existing skills into sellable services and products.
Such products range from ebooks and meal plan templates to online classes, podcasts, membership clubs, newsletters, and porn. They proliferate on platforms including Patreon, Twitch, Substack, Etsy, Teachable, Knowable, Podia, Thinkific, Supercast, Lulu, Smashwords, Outschool, OnlyFans, and Gumroad.
These platforms generally take a cut of each sale made, ranging from 5% to 50%, or charge a recurring fee to sellers for accessing their market. Tech investors have dubbed this the “passion economy,” a place where anyone can profit doing what she loves. But because that term risks both exaggerating the payoffs of this work and obscuring its ties to the gig economy, the last great labor “disruption,” we might better call it the “hustle economy:” an online labor market in which platform-dependent workers create and monetize their own digital products. Like Uber drivers or Instacart shoppers, workers in the hustle economy need a platform to succeed. But their work is individualized, self-directed, and on their own schedule — one “creator” can’t substitute for another.
I dislike the phrase “hustle economy”; hustle has taken on the unfortunate characteristics of overwork and glorified exhaustion. But, no matter what you call it, this article presents a good case for the precipitous delight that comes with having a more direct relationship between businesses and patrons.
It’s kind of personal to me, too. One of the things I have struggled with is figuring out a way to unobtrusively defer the costs of running this website, at the very least, and perhaps granting it a greater role in my life than just something I write when I am not at my day job. Many years ago, I added Carbon’s advertising to the sidebar, which does help pay the bills. Other revenue sources — referral links and the like — neither fit with the kinds of things that I write about nor pay well enough to justify the infrequency of their use. I also don’t know that sponsored posts make a lot of sense for what I do here.
A little while ago, I experimented with starting a Patreon page, where readers can give me money every month in exchange for nothing. I am truly terrible at business matters. Accordingly, I have never promoted it here aside from a link I added to the sidebar.
Here’s the pitch: I am comfortable writing this website for free. I have done so for nearly ten years now, and have no intention of paywalling it or restricting posts. I would write here forever for no readers, as it’s one way for me to organize my thoughts on a handful of industries that I have dipped my toes in. However, I am lucky enough to have caught the attention of someone like yourself with this website. If you feel like pitching a little money my way every month, please do so at Patreon. If you do want to, or are unable to, please do not feel bad or guilty. I thank everyone equally for reading, whether it is just this post or you have been a subscriber for years.
However, despite what I can only describe as overwhelming and catastrophic demand, I am not setting up an OnlyFans.