Enter the ‘passion economy’, in which a growing number of people are using digital platforms to monetise their unique skills. This is cutting out the intermediary - the record label, online school, film studio, newspaper - as creators build their own channels, grow their own followings. In any case, these intermediaries have in recent years merely become the distribution and marketing function anyway, and that’s something that anyone with access to social media can do themselves now.
Think of a calligrapher sharing their techniques on Skillshare, a gamer playing through their favourite video game on Twitch, a journalist publishing articles directly on Substack or a musician releasing new folk-pop tracks to their paying Patreon supporters.
The world is, as NPR’s Adam Davidson, author of The Passion Economy: The New Rules for Thriving in the Twenty-First Century posits, moving from a ‘widget economy’ of one-size-fits all products for everyone, brought to you by multinational companies and their cookie-cutter staff, to a ‘passion economy’ in which we shed the limiting job titles of the 20th century and turn our real passions and natural skills into a self-made cottage industry.
In these uncertain times, overshadowed by COVID-19, this shift is now accelerating at a rate of knots. As ‘normal’ jobs lack the certainty we once sought in them, more of us than ever are taking a fun side hustle and wondering how to turn it into a full-blown career.
The benefits of this new model are many. It’s not just about keeping all the revenue, but also about direct and unmediated access to the audience, and to their data. That provides complete control and creative freedom, as well as unfiltered access to invaluable customer insights on which creative and commercial decisions can be based to best serve the end user. Additionally, this direct relationship offers a far more authentic experience for the audience.
Today’s consumer understands perfectly how that works. At one time such a boldly commercial framework around artistic creation would have seemed crass, and at odds with pure creative values. But in an era where the most sought after career by kids today is ‘YouTuber’, and your average 7-year-old understands exactly how those influencers earn a crust, we’re happier than ever to support the people we admire to make more of the stuff we love.
Love changes everything
March 2020 saw creator sponsorship platform Patreon having its busiest month on record, with over 30,000 new signups in the first three weeks of that month alone. Meanwhile Substack, the fast-growing subscription newsletter/blog/podcast platform boasts around 100,000 paying subscribers to its creators there. Substack’s 12 top-earning writers make an average of more than $160,000 each, the company told BuzzFeed News. It’s clear from these metrics that today’s creative sees their pay check increasingly coming from fans.
Streaming sites like Twitch, IGTV and YouTube are booming too, as people look for both entertainment and self-improvement during a quarantine. Creators are stepping up to offer value - from Joe Wicks' daily live PE classes on YouTube to Italian chef Massimo Bottura offering cooking classes on Instagram, from artist Matt Fussell’s hours-long art tutorials to Laura Marling offering free guitar lessons on Instagram.
Even before this unprecedented time of upheaval, consumers of media were becoming happier to pay for quality content from people they respect, directly from them rather than through a platform or publisher. After all, advertising revenue barely covers the bills for most creators, and the publishers who traditionally act as gatekeepers are losing their exclusive control over that reach.
Coronavirus is driving this burgeoning passion economy into the mainstream much faster than expected, and it’s a beacon of light for everyone stuck at home right now, whether as a vital income stream or a welcome distraction from the angst-ridden news cycle.