The promise of the ‘passion economy’

This interesting piece from Li Jin suggests a transition from a gig economy to a passion economy. Both facilitate economic action by individuals but the former reduces their individuality to a single attribute (driving a car, delivering food) whereas the latter allows them to offer services premised on that individuality (teaching students, offering analysis). In practice it’s a case of knowledge-products being offered digitally in a way which scales beyond the local environment to which such people were formerly restricted. The platform facilitates these interactions while trying to ensure people remain on platform by offering additional value to the interaction through features like workflow and scheduling tools. There’s a huge hole in the argument which barely needs pointing out:

The top-earning writer on the paid newsletter platform Substack earns more than $500,000 a year from reader subscriptions. The top content creator on Podia, a platform for video courses and digital memberships, makes more than $100,000 a month. And teachers across the US are bringing in thousands of dollars a month teaching live, virtual classes on Outschool and Juni Learning.

It seems likely we’ll see a long tail distribution here in which these headline figures distract from the vast majority of users who earn next to nothing through the platforms, with the shiny novelty of the technology distracting from the broader context of underemployment in which people turn to platforms like this to top up their incomes. Nevertheless, it seems plausible that this trend is going to grow and Jin offers an industry-centric theorisation of it which I’m planning to come back to.

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