Once upon a time, job stability and security were the cornerstones of ‘a good career’. Now, thanks to the passion economy, it’s possible to prioritize personal interests when choosing how best to earn a living. As we adapt to an increasingly digital world, fueled only further by the global health crisis and prevalence of digital platforms, creators are transforming their hobbies into livelihoods. And because digitizing your business is easier than ever before, the sky’s the limit in terms of how this translates financially.
The internet’s ever-expanding digital infrastructure means that quite literally anyone now has the means to become a ‘creator’. Whether you’re a butcher, a baker or a bespoke candle-stick maker, an internet connection and a sought-after craft is all you need to build a monetizable online audience. By using platforms – Twitch, Shopify, MasterClass to name but a few – to match talent and passion with the people who crave it most, the scope is colossal. According to a study by Re:Create, in 2017 more than 16.9 million independent American creators earned a baseline of $6.8 billion from their work.
The passion economy, bolstered by its technological skeleton, has democratized the ability to make money from creativity, and at scale. Where once a gallery curated an artist’s portfolio, or a newspaper delegated who wrote which column, it’s now possible to jump on the internet to locate niche communities that are specifically interested – and, importantly, willing to pay for – the things you make, write and capture.
This signifies a monumental break away from centralized corporations. Not long ago, Hollywood cherry-picked the films that became cult classics; music labels decided which sounds dominated the airwaves. More recently, public figures relied entirely on brands and sponsorship deals to grow their profiles. Now, however, the creator economy has decentralized the process. Creators have the power to escape the control of traditional mediators – agents, editors, publishers, et al. – and instead engage directly with their communities of loyal fans. As WIRED editor Kevin Kelly predicted in his 2008 article ‘1000 True Fans’, creators only need a small but engaged following to earn a viable living. It’s simple: there’s more value in 1,000 hardcore enthusiasts for your sustainable origami sets than a vague fanbase of 100,000 people with a whole sweep of pursuits. Vanity metrics – such as likes and hits – are being usurped by genuine engagement. The logic might be simple, but it marks a revolution: ordinary people can now, for the first time, do what they love to make a living.
The passion economy supports grassroots influence over centralized control. In a world where it’s possible to get almost anything to be sent almost anywhere, the ‘one size fits all’ mass production approach of the twentieth century will no longer suffice. Today, the passion economy has afforded us the luxury to know that we can get exactly what we want, no matter how niche, as well as the means to track it down and pay for it. With creators at the helm of this growing economic structure, we’re entering a new and welcomed meritocratic age of bespoke consumption. And the scope is huge, as shown by the 600+ strong private Slack group chat of passion economy movers and shakers set up by Li Jin’s Atelier Ventures, who are sharing tips, tricks and resources on everything related to this cultural shift.
Social progress has always been fueled by new tools, from sickles to light bulbs, to processors. Today is no exception. Digital platforms that connect creators with consumers are the next tools for mass social change.
Previously, the typical business titan was a well-spoken, Ivy League graduate, most likely with a financial safety net, but the passion economy is levelling the playing field by championing skill above all else. And while it’s possible to earn your keep with 1,000 avid followers, some creators have experienced meteoric stardom. The 23 year old YouTuber Airrack (real name Eric Decker) increased his fanbase from fewer than 100 to 1.15 million followers in just 14 months. Within a year, Charli D’Amelio went from being a high school sophomore in suburban Connecticut to being one of the most famous 16 year olds on the planet, when she was ordained with TikTok fame (her current following exceeds 113 million, while she made over $4 million in 2019).
Though it’s important to not embellish these examples as ‘rags-to-riches’ narratives, as it’s still difficult to make enough money to live off a hobby or passion, these stories do highlight the possibility for ‘ordinary’ people with committed audiences to reach stardom at lightning speed. In theory, this grassroots influence model should make it possible for new and diverse voices to break through into the public sphere. What’s for sure is that the antiquated business owner mould is being replaced by younger, talented and tech-savvy passion economy creators, who are likely to found and lead the next generation of Fortune 500 companies.
To some, the ‘make money by doing what you love’ offering sounds as convincing as ‘congratulations, you’ve won the lottery!’. And yet, as an industry worth over $38 billion in 2019, it is providing viable career paths for millions of people from all walks of life. The passion economy’s perimeters are continually expanding. Driven by innovation, fortified by digital infrastructure, and populated by individuals with brilliant talent, the passion economy is giving power back to the creator. In a world of uncertainty we know one thing for sure: the future looks bright, and the future looks creative.
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