We here at so.fa.dog are totally into passion economy. A previous post talks about the essence of the passion economy, and how it enables a generation of digital workers to make a living out of their talent, knowledge, skills, and passion. Industry leaders have admitted that the passion economy could become the next big thing in terms of the future of work.
Well, there’s a solid figure to back up this prediction. Disciple Media reported late last year that the passion economy is now worth a whopping $38 billion, thanks in part to the surge during the height of the pandemic lockdowns.
As we stated in one of our earlier posts, the COVID-19 health crisis has prompted companies across the world to implement furloughs to save on operational costs. Some of those who were laid off from their jobs have shifted gears and rediscovered the things, hobbies and activities they are passionate about. In the process, they have managed to monetize their passions from the comfort of their own homes.
By now, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that the passion economy has a massive potential to disrupt employment conventions, as well as the media landscape.
In today’s blog post, we’ll delve into the nitty-gritty of how the passion economy is becoming a disruptor.
What Is Disruption, Anyway?
In the year 1995 (yes, that’s almost three decades ago!), Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen developed what we now know as the theory of disruptive innovation.
The term “disruption” has since been widely used and referenced, but some writers, experts, and even Christensen himself lament that both “disruption” and “disruptive innovation” have been used in the wrong context.
In a 2015 follow-up, Christensen wrote, and we quote: “In our experience, too many people who speak of “disruption” have not read a serious book or article on the subject. Too frequently, they use the term loosely to invoke the concept of innovation in support of whatever it is they wish to do. Many researchers, writers, and consultants use “disruptive innovation” to describe any situation in which an industry is shaken up and previously successful incumbents stumble. But that’s much too broad a usage.”
Simply put, breakthrough innovations that make good products better ARE NOT disruptive innovations. So what, then, is disruption?
Christensen writes that disruption involves a process where smaller companies with relatively fewer resources can topple established and well-run businesses. In other words, disruptive innovations are innovations that enter at the bottom of the market and serve a lower-profit segment. These could also be innovations that target consumers who previously did not have the capability to afford a product or a service.
Let’s break this down further.
The Two Types of Disruption
Christensen writes that disruptive innovations thrive because they get started in two types of markets that incumbents overlook or ignore altogether.
First is the low-end foothold, where an innovation meets the needs of over-served customers by giving them sufficient functionality in return for lower prices. This means the disruptor provides customers with so-called “good enough products”.
Examples of the low-end foothold are PicsArt and Canva. Both are lightweight photo/document editing apps that drive customers away from premium or costly editing apps.
The second type is the new-market foothold, where disruptors create a market where none has existed. This means that disruptors find a way to turn non-consumers into consumers. A classic example of this is the birth of personal copiers, which had taken on the dominance of Xerox in photocopying technology. Personal copiers managed to create a new market and gradually built a major position in the mainstream photocopier market that was once dominated by Xerox.
Today, Airbnb falls under the new-market foothold category. By providing extra bedrooms for bookings by guests, the now-listed unicorn has enabled homeowners to monetize underutilized space, and created a new market for travel.
Is There a Third Type of Disruption?
The process of disruption has overthrown many existing incumbents, and passion economy platforms also have the features to disrupt. At least Li Jin, who is widely regarded as one of the experts in the passion economy sector and a partner at prominent venture capital firm Andreseen Horowitz, believes so.
Li writes that the passion economy’s potential to disrupt depends on the side you’re looking at.
First, let’s look at the worker’s side. Here, the passion economy worker competes with the so-called non-production worker. These are also known as white-collar or professional workers, or those not doing any physical work.
We have to remember that the passion economy is rooted in workers who are willing to share their talents and passion. Thus, these workers who possess non-commoditized skills are out there to compete against non-production. New technologies and platforms enable these participants to unlock economic opportunities and values from their passion and creative skills, where they had previously been barred by traditional channels and unfavorable business models.
Passion Economy vs. Non-Production
New platforms enable the passion economy workers to compete against non-production. For example, online course platforms such as Teachable allow experts to monetize their knowledge online. In the past, many of these instructors were just depending on face-to-face classes or coaching sessions to generate income, and these traditional paths to monetization have prompted many teachers to venture into online platforms.
In the podcast arena, online tools make it easier for passion economy workers and digital creators to record, distribute, and monetize their podcasts. This is a far cry from the previous model, where creators had to be employed by traditional media firms for the chance to record an audio show and reach their target audience.
In this way, the passion economy landscape turns non-producers into producers.
Another example is the traditional media. Before, journalists could only make an income primarily from joining a news organization with an advertising department, production capabilities, and logistics and delivery processes. That meant the journalist was just an employee, and could not be considered a producer.
Now, there’s a whole new entrepreneurship bundle for media creators such as journalists, content writers or audio content creators. With the help of platforms such as Substack, Ghost, or Stripe, media professionals can create their own publications, as well as audio and visual content.
Media creators also have the liberty to distribute their media and monetize it however they would like. They can earn an income through subscriptions with apps like Patreon or so.fa.dog; and in the long run, they can also score advertising deals.
The Consumer Side: Competing Against Non-Consumption
Li Jin writes that “the most powerful, radical industry change happens when non-production is matched with non-consumption.”
Li says that because new producers enter the market through passion economy platforms such as so.fa.dog, previous non-consumers and the over-served ones now have a wider range of choices.
Consumers are now armed with the ability to choose a creator-led service that is more affordable, more convenient, and more aligned with their interests and liking.
Let’s take a look at cable television. While cable TV offers a broad range of channels and still holds mass appeal, emerging types of entertainment platforms such as Twitch offer content that is more aligned to specific user interests. Twitch enables creators to easily start with streaming — and this converts the creator into a producer.
New platforms also let creators earn their income from a niche and a supportive audience previously over-served by traditional entertainment, such as cable TV. This right here is an example of low-end foothold disruption.
On the consumer side, users can just choose the Twitch channels they want to follow.
Is All Passion Economy Content Disruptive?
The thing is, not all content on passion economy platforms is disruptive. Keep in mind that disruptive innovations have low-end or new-market footholds. Today, there are some creators who have a niche following whose targets are the high-end of a market.
By Christensen’s definition, this is not disruptive. Let’s look at beauty or fashion or personal image influencers as an example. Their content and tutorials are way more expensive than pre-existing content on platforms such as YouTube. They may have a niche, but this niche is made up of high-end customers who are very much willing to pay for well-curated, more produced, and more personalized content.
If a creator’s content truly is well-curated, highly produced, and highly personalized, then being non-disruptive is not something they should worry about. As long as the creator has a loyal following, awesome ideas, and a need to create, not much can disrupt their journey.
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