Branding the Gig Economy

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Originally published in Applied Arts Magazine, 2016

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3 MINUTE READ

Can everybody be an entrepreneur?

Micha Kaufman, CEO of Fiverr, home of the $5 logo, calls it “an entirely new kind of economy…a labour force of entrepreneurs.” Social theorist and futurist Jeremy Rifkin calls it the near-zero marginal cost society. Robin Chase, cofounder of Zipcar, calls it Peers Inc.

Whatever you want to call it, we are witnessing the emergence of an economic paradigm in which the concept of having a job is being disrupted. The vision of the future being shaped by this disruption is one in which we should no longer expect to work for someone else, whether that someone is an entrepreneur or an established company — we should expect to work for an app. Or better yet, make one that other people work for.

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And, as can be seen above, there is no shortage of them. Got a car that sits idle most of the time? Be an Uber or a Lyft driver. Haven’t got a car? Lease one week to week from Breeze so you can become an Uber or a Lyft driver. Are you an Uber or a Lyft driver who wants to know before other Uber and Lyft drivers exactly when to go to the airport for the most profitable fares? Join ZettaDriver. Got some odd jobs to get done? Join TaskRabbit. Got a bicycle or a surfboard that isn’t being used 24/7? Put it on Spinlister. An unused tent? Sign up with Rentoid.

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With this explosion of digital gigging and sharing platforms, you might expect a concomitant explosion of design and branding opportunities. Not since the beginning of the century have we seen so many new brands flood the marketplace, every one of them dreaming of being the next unicorn. Trouble is, like Fiverr, very few of them want to pay real money for creative.

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There’s no question that the Internet has trained us to expect things for free and at speed. And the lateral distribution model enabled by peer-to-peer platforms has done much to drive down the cost of goods and services. In an economic environment of low minimum wages and growing unemployment the notion of a labour force of entrepreneurs seems to some like a welcome solution to the shrinking job market. But is everyone built to operate this way? And how many lawns will your average worker have to mow to match a full time salary?

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Look at Uber. There are 400,000 Uber drivers in the US, but half of them only work 10 hours or less a week. The average number of hours worked by an Uber driver has fallen by 10 per cent in the last year. And a third of Uber drivers say they do it to make money while they’re looking for a real job. Many do it to supplement other part-time work.

This economic model has in many ways been prefigured by the creative services sector, which over the last 15 years has seen an explosion of freelancers. Want to know what a gig economy looks like? Take a freelance designer, writer or art director to lunch. They’ll tell you what it’s like to compete with an app or an algorithm. Just be ready to pick up the tab. wn

will novosedlik