September 15, 2017

Alia Adi, founder of YouTube cooking channel Basmaty World, works at her studio in Dubai. Credit: Kamran Jebreili / Associated Press

In 2016, the top 12 highest-paid YouTube Stars made a combined total of $70.5 million. An Italian law student turned a fashion blog that she started for just $10 into an $8.5 million empire. Emily King and Corey Smith are able to fund a lifestyle of cross-country adventure through their Instagram posts. But for every YouTube or Instagram millionaire, there are a whole bunch of people barely scraping by. To dive into this aspirational economy, we talked with Brooke Erin Duffy, author of “Not Getting Paid to Do What You Love: Gender, Social Media, and Aspirational Work,” and Gaby Dunn, a popular Youtuber and podcaster.

Three Takeaways 

  • The aspirational economy is perfect for advertisers trying to target finicky, inattentive audiences. A young person with a large Twitter or Instagram following can reach a lot of their peers. And Duffy says that because young people are looking for visibility, they’re willing to work with companies that pay in exposure rather than money.
  • There’s a long history of mostly-unattainable dream jobs. Think acting in Hollywood or becoming a famous musician. But what’s different now is that, with the democratization of technology, we’re constantly assured that we actually can get paid to do what we love. Duffy thinks it’s a very seductive narrative, but says that we don’t hear about the time, energy, and money that goes into developing these passion projects (or the vast majority that never turn a profit).
  • People following their YouTube dreams should have a backup plan, says Dunn. For example, someone who uploads makeup tutorial videos to YouTube should think of themselves as a makeup artist first and foremost. That way, even if their YouTube channel doesn’t get millions of views, it can still serve as marketing for their main gig.

More reading 

Gaby Dunn, Business, aspiration economy, economy, Brooke Erin Duffy

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