Mapping the Creator Economy

Another 4-square: Passion, Niche, Etsy, Sharing
Mar 21, 2021

Some people love marketing.

Some people love making art.

Some people love selling trinkets.

Some people love finding odd jobs.

As the Internet matures, we're seeing more and more ways people can make a living online doing what they love. It's a vista of near infinite value, and we're like chimps starring into it, asking "how can I milk this?" There are enough case studies now, that we can begin to plot them on one of those 2-axis graphs.

The X-axis is defined by whether you are beholden to a market or not.

The Y-axis is defined by whether the things you make can scale or not.

Solo creators usually only have enough juju to focus on one facet of the grid. But we're starting to see small online companies emerging that are planting seeds in all 4 regions.


Passion Economy

Creators with autonomy ("artists"). They're not beholden to "the market." They have no client giving them deadlines, and no audience that expects anything specific of them. They built their audience with the mindset of "I'm going to do whatever the fuck I want." There is a freedom to explore. To meander. To be inconsistent. Contradictions are a feature, not a bug. It becomes harder to monetize this model, because you're sending out a radial signals, instead of one hyper-specific signal that capture the 6.5 million people that want to watch ASMR seafood eating videos. But the advantage of radial signals is that you can explore many frontiers, find "product-market" fit, and then build a niche super fast. Creators in the passion economy can either sell the content itself, sell access to a special tier of content, or monetize through advertising revenue (YouTube).

  • Indie filmmakers
  • Patreon
  • Open-source developers
  • NFTs
  • Coaching / mentors

Niche Economy

Creators who capture a specific chunk of the market. They optimize and put forward a unique but specific part of themselves. They search for and discover a digital moon town, and plant a flag that says "All in" by the entry. Niches can grow an audience much faster than those in the passion economy. But there's a risk of building a "prison" where the expectations of an audience prevent you from exploring. It almost always makes sense to start from the Passion economy and then shift into the Niche economy when you have data that one of your experiments accidentally plucked a nerve on the Internet.

  • YouTube niches
  • Cohort-based courses
  • Influencers
  • Freelance work
  • Paid newsletters

Etsy Economy

Creators who have the autonomy to craft their own modularized thing that can be sold ad infinitum. The products or services they make are commodities. They can be made once, and sold twice (unlike a piece of rare art, or a consulting job). This is Jack Butcher's mantra. Make things that grow with upside you can't imagine. Instead of market-driven products, you can built digital products and courses around your specific skill sets, and then release them as passive-income vehicles.

  • Gumroad
  • Teachable
  • Etsy

Sharing Economy

Creators who can provide a pre-defined service to a market that needs it. Uber and AirBnB are known examples centered around sharing physical assets and services. If you think about Task Rabbit or Upwork, there are pre-defined task types, with unique projects embedded within them. There are thousands of people who need logos. While each logo is unique, it's a repeatable process, needed by many. A graphic designer could make a business around using their skills to meet the need of that market.

  • Uber
  • Airbnb
  • Task Rabbit
  • Upwork


Here's an example of how a <writer> can tap into all 4 zones at once. A creator might find success in just approaching 1 or 2 of these, but this example shows the range of paradigms that exist.

Cohort-based course

Niche-economy: Market, unique

An instructor crafts a unique experience that addresses a pain point in a market


Passion-economy: Autonomous, unique

An audience can pay monthly to look behind the scenes into a writer's process

A book

Etsy-economy: Autonomous, commodity

A series of ideas are consolidated into a work that can be sold ad infinitum

Editing services

Sharing-economy: Market, commodity

A recurring & repeatable service at a per-essay level


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