The future is online. In 20 years, I believe the key to a successful career will be the ability to build an audience.
The audience can be built through writing, photography, music… anything you can create really. The future is online, and it’s for makers. Makers who can convince enough people to pay them for their creations. And the barriers to this becoming a reality are falling away all around us. As Kevin Kelly says, you only need 1,000 true fans to make a living as a creator.
Here are a few trends supporting this:
- The breakdown of mainstream media, being replaced by social media.
- Remote work.
- No code tools.
- Subscription-based business models.
These five trends combine to allow individuals, not media companies, to own distribution; to allow distributed networks, not media networks, to control transactional flow. Let’s briefly unpack each of them.
Mainstream media replaced by social media.
America’s current President loves to beat this drum, but mainstream media has taken a backseat to social media in almost all breaking news since the Arab Spring (2010) and the Occupy Wall Street movement (2011). Sure, you may turn to traditional news sources to confirm information, or to dig deeper into op-eds from writers you trust, but chances are, you found out about something first from social media.
The power shift works in reverse too. When last did you see an ad for a product on TV and think, “daymn, I’m going to buy that right now”? No, you probably went online to research it. You looked at what social media influencers were posting about it. You read reviews written by professional bloggers who took a slice of that purchase when you finally pulled the trigger from their website.
Information channels are no longer the sole property of media conglomerates. Information channels are distributed now.
We’ve talked before about the rise of remote work, and, of course, we’re all now working remotely. Has anything changed? Not really; we’ve found a way to be productive, while at the same time enjoying the perks of zero commute times and more flexible schedules. Google and Facebook recently announced to employees that they could continue to work remotely until 2021. These companies would never allow this to happen if it wasn’t possible for employees to be productive.
Digital nomads right now are like:
Work from anywhere. All you need is an internet connection. The cloud is your oyster.
No code tools.
Do you remember Dreamweaver?
You could build a website with a very limited (to none) understanding of HTML and CSS. I did. It was ugly, but it was a decent static website.
Now you can build an entire ecosystem with a limited (to none) understanding of coding. Host your idea on a fully responsive website using Webflow. Link to an eCommerce shop using Shopify. Integrate forms and powerful databases using Airtable. Add on a paid newsletter using Substack. Tie everything together using Zapier.
These tools enable anyone to quickly and intuitively build an MVP, get it to market, test it, and iterate upon it. As Ryan Hoover of Product Hunt said, “as creating things on the internet becomes more accessible, more people will become makers. It’s no longer limited to the <1% of engineers that can code resulting in an explosion of ideas from all kinds of people.”
Subscription-based business models.
Chances are at some point today you’re going to use a service you’re paying a monthly fee for.
Perhaps you’re in the 69% of households who are going to watch something on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime. Maybe you’re in the 41% who are going to play some tunes on Spotify, Apple Music or Google Play. You might do this while enjoying a ready-prepared meal delivered to your door every month. You could even be heading out later today in your Cadillac from their car subscription service.
We’re conditioned to paying a regular monthly fee for things. As Tien Tzuo, founder of Zuora said, “it’s not about the physical product, it’s about what the customer is trying to do.”
“Using cement as an example, you realize that flooring is the actual need. There’s a whole revolution of industrial carpets now. There’s a service contract, you simply pay some monthly fee plus overages, usage, etc. So you can actually subscribe to a floor.“
You can subscribe to a floor.
If you can understand your audience’s needs, address their pain points, and grow that loyal base of 1,000 fans, you can live quite comfortably on the recurring monthly revenue.
Micropayments are payments of less than a dollar (and in some cases, a fraction of a cent) that are usually made online.
With distributed information channels and an increase in internet creators, you may not want to pay a subscription to a single provider. With so much choice, you may want to pick and choose the content you consume.
Enter micropayments. The term was actually coined in the 1960s but they’re still not common today. There is a growing movement, however, led by the rise of digital currencies, calling for this to be possible. Apple pioneered the ability to purchase individual songs from an album for 99c and it launched the iPod and iTunes into global phenomenons. Imagine being able to purchase individual articles of interest from your favorite writer instead of subscribing to the NY Times (or to that writer’s private blog) every month.
Micropayments will increase liquidity to meet the supply from decentralized distribution channels.
The combination of these five factors creates an online landscape where creators can:
- Own their own distribution channels.
- Work anywhere using the cloud.
- Build anything without needing a degree in programming.
- Charge a monthly fee for access to their creations.
- Or charge à la carte for individual creations.
For these reasons, and to increase his options when he’s older, I purchased www.leobarry.com for my son.
When the future is online, you want to have the best real estate. A website that’s your name? What could be easier for an eager audience to remember?
Much of this is inspired by reading, watching, and talking to David Perell, who has an idea he calls your Personal Monopoly. I took David’s online course, Write of Passage, last year, and I highly recommend it if you want to set yourself on a similar path to what I’ve described above.