Getting Gigged

Yesterday, I came across…

It’s a marketplace where people offer services for a base price of $5.  Of the $5 the client pays, the Web site keeps a buck, and the seller gets $4.   At first, I thought it was rather cool: it’s a way for someone to go into business and tap a worldwide market without upfront costs.

The site included a link to an article from a Wired blog about ‘the Gig Economy’ and how it is the wave of the future:

Slowly but surely, a revolution is taking shape –– an entirely different kind of economy. The labor force of new entrepreneurs, which we call the Gig Economy, is growing rapidly around the world and could soon represent as much as 50 percent of the U.S. workforce.

It almost sounds like fun.  But what sort of work can one get done for $5?  Flipping through the site, some samples…

  • I will make your PDF into a flash flipbook for $5
  • I will do a book cover or a movie poster for you for $5
  • I will record your voice over message in the awesome voice of Sean Connery for $5 [presumably a close approximation….]
  • I will write a high quality, 300 word article in 24hours for $5
  • I will type up to 2000 words/6 to 7 pages or audio transcript any video max 10 mins for $5
  • I will translate 1000 words from English to Spanish for $5

Ouch.  At the Federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour, $5 buys a little over 40 minutes of effort.  The $1.60 Federal minimum wage of the 1960s, adjusted for inflation, is about $10 in today’s dollars: $5 would buy a half-hour.  But Fiverr keeps a dollar for itself, so one would get less time: a little over a half-hour at $7.25/hour, or 24 minutes at $10/hour.

Most of the services described on Fiverr would seem to require between 15-30 minutes to complete, given someone with the expertise and the necessary tools.  So $4 for a task works out to an hourly rate of $8-16 hour… if one has a steady stream of tasks.

But then again, there are some parts of the world where $8-16/hour is actually pretty good.  And global labor arbitrage is clearly at work: while a plurality of the sellers on Fiverr identify themselves as being in the US, there are many sellers from elsewhere.

So this is what the Gig Economy means: the chance to compete with hungry people from all around the world, doing dreary tasks that barely pay enough to keep the lights on.  (And any task becomes dreary if you have to do it over and over again to survive.)  Unlike normal employment, where your boss is responsible for assigning you tasks, and accepting that you might still be on the clock even if you don’t have a task (and even if you have to go to the bathroom!), in the Gig Economy, if you don’t have a task, the meter stops immediately.

Heaven help us….

3 thoughts on “Getting Gigged”

  1. Designing a book cover or providing any type of artistic endeavor is worth much more than $5! it’s work more than $5 an hour, that’s for sure.

  2. This is creepy because those are jobs I can do for the most part. This is what is happening, the skilled here are competing with the skilled in poor countries (though the USA is becoming one as well).

  3. Designing a book cover is $50 per hour.

    Sound like a lot?

    Art is not cheap.

    And factor in that art — unless you’re somebody working at your skill full time for full time pay — is usually “piecework.” You have to make your money where you can.

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