The Online Gig Economy’s ‘Race to the Bottom’

from The Atlantic

You can buy almost any thing you want online—toothpaste, books, plastic devices that allow you to lick your cat. On digital work platforms like Upwork, Fiverr, and Freelancer.com, you can also buy nearly any service—often from someone halfway around the world, sometimes for just a few bucks. On Fiverr, one of the most popular of these platforms, you’ll find offers for someone who will write an e-book “on any topic”; a person who will perform “a Voiceover as Bernie Sanders”; someone who will write your Tinder profile for you, and someone who will design a logo for your real-estate company. The people selling this labor live in Nigeria, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and Bangladesh, respectively. Each of them charge $5 for these tasks.

For buyers, the appeal of these sites is obvious: They’re a great place to find skilled and semi-skilled sellers willing to work for cheap. They track when work has been completed, allow sellers to rate workers, and provide staff who can help resolve disputes. The people selling their skills win, too: Workers—especially those living overseas—can make a decent amount of money being paid in U.S. dollars. The proliferation of online freelance-job sites have allowed some people to leave poorly paying jobs in their home countries; it also allows students and those with little experience to sell their work, get good reviews, and start cultivating clients. It’s free to list services on most of these sites, and once freelancers start getting reviews—which they can get from actual clients, or from friends who buy their service, or from people through “Fiverr review” or other such Facebook groups—other buyers trust them and hire them.

More than 48 million people have registered globally on websites allowing them to sell their labor. Optimistic about the potential of the digital economy to lift people from poverty, countries like Malaysia and Nigeria have embarked on campaigns to train residents in how to use online labor platforms; Malaysia aims to have 340,000 workers, mostly from the bottom 40 percent of income earners, make a living from online freelancing by 2020.

More here.

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