Illustrations: Arne Bellstorf

The Gig Economy Is Failing. Say Hello to the Hustle Economy.

Unemployed teachers, cooks, dancers are turning to Patreon, Twitch, and OnlyFans

Caitlin Dewey
Published in
12 min readJul 29, 2020


“W“We have nothing to sell besides physical touch.” The thought jarred Amber Briggle awake some nights. It kept her from eating in the first week of the Covid-19 shutdown when she lost six pounds fretting over the sudden collapse of the business she’d built up her “entire adult life.”

For seven years, Briggle has owned a massage studio called Soma in Denton, Texas. She grew the operation from a pop-up in her house to a mini-empire with a wall of local “best of” awards. But when Texas Governor Greg Abbott closed businesses statewide on March 21, Briggle realized in an instant it could all be over. Her bills totaled more than $3,000 per month, and it wasn’t as if she could give massages from home.

“I had nothing, literally nothing,” Briggle said. “And this is my life’s work. I spent the entire first week crying. What else could I do about it?”

Then, in the second week of the shutdown, during a pro-bono consultation with a local business advisor, she was asked if she’d ever considered a Patreon. As the consultant explained, the digital-subscription platform — once home mainly to YouTubers and podcast hosts — had also become an ad hoc safety net for thousands of teachers, cashiers, line cooks, and hairstylists who lost work with the onset of stay-at-home orders.

It wasn’t just Patreon, either, which added more than 100,000 new users between mid-March and July. OnlyFans reported daily six-figure sign-ups on its popular cam site. Etsy logged 115,000 new sellers in the first three months of the year, more than double the past two years’ user growth. Teachable, which lets people make and sell online courses, signed on 14,000 new creators between March and July, and in July reported its first quarterly revenue over $10 million.

“I spent the entire first week crying. What else could I do about it?”

And so Briggle, a mother of two with no previous aspirations to “influence” online, swiped on some mascara and filmed a three-minute stretching video over the off-screen clatter of someone washing dishes…



Caitlin Dewey

Enterprise reporter @thebuffalonews, formerly @washingtonpost.