While white-collar professionals either faced job loss or have started working from home due to Covid-19, creative artistes such as writers, musicians, podcasters, among other content creators, have adopted unique methods to survive. Using tools developed by online platforms, these artistes are finding ways to fuel the ‘passion economy’, making a living by monetising their creative skills.

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Since the pandemic, users of platforms such as Substack, Scrollstack, Patreon and BuyMeACoffee have grown exponentially. They provide the digital infrastructure that helps an artiste to earn by selling their products – writings, podcasts, music, videos– to their audience.

How do they work?

Here’s how they work. Let’s consider Substack. It provides users with tools “to build a subscription e-mail newsletters”. After creating an account, users get their own web address (username.substack.com). Users have the option to either charge their audience or keep it free. The more paid subscribers you have, the more you earn. Substack takes 10 per cent of your earnings.

Scrollstack and others work pretty much the same. Users can add their content and publish it on their web address. If it’s free, the audience can access it for free. If it’s paid, then the audience are prompted to purchase it through a paywall.

Trending reasons

Since lockdown, these platforms are enjoying constant praise from creators as it helps any artiste to create their online presence with a payment system in minutes. They don’t have to struggle building a website themselves or have to worry about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) to make their content appear first on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERP). More importantly, artistes can build direct connections with their audience. Also, audience get to consume content from ad-free platforms.

Indie creators’ take

BusinessLine spoke to Pawan Rochwani, co-founder of the Platform for Artists – a pan-India community of over 25,000 creative entrepreneurs – on how he has been using different platforms to monetise his content.

“Nobody felt that it was possible to build a strong connection with the audience virtually, but we are now forced to move to platforms where the audience exists,” said Pawan. “Shifting online wasn’t by choice, but more of adapting to the pandemic. It was hectic at the beginning as content creators had to spend for hours online.”

He pointed out that the cost of hosting any online event is cheap and audience can get their tickets or buy a creator’s products at affordable price.

BusinessLine also spoke to Vijayendra Mohanty, a writer of fiction and contemporary India, who releases his writings via paywalls. “I have always believed that creators should start monetising their content from the beginning,” he says. “The internet offers solutions to achieve that. I know writers who have written many books, but still struggle to sell their work. I think one of the reasons for creative artistes facing this issue is that they don’t see themselves as entrepreneurs. You always need to be working, building a community around your work.”


Vijayendra Mohanty, writer of fiction and contemporary India


Building community

As platforms are on the rise aiding creators to sell their creative products, they talk about the need to build a ‘community’ around them.

Pawan pointed out that “businesses on social media are always on the lookout for engagement and reach”. “But for us, reach is not a great metric but engagement matters,” he said. “Even if we have, let’s say, two thousand followers on social media, then we have the most engaging well-connected community, consuming our content. When you are building a community around your content, it makes your audience feel inclusive around your product. Making them feel heard is important.”

Vijayendra mentioned ‘1000 True Fans’, a viral essay written by Kevin Kelly, who said: “If you have roughly a thousand of true fans... you can make a living — if you are content to make a living but not a fortune”.

“It’s impossible to earn ₹50,000 from one person, but its surely possible to earn ₹100 from five thousand people,” said Vijayendra.

One of the obvious questions any creative entrepreneur selling his products online wonders is will people buy from them. On this, Vijayendra said: “The question should not be about if it’s possible to make money online, but if we are willing to support an independent creator on the internet.” Pawan emphasised on being “consistent to bring out new content” and aiming to “offer value” to the audience.


While the excitement for selling creative products via paywalls continues to reach newer heights of passion, there are still challenges ahead. Pawan opines that if platforms like Substack want to expand more in India, they should make their site mobile-friendly. “Our web traffic comes mostly from phones, so we need to make it easy to use,” he said. “The user experience should be of high priority.”

As thousands of artistes are moving to sell their creative products through such platforms, these sites now have to deal with a new issue; Pawan calls it a “paradox”. “We need to see how do these platforms decide which creator should be discovered organically within their website,” he said.