The new shopping trend in India: Growth and potential of horizontal marketplaces

Horizontal marketplaces work best for creators since they are entirely plug and play.

By Mr Soum Paul

Asha (name changed), has been a homemaker since the last 15 years. After all the housework, every afternoon, she would spread a wad of newspapers and begin rolling them. Out of these newspapers came beautiful creations such as fruit baskets, night lamps, etc. Her neighbour wanted to learn this craft from her and also mentioned that there were online platforms where she could teach others how to do this. Asha is now part of a growing community of creators who not only follow their passion but also enable others to learn what they know. What’s more is that her craft is enabling her to earn and gain financial independence.

Around the 19th century, the nature of work and society revolved around the needs and wants of human beings and machines. Karl Marx’s theory of machines replacing manual work was also around this aspect. The thought propounded was that the jobs of tomorrow will also likely be markedly different. While he was right in his own way in those times, nobody could ever fathom that in the 21st century, passion could actually be turned into work and therefore, an opportunity to earn. It won’t be wrong to say that traditionalists would still find this idea absurd.

About a decade ago, the editor of Wired, Kevin Kelly, wrote a piece that predicted how a large number of creators would be able to make a living thanks to the internet. He wrote about how online networks will be able to help them tread past the middlemen to get paid directly for their offering as also earn a fairly decent fan base. Years later, in 2020, this trend seems to have come full circle. The past year has seen the growth of horizontal marketplaces globally and in India, fuelling what is called the passion economy. Thanks to these platforms, not only are more people following their passion but doing so while monetizing it.

The passion economy is a rage in the Silicon Valley and among freelancers in the creative domain. However, one glance at a book called The Passion Economy by Adam Davidson and you will see how this concept is more about the ‘ordinary’ creator. The idea behind passion economy is that it is possible for regular people to thrive and earn by pursuing something they enjoy doing. And horizontal marketplaces aid the growth of the passion economy immensely. These platforms allow more people to find work and follow what they really want to do. It is not so much about the nature of work as much as it is about what works in making an idea take off. We are not even talking about genius minds who dropped out or those with a good financial backing. Passion economy and horizontal marketplaces are more about the ordinary ones who belong to working class households and reside even in Tier 2 and 3 cities with talent that is yet to reach the masses.

Horizontal marketplaces work best for creators since they are entirely plug and play. You sign up and start earning even without a formal set-up. Those who wish to learn a certain skill are matched to the person providing it and the trend follows. You could be someone wanting to polish your knowledge in baking or learn something as unique as whistling. You can even get trained in martial art forms like Kalaripayattu! Vertical marketplaces on the other hand are all about narrow, commoditized services and the creator as a commodity. There is a very limited scope for consumer engagement. The outcome is based on the revenue earned, number of customers clocked and other such factors.

The strength of horizontal marketplaces is their two-sided network effect which adds value. The platform is the intermediary and there are no middlemen. The creator monetizes and the learner gains knowledge of something new. What’s more is that they are accessible to one and all and not just professionals or business people.

In conclusion

Horizontal marketplaces are emerging as the next-gen integrated platforms empowering creators to bring forth their talent and creativity. What’s unique is that the value add is for the individual as much as their skill. Aided by these platforms, the passion economy is set for tremendous growth in the years ahead. The future will see the value of unique skills and knowledge unlocked, augmented, and directed at consumers – a win-win proposition for the creator and the learner.

(The author is Founder and CEO, Spark.Live. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)

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