Is social media based on the brothel as a business model?

Van Gogh The Brothel

Van Gogh The Brothel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Beneath the surface lies a profoundly important question of how is social media technology changing our understanding of work, the rise of self-employment[1] and the relationship between a business and “talent”.[2]

Journalism reveals the change as journalists have greater independence to create and choose the platform for their work. In the past, a journalist or any talent would have depended on the platforms provided by a corporation, but that the status of the platform has changed. Who wants to be the third sub editor at the NY Times when they can be the star at their own company or at an online platform? The difference now is that journalist, as talent, see themselves as a commodity rather than simply an employee.

So why do we need to talk about a brothel?

The brothel is an enduring business model across cultures and countries. The parallels with social medial and the rise of self-employment are more than superficial. The need for clients, repeat business and popularity is the same. More customers or traffic correlates to more revenue.

The new media companies are often based on a wealthy individual. They can appear to have created a brothel. In a brothel, the manager organises the sex workers, usually but not always freelance, for the clients. The sex workers provide a portion of their earnings for the brothel’s overhead: a clean, secure, and accessible work place. The sex worker avoids the haphazard and dangerous life of the streetwalker and the uncertainty of an individual escort. An escort agency is one where instead of a physical brothel, the escort organises their accommodation or visits the client, which further reduces the demands on the brothel manager.[3]

A harem or the courtesan/courtier model are variations on this theme. In a harem model, the proprietor or patron runs a harem, which favours or uses journalists as suits their interest. In the courtesan/courtier, the journalist is within the orbit or direct employee of the patron so there is an agreed client patron relationship.

Like an escort or sex worker that is in demand and has followers or customers, the talent in the social media economy thrives on popularity and repeat customers. The journalist is marketed as the attraction. The talent becomes primary and the platform that supports them or the organisation becomes secondary. By contrast, in the traditional business model, the platform is better known that the talent.

Technology and social media change the way we look at labour and how labour markets itself. With self-employment, the human person becomes the commodity even if we talk about their “service” or their “product”. The changes may appear profound yet the flesh trade remains even with a technological veneer.


[1] See Luke Johnson in the FT He argues that self-employment as a positive change. Will a digital feudal age arrive as the balance shifts from labour to capital in a knowledge economy leaving workers on the short end. See also the HBR on future of the new temporary worker

[2] One could say that the social media age is one where talent is now in greater demand, and availability, than any other age.


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About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
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