Is The Culture Economy Next?
From brands designed to sell products to brands designed to be culture
In a September Rabbit Holes issue, I shared a long read I recently came across called “Life After Lifestyle” by Toby Shorin. The article is super interesting. It apparently took six years to write so you can imagine that there is quite a lot in there to digest.
In his article, Toby mentioned Metalabel, a new project by Yancey Strickler, as an example of what comes after the lifestyle era. Yancey is the co-founder of Kickstarter (B corp and 4-Day workweek company) which made this stuff even more interesting to me. So in this issue, we’ll dive a bit more into this idea of a post-lifestyle or what could potentially be called a “culture economy”.
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The Culture Economy
Toby Shorin’s main point in Life After Lifestyle is that we are living in the peak Lifestyle era:
“This is peak Lifestyle.”
“Easier than ever to launch a brand. More goods than ever. Software-enabled, integrated supply chain driven business models. An explosion of online social media cultures. […] Stare long enough, and you begin to see the whole: an economy where culture is made in service of brands. To be even more literal: cultural production has become a service industry for the supply chain.”
So what’s next? According to Toby…:
“We are transitioning out of the era of Lifestyle, and into an era where the production of culture is valued – both subjectively and financially – on its own terms.
From an era where brands are designed to sell products to an era where brands are designed to be culture, to transform lives, to instill beliefs.”
“The Lifestyle era was not about creating culture; it was about attaching brands onto existing cultural contexts. It was not about shaping people; it was about sorting consumer demographics into niche categories. The new order we are entering into reverses this. For some organizations, culture has become the product itself, and products have become secondary, auxiliary, to the production of culture.”
Similar concepts can be found in other interesting pieces: just look at the Meme Economy, my own Exit to Community explorations, as well as all the community-building craze that has been growing over the past years. All of these ideas relate in some ways to what Toby Shorin takes a step further and basically summarizes as:
“The culture is now the product.”
Yancey Strickler, the co-founder of Kickstarter, adds a new element to this concept which, in my opinion, is a bit ignored in Toby’s Life After Lifestyle piece: the idea of post-individualism. While Yancey focuses specifically on creators and the creator economy, I do think his ideas can also be applied in a much broader sense. He sees what I call “culture economy” as a way to boost community, collaboration, and collective stewardship, and almost equates this culture-building to world-building and self-care:
“When we come together as groups committed to manifesting the same point of view we can accomplish astounding things.”
“It's everything the Creator Economy isn't: you're no longer a lonely creator seeking affirmation, you're holding hands with peers you respect, working together on a shared vision that uniquely brings you together. You get to be part of something bigger than you that directly reflects who you are and what you care about. You feel stronger creatively, collaboratively, emotionally.”
Yancey’s new project Metalabel tries to empower these post-individual creator organizations through what he calls metalabels:
“A metalabel is a release club where groups of people who share the same interest drop and support work together. It’s a lightweight structure that creates economic, emotional, and creative alignment between collaborators.
The Creator Economy is creativity in single-player mode: every creator competing against everyone else for followers and attention.
A metalabel is creativity in multiplayer mode: groups of people pooling skills, audiences, and resources in support of a larger creative vision or purpose.”
An interesting example of a metalabel is Protein:
“As an organization, Protein is difficult to categorize. It’s a company that does client work. It’s a physical community space. It’s an internet-native network. Today, Protein is all of the above: a creative agency, a shared coworking and events space in London’s Shoreditch neighborhood, and a growing self-governed online community. They describe themselves as ‘a place where people and ideas grow.’”
“As Protein has continued to grow, its central organizing purpose has been to advocate and explore ‘Good Growth’: a framework for ways for organizations to be inclusive, collaborative, and regenerative.”
“Reflecting on their work, Protein saw their community space and bringing creative communities together as increasingly more of a core part of their business and identity. Part of the Good Growth exploration, informed in part by B-Corp principles, included finding ways for stakeholders to have greater participatory involvement in the operations and strategy of the business. The impetus to empower Protein’s community at the center of the business, was the start of its next phase, resulting in the Protein Community.”
While most of the organizations on Metalabels website are agencies, activist groups (e.g. Extinction Rebellion), art collectives, or web3 communities, the concept of culture-first companies where, as Toby says products become secondary and culture primary, can still be applied to organizations from other industries and domains. In Life After Lifestyle, the Triple Sphere Hiking Club from France is highlighted as another example:
“Triple Sphere Hiking Club is a branded hiking and backpacking society. It has a logo, t-shirts, zines – everything you might expect from a lifestyle era brand. But Triple Sphere Hiking Club is not a product business, or a brand activation of an outdoors gear company like Salomon. It started and remains a community: an excuse to get people together, to be in company and to perform the practice of hiking. There are a dozen similar groups in sporting scenes of all types, and some of them have grown enough to obtain brand partnerships or collaborations.”
If the thesis of “peak lifestyle” and a shift to a “culture economy” is true, then I think we’re definitely still super early in this transition. 😉 But there is definitely something interesting here with regard to post-individualism and shared ownership that the current models of economic organization cannot really deliver, as Yancey writes:
“We live in a world where we see ourselves as independent individuals. If you’re an independent individual, you don’t really think in terms of power. You think only in terms of your own influence on the world. What you don’t see is what people in the past were more able to see: when you are in groups, you can be very powerful. You can change things. You have confidence when things go wrong that you don’t when you’re on your own. That’s why the whole concept of power has dwindled. We’re encouraged just to talk about ourselves and our feelings towards others. We’re not encouraged to see ourselves as part of anything."
“As individuals our powers are limited. But in groups, we become exponentially stronger.”
That’s it for this week!