The gig economy is in full swing, with more Americans than ever employed at least partially in “side gigs” and independent contracting opportunities. Currently, the gig economy comprises 34 percent of the workforce, and Intuit estimates that by 2020, that number could reach 43 percent.
There are pros and cons to this trend, with proponents insisting that it allows employees to find more opportunities, and opponents claiming its lower salaries and fewer benefits are a detriment to the workforce. But one seldom-explored effect is the gig economy’s tendency to uncover and promote hundreds of new, hyper-specific niches.
The Rise of New Niches
New niches arise in two different ways out of the gig economy. First, there are new apps designed specifically to cater to a narrow audience, such as a dating website for gluten-free singles, or a document management app for veterinary paperwork. There are also freelancer-centric apps, like Upwork and Fiverr, that allow independent contractors to find their own new niches.
Ultimately, the new niches arise from the following pressures and influences:
- Accessibility and reach. It’s easier than ever to reach a global audience. If there are only a thousand people, worldwide, interested in a specific service, your app may still have a chance to find them. It’s also easier than ever to begin a business or do work in a specific field, so long as you have the time and an internet connection.
- Subculture recognition and safety. Certain subcultures, like the LGBTQ community, can find safety and anonymity by engaging with other people online, rather than trying to find a business in person. For example, they could find a gay-friendly massage therapist online rather than making themselves vulnerable by seeking one in public.
- Competition. Niches are also emerging in response to competitive pressures. There are millions of apps and millions of independent contractors all competing for customers and for work. The only way to differentiate yourself and increase your relevance is to find a niche that no one else is currently occupying.
How the Economy Is Affected
There’s no denying more niches are opening up. But what does that mean for the overall economy?
- Job availability. The gig economy gets criticized for offering low wages to contractors, but the sheer number of jobs available makes it possible for almost anyone to find opportunities. More niches mean more potential avenues for professionals to explore, and therefore higher levels of employment or occupation.
- Consumer purchasing decisions. The increased number of niches also gives customers more purchasing options. For example, if you’re going to sign up for a dating site, do you want to sign up for a general platform that appeals to the masses, or one that caters to one of your specific needs or preferences?
- Subculture acceptance. Making niches more prominent (not to mention safer) can also help various subcultures feel more accepted in the world. Aside from the sociological benefits here, that could introduce more economic opportunities for individuals in these cultural segments, increasing buying power and jobs alike.
- Ease of entry. If you’re an independent contractor looking for an employment opportunity, or if you’re an entrepreneur considering a new app for development, the sheer number of available niches makes your ease of entry easier. You can choose from among several low-competition niches already being developed, or develop one all your own.
- Competitive pressure. Ironically, despite the fact that competition was a motivating factor for niches developing in the first place, new niches may be placing additional competitive pressures on existing industries. For example, if a general food delivery service is disrupted by 10 other apps, each specializing in one specific type of food delivery, there will then be 11 companies scrambling to get the attention and spending power of a single demographic.
The gig economy is here to stay, whether you think it’s a positive or negative development for the average American worker. Regardless of its broader economic implications, it’s helping entrepreneurs and employees alike discover new markets and new opportunities that might have otherwise gone unnoticed.