Friday, August 16, 2019

Psychics in the Gig Economy

This article is from last month, but it is becoming more and more relevant as the discussion goes on about how the gig economy does not work well for many folks out there just trying to make ends meet. Drivers in particular - both for taxi services and food delivery services - complain that the companies exploit independent contractor exceptions, appropriate tips, and so forth. Workers that do appear to be doing well, though, are app-based psychics who offer services such as Tarot readings.

Calley Nelson has been reading tarot cards for over 10 years. She never expected to go into business when she was younger, fortune-telling just “kind of happened.” Today, it is her full-time job. “I mostly read at parties and special events, but I also have a private practice in Brooklyn where people meet with me either in my home office, over the phone or video chat,” Nelson told Salon. Some clients she finds through Gig Salad and Gigmasters, which are apps for entertainers for parties and events.

“My business started unofficially through word of mouth after I graduated college,” she said. “I started reading professionally at a popular Chicago dive bar in the Boystown neighborhood.” She said people kept asking her where they could find her online, but she didn’t have a website yet. So she made an Instagram. At the time, she was working two jobs: one as a bar back, and the other as a web editor at a healthcare company. “I was apprehensive about putting tarot on my professional editorial website at first so I kept the nightlife version of me separate from my day job,” she explained.

A friend recommended that she look into Gig Salad and Gigmasters, which staffs entertainment at parties and special events. Vendors can book the talent through the sites, a similar model to TaskRabbit. Nelson said she thinks apps can help “elevate spiritual businesses.” For her, she estimates half of her business is coming through apps. Nelson said Gigmasters and Gig Salad have membership fees around $200 for the year. Gig Salad takes a cut depending on your membership. For Nelson, that is a little less than 10 percent. Gigmasters, she said, takes $20 from each event she books. Nelson charges $120 for a 60-minute reading.

Nelson does readings both in person, via Google Hangouts, Facetime, Skype or on the phone. She used to give readings over Instagram for $30 and write out the readings with pictures, but only on request because it took a lot of time. The app Kasamba is more like hotlines where psychics charge by the minute. Kasamba and apps like it, charge psychics a “service fee” which varies for the mode of communication. For each text session with a customer there is a $0.17 per minute charge, on top of that there is an additional fee of 55 percent of the total price is levied. This could explain why some psychics on the app charge $26 a minute.

So like other gig economy platforms, these app-based services charge fees for connecting psychics to clients. But paying a $20 fee on a $120 appointment is a much better ratio than what you would see driving for Lyft or Uber. Even the most optimistic income projections for drivers at around $20 per hour, but it sounds like psychics on these apps can do more like $100 per hour. Then the question becomes how much business they can do on a given day, and I can see how popular readers could make some serious money. If nothing else, the potential upside is far better than driving.

It remains to be seen if this opportunity persists. Demand for psychics is probably lower than for taxis or food delivery, but it also is true that it seems like the people seeking psychic guidance will pay a lot more for it than they will for a ride or a pizza. And while it's true that a lot of psychics are frauds, there are also legitimate readers out there. The optimistic part of me would like to think that the real psychics would eventually win out in the market, but then again it also is true that in many cases people have trouble telling a fake reading from a real one. So we'll have to wait and see.

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