What Happens When You Commission A Magazine From The Gig Economy

The latest issue of Elsie is fantastic, but still raises questions about whether sites like Fiverr liberate or exploit creatives.

Whatever you think of the gig economy–a way to exploit people who don’t know what their talents are worth, or a way to let them monetize their true passions–you’ve got to admit there’s a lot of talent and creativity locked up in it. That’s exactly what Les Jones, a Wales-born creative director and photographer, wanted to highlight. So he created a magazine commissioned entirely from gigs posted to Fiverr, the popular freelancer marketplace. One year and $1,086 dollars later, it’s now a reality. And honest to god, it rules.


The Fiverr issue of Jones’s one-man magazine, Elsie is 108 pages long and contains almost 70 contributions from Fiverr freelancers, most of whom provided their services for just $5. To give you a sense of how cheap that is, consider that many magazines pay $1 to $2 a word, or more. So a 1,000-word article at a traditional magazine would cost more than the entire issue of Elsie.

To compile the magazine, Jones browsed Fiverr, and paid freelancers on the network whatever they were asking for their services, ranging from “I will create your message in alphabet spaghetti” to “I will send you a hipster postcard from N.Y.C.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, the finished issue is incredibly diverse, with gigs commissioned from 29 different countries.

From South Africa, one Fiverr freelancer provided a speech on why print isn’t dead, while another contributed a unique South African photo package of daily life in Johannesburg. A Sri Lankan Fiverr-er(?) provided Jones a mostly accurate palm reading; an artist from Spain made him a Rorschach-style inkblot. In Japan, a woman sent Jones 15 paper boxes made by her 99-year-old grandmother, who folded them by hand to keep her fingers limber. A Pakistani inventor named Faisal Shahzhad sold Jones 10 new product ideas, ranging from a robotic water cooler to an anti-theft device for third-world livestock.

The most Jones ever spent was $50 for a pair of mandalas illustrated by a product design consultant in India. Other contributions include old Hot Wheels cars, a smattering of portraits (including the one, created by an Indonesian artist, which graces the issue’s cover), a few recipes, an informative Q&A about pygmy hedgehogs, and Jones’s “by far” favorite, an extra chunky and curly crocheted beard sent by a Minnesotan knitter.

According to Jones, the Fiverr issue of Elsie was a follow-up to his previous issue, in which he took a photograph of a London street sign covered in underground graffiti and creative stickers, then tracked down as many of the people on it as he could. The resulting journey ultimately took him all over Europe and America. “After that, I gave myself a self-imposed brief that I would try to make as eclectic a magazine as [I could for] issue three, without leaving my house.” He decided to try Fiverr after a friend of his used the site to design her wedding invitations. “The first gig I commissioned on Fiverr was from a girl in Japan,” Jones remembers. “A few weeks later, I got an envelope of Japanese sweets and candies in the mail. As soon as that happened, I knew this was going to be great.”

And it is great. The resulting magazine is so wonderful, in fact, it’s probably the best PR Fiverr–a site that is much criticized among design communities who believe it is devaluing the work of creatives–could hope for. And Fiverr knows it. After being contacted by Jones about his experiment, Fiverr volunteered to sponsor the latest issue of Elsie. “They didn’t have, or want to have, any say in the content of the magazine,” says Jones, who argues that Elsie remains a one-man creative project. Even so, Fiverr’s sponsorship will pay for the entire print run of Elsie’s latest issue. They are also helping promote the issue, both with the press and helping to taking Jones on the road later this year with some Elsie-themed events.


So Fiverr knows the Fiverr issue of Elsie is good press. Even so, there’s something bittersweet about flipping through the magazine. It’s filled with just so many creative people, many of whom (it could be argued) are grotesquely undervaluing their talent. Jones says he understands that perception. “Services like Fiverr definitely raise some ethical questions,” he says, but he also thinks that “a lot of the stuff that happens in the creative industry is overpriced.”

Besides, while $5 might by chump change for a creative working in Brooklyn, there are parts of the world–countries where Jones commissioned gigs from, like India, Sri Lanka, or Mongolia–where $5 can go pretty far. Jones was born in Wales and studied to be a creative, which gave him a “privileged route to success,” he says, that most artistic people around the world don’t have. For them, sites like Fiverr give them a way to earn money doing what they love in a way that might otherwise be impossible for them.

There are valid points to be made on both sides of the argument about whether the gig economy is exploiting or liberating an entire generation of people around the world. (It’s probably doing both.) But one thing that can’t be argued with is that thanks to the gig economy, Elsie’s Fiverr issue might be one of the most delightful and uncynical magazines to come to press in recent memory. You can order a copy here.