(Not) Getting Paid to Do What You Love

Gender and Aspirational Labor in the Social Media Economy

Profound transformations in our digital society have brought many enterprising women to social media platforms—from blogs to YouTube to Instagram—in hopes of channeling their talents into fulfilling careers. In this eye-opening book, Brooke Erin Duffy draws much-needed attention to the gap between the handful who find lucrative careers and the rest, whose “passion projects” amount to free work for corporate brands.

Drawing on interviews and fieldwork, Duffy offers fascinating insights into the work and lives of fashion bloggers, beauty vloggers, and designers. She connects the activities of these women to larger shifts in unpaid and gendered labor, offering a lens through which to understand, anticipate, and critique broader transformations in the creative economy. At a moment when social media offer the rousing assurance that anyone can “make it”—and stand out among freelancers, temps, and gig workers—Duffy asks us all to consider the stakes of not getting paid to do what you love.


“Duffy’s exploration of sexism, as well as her probe of the gig economy, makes this an interesting and informative read for anyone—even those who aren’t following Instagram’s foodies and fashionistas.”


“This insightful account will resonate with anyone who has ever sought to turn personal passions into wage-earning employment, juggled multiple part-time gigs, or struggled to fit pleasurable hobbies around a ‘real’ job or jobs.”

Library Journal, starred review

“[A] thoroughly researched and considered work.”


“This book is particularly helpful for those studying social media, gender, and the digital economy, and opens up many questions about media industries, aspirational labor, and the merging of creative expression and entrepreneurial ideologies.”

—Zoetanya Sujon, International Journal of Communication

“Duffy refutes the idea that anyone can make a living doing what they love online—whether they’re a food or fashion influencer or any other kind of gig worker. Women, especially, get exploited as the line blurs between hobby and career, she explains.”


“Duffy does a superb job. . . . This book will be a welcome addition on the bookshelves of scholars interested in the intersection of new media and labor, in personal branding, and in how young middle-class women imagine working for passion under precarious labor conditions.”

–Ilana Gershon, ILR Review

“A timely contribution to the wider debates around digital content creation.”

—Kait Kribs, Journal of Cultural Economy

(Not) Getting Paid to Do What You Love is an engaging read, thanks in large part to Duffy’s effervescent prose and palpable empathy for her subjects. It is strongly recommended.”

—Austin Morris, Media Industries

“Duffy is a talented interviewer and observer who offers a thorough, well-researched description of the world of social media aspirants, and sociologists will find much to like about this book.”

—Christin L. Munsch, American Journal of Sociology

“A fascinating, meticulously researched study that shows how these creative women exemplify modern workers. Her lessons are essential for all those interested in fashion studies, gender studies, and the creative economy.”

—Angela McRobbie, author of Be Creative: Making a Living in the New Culture Industries

“Duffy is an excellent guide to the contemporary anxieties of aspirational labor, showing both the very calculated nature of investments these women are trying to make in their futures, while pointing to the larger social forces that shape and constrict their possibilities.”

—Gina Neff, author of Venture Labor

“This immensely valuable book reveals the trapdoor for female workers who pursue their talents on social media. Duffy expertly dissects a system which attracts many, rewards a few, and exploits the rest.”

— Andrew Ross, author of Nice Work If You Can Get It: Life and Labor in Precarious Times

“Contrary to optimists who hoped that the internet would bail women out of the family-career bind, Duffy finds that female ‘digital-media hopefuls’ rarely get paid for their work. The phenomenon Duffy describes is fascinating.”

—Frances McCall Rosenbluth, coauthor of both Forged Through Fire and Women, Work, and Politics


“Duffy’s critically astute study reveals the intersection of pleasure and power in contemporary capitalism and clearly articulates an essential new perspective on digital labor.”

— Kylie Jarrett, author of The Digital Housewife


About the author

Brooke Erin Duffy, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Communication at Cornell University, where she studies the cultures and economies of digital labor. Her areas of specialization include: platforms and cultural production; social media influencers and the creator economy; gender, identity, and inequality; and algorithms and promotional culture.

Duffy’s published books include (Not) Getting Paid to Do What You Love: Gender and Aspirational Labor in the Social Media Economy (Yale University Press, 2017/2022), which Wired named as one of the “Top Tech Books of 2017.” She is also author of Remake, Remodel: Women’s Magazines in the Digital Age (University of Illinois Press, 2013); co-author of Platforms and Cultural Production (Polity, 2021) with Thomas Poell and David Nieborg; and co-editor of Key Readings in Media Today: Mass Communication in Contexts (Routledge, 2009) with Joseph Turow. Duffy’s current book project, “The Visibility Bind,” draws upon interviews with social media influencers, creators, and streamers to explore the promises, perils, and paradoxes of the creator economy. She also continues her collaborative work related to Platforms and Cultural Production, including co-editing a double special issue on “Global Perspectives on Platforms and Cultural Production.”

The author of more than thirty articles or book chapters, Duffy has published her research in such journals as Journal of Communication, New Media & Society, the International Journal of Communication, Critical Studies in Media Communication, the International Journal of Cultural Studies, Social Media + Society, and Information, Communication, and Society. In addition to her academic publications, she has disseminated her research to a broader audience through popular writing in The Atlantic, Vox, Salon, Business Insider, Wired, and Quartz, among others. Frequently sought out for her expertise on the influencer economy, Duffy has been quoted in The New York Times, The Guardian, the BBC, Vox, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The USA Today, and Vice. She’s also been an invited guest on such podcast and radio series as NPR’s “On Point,” Fast Company’s “Creative Control,” WBUR’s “Endless Thread,” and The Atlantic’s “Crazy/Genius.” In addition, Duffy appeared in the Viacom documentary series “The Culture of Proximity 2.0.”

At Cornell, Duffy is also a faculty affiliate of the programs in Feminist, Gender, & Sexuality Studies and Media Studies. She has taught undergraduate and graduate courses on Gender and Media, New Media & Society, Cultural Production in the Digital Age, Media Theory, Advertising & Society, and Qualitative Methods of Communication Research. In spring 2024, she will be teaching a doctoral seminar on “Cultural Production in the Age of Creators” as a special topics course within the Media, Technology, and Society area.

She completed her Ph.D. at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania in 2011. She holds an M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and B.A. from The Pennsylvania State University, where she was the student marshal for the College of Communications.

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