What is the Creator Economy?
Creation as we know it has evolved due to the coming and going of certain mediums, control of those mediums, and consumption habits of the average consumer. In the past, media corporations held a considerable amount of control over the flow of news and entertainment. That came with pros and cons. The world benefited from these “gatekeepers” since it ensured most news came from multiple, credible sources, with low potential for misinformation. However, that gatekeeper infrastructure also made for inequalities, especially for new creators.
For instance, anyone interested in contributing to their local, national, or worldwide news source would most likely have to work for the outlet. Many newspapers had columns and editorials for contributions from the general public, but if you didn’t have a journalism degree, and you weren’t on the payroll, serious writing gigs weren’t in the picture.
It was the same in radio, television, literature, movies, and magazines.
Each media conglomerate had a similar creation process:
- Obtain content from a reputable creator, usually one who’s already employed by the media company.
- After creation, send the content to an editor, a person, or a team of people (like a marketing agency), who are also employed by the media company.
- Publish the content using mediums often controlled by the media company, for the same audience, on a regular basis.
As mentioned, this configuration makes for many pros and cons. It’s not all good or bad. It’s certainly an efficient way to create.
However, you may notice two main problems in those three steps: exclusivity and bias.
- To be a creator, you needed to be employed full-time by the media company or potentially famous/prestigious enough to warrant an “expert opinion.” Employment requires certain credentials (not necessarily a bad thing, but some people don’t have access to these types of credentials). Employment also revolves around location (the Chicago Tribune wouldn’t want an employee working from Los Angeles, even if the person had great things to say). Finally, employment presents many inherent organizational biases (CEOs mainly hiring from their alma mater, editors filling the writing room with people who think like them, or regular old prejudices like sexism, racism, or ageism).
- That content creation process remains within an exclusive circle into the second step. The editor of a magazine, movie, or TV show is also within that circle, strengthening the overall exclusivity, keeping out outsiders, and fostering one-sided perspectives.
- Being able to create something relies heavily on your ability to distribute. That’s why the third step was so damaging to the average creator. Want to make a movie? There was no means of distribution besides going to a major studio. Radio show? Have fun finding access to your own telecommunications infrastructure. Want to write a book? Only publishers had the printing equipment, shipping channels, and marketing teams to make it happen.
As you can see, this closed community of creators made it extremely difficult for creative people to get their voices out there. Yes, filmmakers, writers, editors, actors, photographers, and other creators of the past were probably the most qualified, so it makes sense they received jobs, it makes sense they were provided the mediums and distribution outlets to speak to the public. But unfortunately, these creative minds, no matter how brilliant at their jobs, are still people. Put them in a closed-off, exclusive community and we’re bound to see pretentiousness, elitism, and nepotism.
We’re bound to see these little clubs turn into echo chambers. And even if the creators try their hardest to remain unbiased, while still creating quality art and content, it’s inevitable that some people are still being blocked from the conversation.
For example, you could have an entirely male-operated newspaper that’s reputable, entertaining, unbiased, and topical. Let’s say most of the employees also graduated from Yale and grew up on the East Coast of the US. No matter their education, talent, and unbiased moral code, that small community of creators is still missing perspectives from women, perspectives that not a single one of the men within the writing room can bring to the table. And are articles from East Coast Ivy Leaguers going to have a certain slant based on their own experiences? Of course. A trade school graduate born in California wouldn’t connect with those newspaper workers at all.
So, we know how the media economy worked from before, along with its pros and cons. But the internet obviously messed with that infrastructure quite a bit. Now we’re looking at something called the Creator Economy, and it has opened up the potential for all people to create, distribute, and gain feedback from their work.
What Exactly Is the Creator Economy?
With the evolution of the internet, we’ve begun to see varying forms of democratization in sectors like traditional financing (crowdfunding), lodging (sharing homes/Airbnb), transportation (Uber), and many other industries.
Essentially, the internet has provided better access to resources for people to invest, run their small businesses, and handle just about every part of their lives. This access opens up the closed community we talked about above, where media companies no longer have absolute control over producing, distributing, and marketing content.
Similar to the sharing economy, the creator economy relies on technology innovations, often from startups. It’s a DIY (do it yourself) type of situation, where a tech startup comes out with an app of some sort so regular people can bypass the traditional gatekeeper elements of an industry to partake in something that was once inaccessible.
Much how the internet has granted public access to low-cost, instant stock trading (something that was expensive and reserved for professional traders in the past), it has also knocked down barriers constructed by those media companies.
Not only that, but the creator economy offers complete business management tools for creators to connect with fans, market their products, and monetize their creations.
Here are some examples of the creator economy in action:
- An unknown writer can skip traditional publishing and instead become a blogger, run a newsletter, accept subscriptions through Patreon, and publish their own eBook on Amazon, all without the high costs, gatekeepers, and distribution limitations from before.
- A stay-at-home mom without a telecommunications degree can launch a media empire focused on world news with her own monetized YouTube channel.
- A fashion enthusiast can become a social media influencer on platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook, running their own fashion shows, giving style tips, and making money with promotional posts, sponsorships, and ad revenue.
- A graphic design student can sell prints, t-shirts, and mugs from their dorm room with an affordable ecommerce platform like Shopify.
- A single dad without any radio experience can launch a podcast on the Anchor app to record content, distribute episodes, monetize with ads, and manage an entire community of listeners.
- A gaming hobbyist can tap into the development world by creating video games on Hiberworld then monetizing a community on Epic Games.
- Anyone can live stream about their favorite hobby using affordable tools like a laptop, webcam, and social media platforms like Twitch.
- Musicians can create and sell music files on a platform like StageIt, eliminating the need for a record company.
- Any average person can look at their favorite hobbies and create courses to teach others, monetizing the entire process with Teachable or Thinkific.
- Creators can put paywalls in front of their exclusive content with Patreon, while also keeping most of the profits for themselves instead of giving them to a middleman.
To sum it all up, the creator economy currently offers the following:
- Diversity in content: Instead of 10 major newspapers consumed by billions, we have millions of diverse publications through multiple mediums.
- Something for everyone: It doesn’t matter if you’re interested in something obscure like extreme ironing, duck herding, or milk bottle collecting; there’s now some sort of online community, podcast, or publication for you. In the past, it was difficult to find information about oddities and niches. Now, the magic of internet algorithms allows those unique creators to reach their audiences.
- Passion: Creators in the past were expected to produce consistent content, even if they had no expertise in the area. It wasn’t uncommon for men to speak on women’s issues, or for magazine reporters to receive odd-job assignments they had no interest in. Even general reporters are thrown into a myriad of stories on a regular basis – they can’t have a passion for all of them. The creator economy gives a voice to those who are truly qualified to speak on certain topics. Podcasts are a great example: who would have thought so many people were interested in mythology?
- Accessibility to tools: From distribution networks to industry equipment, creators can now make beautiful work with inexpensive microphones, content creation software, laptop computers, and smartphone apps.
- Monetization for all: You don’t need traditional employment in the creator economy to make money from your work. Not to mention, the money that does come in isn’t partially taken by middlemen or a sketchy revenue-sharing agreement (besides maybe a cut taken by a payment processor).
- Community: Creators can not only build a community around their work but also interact with people from thousands of miles away.
Why Does the Creator Economy Matter?
The creator economy matters for a variety of reasons, but when put into an overarching statement, here’s why people care about it:
The creator economy empowers people to create, distribute their creations, and make money from those creations without limitations.
As mentioned before, this new style of content creation takes power away from a small group of people and puts it in the hands of the actual creators. That’s democratization.
Instead of one record label owning the rights to thousands of albums, and taking a cut in the process, the actual artists maintain ownership over their work, while also bringing in more money for their efforts.
The world is moving in this direction, and although everything isn’t perfect (it’s much harder work for creators to handle everything themselves, and some platforms try to take advantage of creators by offering low royalty agreements or high fees), we can see that it’s at least a move in the right direction for ecommerce, content creation, art, and business in general.
The Problem and Solution
There was definitely a problem for creators in the past. There were far too many barriers to entry in mass media. This also lead to elitism, bias, homogenous content, and experiences that weren’t made for the masses but whatever the small group of people in a room wanted everyone to consume.
So, the solution comes in the form of democratized code, apps, and distribution mediums. This way, creators don’t have to mess with middlemen, gatekeepers, or regulations. Instead, they can focus on their art, craft, or business, and directly receive the praise, monetary gain, and whatever else comes back from their efforts.
Are People Actually Making Money and Holding Fulfilling Jobs in the Creator Economy?
No one wants to get into something that doesn’t offer the potential for success. So, are there concrete, real-world examples of individuals and organizations finding monetary success with the creator economy?
And although it’s not a guarantee to make a living, it’s wise to study the top creators who have already established communities, seeing as how you can take tips from them, model your own content off of theirs, and even try reaching out to them if they’re in your industry.
Here’s a look at popular creators taking advantage of democratized platforms to manage their own business models:
- Hugh Howey: Often considered one of the most successful self-published authors of all time, Hugh Howey utilized the eBook system called Kindle Direct Publishing, and outsourced services for editing and cover designs, completely skipping the need for a traditional publisher, at least earlier in his career. Just about every self-published author is part of the creator economy.
- Joe Rogan: All podcasters are in some way part of the creator community, as long as they’re not part of a podcasting network. Joe Rogan has run his own show and actually created his own network, while also establishing a partnership with Shopify for distribution.
- Yoga With Adriene: She offers one of the most popular yoga channels on YouTube, monetized her work with a premium streaming app. She even has a large community for local meetups.
- Brian Clark: He runs the popular Copyblogger website.
- Forever Your Betty: She’s a fashion influencer who’s monetized via Instagram, an online store, influencer marketing, and subscriptions.
- The Fantasy Footballers: This is a group of guys who run a podcast, make money via Patreon, and foster a thriving community on fantasy football.
- Molly Burke: She’s a Youtuber, author, and motivational speaker with a Patreon and growing community of members she calls bees.
- Ben Folds: The famous musician hosts a private discord channel, live streaming concerts, and music appreciation lessons, while also selling exclusive music downloads.
- Amanda Palmer: Along with a vibrant Patreon page, this whimsical musician and artist sells sheet music, downloadable tracks, and all sorts of fun artwork.
Yoga With Adriene offers free YouTube videos, but she monetizes with her Find What Feels Good app, offering $12.99 per month plans for premium courses, special discounts, and exclusive classes.
What Should We Expect from the Future of the Creator Economy?
Here are some thoughts about the entire creator economy, along with insights on what to expect from individual creators in the future:
- Content will become more accessible than ever. Think about research papers. They’re traditionally blocked in some way from the public, requiring you to have some sort of library or industry access account. Not only that but industry studies and medical journals are formatted in convoluted ways and often cost an insane amount of money for the average person. The same could be said about courses from renowned professionals. Masterclass is the first we’ve seen something like this, where you don’t have to go to college, travel to that campus, and pay hefty tuition just to learn from the best people in an industry.
- We’ll start seeing media companies pay big bucks for access to the ownership from creators. The media is losing its control over content since creators don’t need certain platforms or companies to distribute their work. Just look at how Spotify paid an incredible amount of money to Joe Rogan to make his podcast exclusive on their platform.
- Creators will begin partnering with each other in more formalized groups for networking, cross-selling, and content creation purposes. This will have some of the downsides of the media-controlled economy from before, but at least the content creators still have full domain over their work.
- Although they’re new, NFTs (non-fungible tokens) should evolve into a more purposeful way for creators to make money. Being able to create a completely unique, verifiable piece of art, music, or writing, and then sell it has so much potential.
- Influencers will promote brands without being asked or paid. We’ve already seen this with Elon Musk and crypto and Hiteh Shah and Lazy Lions, where they already own part of that asset, so using their likeness is a sure way to increase its value and make money from it without actually interacting with a company.
- Creators will turn towards equity agreements as opposed to full endorsement payments. Great wealth has been found by asking for ownership in a company that’s bound to grow. Ryan Reynolds is famous for this with Aviation Gin. Why get paid once when you can hold equity that grows over time?
- We’ll consistently see new options for monetization. Cryptocurrency has already brought us NFTs.
How to Launch Your Own Career in the Creator Economy
There’s a wide range of possibilities for launching a career, or at least testing the waters, with a gig in the creator economy. The good news is that there’s no need for a specialty diploma, interviews, or having to even leave your home.
Take a look at the sections below to understand which platforms to use for your creations, along with other tips like how to monetize and expand your reach.
Platforms to Help You Out in the Creator Economy
A massive part of the creator economy comes in the form of apps, software, and platforms that expedite the creation process for specific entrepreneurs.
For instance, you used to need a recording studio, radio network, and a marketing team to create a morning talk show. Now, all that’s required is your phone (or better yet, a desktop microphone), the Anchor podcasting app, and whatever location you decide on. Anchor provides audio recording and editing, asset management, community building, distribution, and monetization all in one little app.
And just about every industry has its own version of this app, whether you’re a writer, musician, live streamer, or course creator.
Take a look at the list below to find some of the top apps, software, and platforms for creator economy workers:
- Red Circle
- Clubhouse (more for general audio influencers)
- Royal Road
- Kindle Vella
- Kindle Direct Publishing
For Ecommerce Sellers (Can Be Used By Any Content Creator)
- Big Cartel
For Course Creators
- FL Studio
- Kobalt Music
For Livestreamers and Gamers
- Stage 10
- Onyx Servers
- Epic Games
- Manticore Games
For Fitness Content Creators
- My PT Hub
- My Fanpark
For All Creators
- Keeper Tax
- Mighty Networks
- Any NFT marketplace like OpenSea
How to Monetize Your Content in the Creator Economy
Creators must foster trust to monetize.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to monitor trust during your creation process, so you often need to figure out if your audience trusts you the hard way, by actually trying to monetize and seeing if anyone is willing to pay you for the content. However, that’s part of the learning process, and it allows you to adjust your approach if you’re unable to convince people to pay for your content.
But how do you go about establishing trust?
The creator economy is unique in that fans have so many options to choose from to get their information and entertainment. In the past, an article from the New York Times, or a show on ABC, or a book from Penguin Publishing, already established the trust and therefore carried value.
However, a creator must first present value to the consumer, otherwise, you’re just another one of the thousands of creators without any reputation.
And so, the monetization potential stems from:
Value > Trust > Monetization.
As for the tools used to monetize, refer back to the Platforms To Help You Out In The Creator Economy section for the main tools that offer monetization features. For instance, you can sell merchandise with Printful, sell courses with Teachable, offer paid memberships on Patreon, and sell your own books on Kindle Direct Publishing.
But not before establishing value, which then leads to trust.
Our Conclusion on the Creator Economy
The creator economy is still evolving on a regular basis, so it’s exciting to see what’s in store in the coming months, years, and decades. If you have any questions about the creator economy ecosystem or would like to share your own experiences with the creator economy on places like TikTok, Twitch, YouTube, Snapchat, or any social networks, drop us a line in the comments below.