Mere months after the COVID-19 lockdowns sent shockwaves throughout the world last year, online traffic spikes had begun sending a flood of work-from-home users to spend more hours and money than ever on watching streaming content and purchasing.
The pandemic has been a boon for the creator economy, generating unicorns and attracting millions of people eager to become the next Charlie D’Amelio — who recently became the first TikTok creator to surpass 100 million followers and is estimated to be worth $4 million at age 16. She started on TikTok just a year and a half ago.
In less than a year, San Francisco-based Clubhouse attracted more than 2M users and attained unicorn status. The company just raised $100M to help get its creators paid.
OnlyFans, launched in 2016, grew to 85M users and nearly 1M creators during the pandemic. The company expects its creators to generate more than $2B this year (it keeps 20%).
Twitch more than doubled its subscribers to 8.5M in the past year. Substack ballooned to 250k paid users and reports that its top 10 publishers collectively earn more than $1M a year.
The Creator Economy needs a Middle Class.
Even Mark Cuban is getting into the game, launching social audio platform Fireside in March. Creators will be able to monetize live conversations “based on what they have to say (not how loud they yell),” according to co-founder Falon Fatemi.
Legacy platforms like LinkedIn are upping their investments for creators, too. Reddit acquired Dubsmash; Snapchat launched Spotlight; and Facebook-owned Instagram unveiled an analytics dashboard for creators following the summer launch of Reels.
When Pakistani video creator Dananeer Mobin uploaded the video on her Instagram page on 6 February, little did she know that she would become an overnight internet star in both her nation, Pakistan and it’s arch rival India.
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When the news has been mostly about death and despair recently, the happy faces in the video cheered people up in the two countries – who are usually at odds on most things because of the decades of sometimes deadly animosity between the two nations. And this is how creators are born!
While all of this has ensured we consume more and more online content, the question remains on who exactly is getting rich from this creator’s economy?
The missing creator middle class.
While some creators have been propelled to massive stardom, examples of a wide swath of the population achieving financial security from these platforms are few and far between. The current creator landscape more closely resembles an economy in which wealth is concentrated at the top.
The sustainability of nations and the defensibility of platforms is better when wealth isn’t concentrated in the top 1%. In the real world, a healthy middle class is critical for promoting societal trust, providing a stable source of demand for products and services, and driving innovation. On platforms, less wealth concentration means lessening the risk that a would-be competitor could poach top creators and threaten the entire business.
So, is inequality inevitable among creators? Perhaps to an extent. Not everyone can become a celebrity, but there are examples of middle class creators: those that aren’t household names but have a solid base of customers who provide the foundation for a decent income.
What is certainly true is this: Creator platforms flourish when they provide opportunity for anyone to grow and succeed.
A path to stronger societies and platforms.
Societies and platforms flourish when there is a path for everyone to have upward mobility, achieve financial security, and learn and grow. The beautiful thing is, in the real world as well as in the digital world, it’s up to us to build this path.