Creator Economy: How did we get here?

I've spent a lot of time recently thinking about how we got here — to what we call the Creator Economy.

Photo by Julius Drost on Unsplash

Before the advent of the internet — and more specifically, what we called Web 2.0 — the media and entertainment industries were dominated by only a handful of companies who developed and distributed content to millions of people. Then the internet facilitated direct communication with our communities, and everything changed.

People began to search for their own audiences on a new frontier. They posted their own content. They seized the opportunity to tell their stories, to connect, to create videos, to write words that might be found by readers who would have never found them before.

What's interesting about this phenomenon is it theoretically could have stopped before it started. Consumers could have dismissed individual creators in favor of traditional media channels. Instead, as people began to adapt to new modes of communication, they became more and more excited about user-generated content. Seemingly overnight, we went from the status quo — where only a small number of shows reached millions of people — to a world where billions of people started telling their own stories to only a handful of individuals.

Of course, you might point out that storytelling has always been part and parcel of our cultures, and you'd be right. But the rules have changed. We no longer have to be vulnerable or risk getting lost off stage by the people who immediately surround us. We can search for connection with an increasingly restrictive and niche set of parameters — whether we're looking for an ideal romantic partner or a circle of friends who share our interest in The Great Emu War of the early 1900s.

Our audience — and our ability for connection — is no longer defined by geography or gate-keepers. And it's this passage from traditional mass media to niche media that gave birth to what we now call the Creator Economy.

This shift has been bolstered by a number of complementary trends, from both a supply and demand perspective. I think it's also interesting to think about what those trends are.

What comes to mind for me personally on the "demand" side is:

  1. A loss of confidence in institutions. The past few years have shown people are more and more disappointed by institutional thought — whether it's perpetuated by the government, media, political parties, or even religions. Our trust has shifted to individual people — to colleagues, friends, or even sometimes to people we hardly know at all.

This phenomenon doesn't only affect media. It also affects brands. People now have more trust in other individuals when it comes to their purchasing decisions — more trust in, for example, influencers — than in companies. They would prefer to follow a person on Twitter over a brand, to subscribe to another person's newsletter or listen to their podcast over consuming content created by a brand. A recent study even showed that 85% of people place more trust in the recommendations of other consumers than they do in the recommendations of a brand.

  1. A rise in demand for independent media. This second trend involves a change in consumer habits. People now prefer to listen to podcasts, watch videos on YouTube, or read content instead of listening to the radio, watching TV, or reading traditional newspapers.

A recent study showed that a lot of kids growing up today aspire to become professional YouTubers. And why not? The site has 2 billion users who watch 4 billion hours of video every month. 500 hours of video are uploaded on the platform every minute.

  1. A willingness to pay for content. Until recently, content was considered to be free. Today, companies like Netflix or Spotify have helped consumers understand that content has value. Companies like Kickstarter have reinforced this understanding. An enormous number of projects, including content projects, have been financed on crowdfunding platforms. Kickstarter alone has financed more than $5 billion worth of projects since its creation. More recently, platforms like Patreon, that allow consumers to support creators on an ongoing basis, have entered the sector. In 2020, we saw more than 6 million people on Patreon support some 200,000 creators with over $1 billion.

On the supply side, there are also interesting trends to observe.

  1. There has been a radical change in how we approach work. Traditional work contracts are no longer working. (Podcaster Anna Sale says this best in her book released this week: "Even when you do get a job with benefits, most company retirement programs no longer incorporate company pensions — it's just you, your individual 401(k) account, and the fluctuations in the market.") We don't get the same satisfaction from work, either. We're looking for work that's much more flexible and in line with our personal interests. Put simply, people are looking to take back control over their lives — to work on projects that interest them, and to diversify their revenue streams. Careers rarely center around one big project anymore, and can consist of a multitude of projects and passions.

We're also looking critically at how we value our time. Traditionally, work has been measured in terms of time passed. The gig economy is a great example of this. Your only way to earn more money in the gig economy is to work longer hours. If you're an Uber driver, and you want to earn more money driving Uber, your ability to earn more has nothing to do with your sparking personality, or individuality, or even how well you drive. A good joke and a smooth ride might earn you 5-star reviews, but your revenue potential boils down to the number of hours you spend behind the wheel. And I think we're rejecting that idea — that we're shifting toward a model where people know their worth, and they understand it can't be measured strictly in man hours. That passion, and talent, has an exponential value completely disconnected from that equation.

  1. A myriad of new tools are at our fingertips. Be it for creating content, or for distributing it across online platforms, or for creating connection, or for managing a business. There are so many tools available on the internet today that didn't exist before and that are facilitating — are accelerating — the Creator Economy.

We're living in a world where anyone with a telephone can start creating content, distribute it, create a community around them, and monetize this community thanks to tools at their disposal. This can all be done without any technical know-how. It's what we call No Code — the capacity to build high tech businesses without needing to code oneself, simply using a readily available set of tools.

  1. COVID forced us to think differently. One last shift that's accelerated the arrival of the Creator Economy is, undeniably, the pandemic. It's shown people what they can do online — what's possible to accomplish online and doesn't require our presence "IRL." Be it working, meeting people, etc. The pandemic made things possible that we knew were achievable but didn't dare do, out of loyalty to tradition, or for a lack of creativity.

I honestly believe that this pandemic reminded a lot of us — those of us who were fortunate enough to be sheltered at home and shielded from the worst of its traumas — what it's like to have free time. And this free time was used to create. And obviously people turned toward inward toward their passions. Those passions, which before existed strictly in the domain of leisure, became something — almost by force, because it was necessary to survive — a potential extra revenue stream.

The result of all this is what Jack Conte calls the Creator Renaissance. We're in a world where we see more and more creators emerging. Why? Because it's easier to create. Because it's also easier to grow your audience and monetize it. And os we see creators emerging who are more and more successful. And those creators serve as role models. Others look up to them and are inspired to create themselves, and the cycle repeats itself.

In the United States alone, studies show that there are approximately 50 million people who generated — through their content, their creations — over $68 billion last year, what represents approximately 70% growth over the prior year.

The above phenomenons have caught the attention of traditional media platforms and online companies alike. We're seeing actors like Facebook, Twitter, and Apple completely adapt to this Creator Economy. They're providing more and more tools to help creators monetize content on their platforms — out of fear, no doubt, of losing them.

TL;DR It's never been easier than it is today to be a creator. To create content online. To find an audience. To monetize. And that — that's absolutely amazing because we're seeing more and more creators emerge. We're witnessing a rebirth and renewal of connection that technologies previously disrupted. And we're only at the beginning. The Creator Economy is representing an important shift in our society — for creators, but also for consumers.

And for a company like ours, like Uncut, who is positioned in that sector? There are so many ways to further accelerate this shift.

Which is exactly what we plan to do.