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Why The Creator Economy Will Keep Growing

If we go back a decade, the term ‘content creator’ was looked upon with apprehension. People were posting on social media, of course, but the idea of it being your part-time or even full-time job didn’t always register with the public. However, regular content creation for the purposes of monetization was already in full-swing. YouTube Creators such as PewDiePie had racked up over 19 million subscribers by the end of 2013, and a promising new app called Instagram was creating its own brand of celebrity known as ‘influencers’.

Today the term ‘content creator’ is well known and is associated with people who have millions of followers and subscribers, people who are multi-millionaires and people who brands are seeking to partner with. Conversely the term is also associated with a job that’s replete with instability, uncertainty and pressure. Despite the negatives the industry is projected to grow considerably, with some estimating a creator economy market size of half-a-trillion dollars by 2027. What’s so appealing about content creation?

The creator economy offers something the traditional workplace never could. Ease of experimentation. At one extreme we have the shūshin koyō of Japan, lifetime employment in which staff stayed loyal to their company. Oftentimes workers would remain in the same role for their entire working lives. But let’s take it down a notch and consider a regular full-time office job. You’re contracted to work from 9am till 5pm, 5 days a week. Let’s say you want to try something different. It’s not so easy to make that move.

Some companies give you the opportunity for a short term placement in a different team. If you don’t have that option, then you need to apply for a different role in the same company or find a job elsewhere. This entails a lot of work. Working on job applications and preparing for interviews can be draining. Chances are unless you’re one of the lucky few, you won’t always get an offer for every job you apply to. But if you want to keep experimenting, you effectively become a job-hopper every 1-2 years.

Now consider the ease of experimentation in the creator economy. A YouTuber might have built his audience by making gaming videos. But if they want to try something else, let’s say a video about global warming, all they have to do is produce it and upload it. They don’t have to go through the hoops of the traditional workplace where you need to go through a whole job application process to try something new. The barriers to experimentation in the creator economy are very low. Many creators feel they can find their voice and their passion more quickly via this experimentation, in contrast to the traditional workplace where experimentation is limited by how often you can get a new job.

The creator economy provides an easy way for people to express their creativity. The traditional workplace has a lot of catching up to do, reflected by the many stories we hear of workers who feel their talents are wasted in their current job. The creator economy’s popularity derives not just from its earning potential, but also because creative expression isn’t as constrained as it is in the traditional workplace.

Along with the ability to experiment, content creation is appealing because of the speed at which one can earn high income. Some content creators have achieved enormous followings in what seems to be a matter of weeks, having to navigate the flood of comments, brand deal requests and collaboration opportunities. The ad revenue that comes along with it is welcomed, opening the floodgates for further monetization. To many people, this is preferable to having to work for several decades and climbing up the corporate ladder to eventually earn the same amount of money. Given that for many creators, the content creation process started out as a hobby, there’s an element of fun to the process. You get to do what you enjoy while also earning big bucks. And then there’s time spent. In Linktree’s Creator Report it’s estimated that around half of content creators who earn $50,000 – $100,000 spend less than 10 hours a week on content creation.

This, however, paints too much of a positive picture. Being a full-time content creator isn’t easy, having to deal with trolling, expectations of subscribers and a high incidence of burnout. While YouTube or TikTok is officially a place of work for many creators, many viewers don’t respect these boundaries as they would in an office. It’s hard to imagine a random person walking into an office building, making their way to the marketing department and telling staff that their work is useless. However on social media, viewers have little inhibition in doing exactly that.

With respect to the speed with which one can earn a lot of money as a content creator, there’s also been resentment from those who aren’t quite willing to accept that it doesn’t need to take decades of sucking up to a boss in a corporate company to earn a high income. This attitude likely arises because creators are circumventing barriers that have existed for years, and it’s further compounded when certain creators are given preferential treatment. In 2002, the first season of American Idol aired on TV. It was a spectacular success with the season finale getting 22 million viewers. Before the finals, the MTV Video Music Awards took place on 29 August 2002 and the American Idol finalists, Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini, were invited on stage to reveal the winner of the Best New Artist award.

Avril Lavigne won the award and as she walked to the podium to collect her trophy, Kelly Clarkson gave her a hug. Lavigne was visibly uncomfortable and shrugged off Clarkson. The suspected reason is because at the time there was a great deal of resentment towards reality TV personalities who were getting opportunities that people had to work incredibly hard for. Sure, they were talented singers and performers, but by going on American Idol and having the possibility to win a record contract, they were bypassing all the barriers that regular recording artists had to overcome. The feeling was that they hadn’t “paid their dues” and were getting an easy ride to stardom.

Perhaps this is where some the resentment toward content creators stems from. To be an actor, recording artist or entertainer, you’d have to go through many rejections and hone your craft. Now popular content creators are getting book deals, releasing music albums and are being cast in major films. Some are having boxing matches and are getting paid more than professionals who’ve trained their whole lives. In 2004, season 4 of WWE’s Tough Enough aired, a series that arguably changed the wrestling industry forever. It was a show in which contestants competed to earn a $1 million WWE contract. This caused
massive resentment within the industry, known for being brutal to break into. During one WWE episode, the Tough Enough contestants were berated in the ring by Kurt Angle who said, “I hate you. You didn’t earn it”, referring to the opportunity they’d been given.

Avril Lavigne shrugging off a hug from Kelly Clarkson at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards.
Avril Lavigne shrugs off Kelly Clarkson at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards.

While negative aspects of being a content creator exist, as they do in any other job, perceptions have come a long way. Unlike a decade ago, there’s much more understanding today about what being a content creator entails. And rather than expressing resentment towards those who achieve success, there’s a common sentiment that celebrates their success. If a creator decides to hop on a trend to get more views, instead of being denigrated for it, they’ll often get the comment, “go get that bag”; a term that conveys an understanding among viewers that creators will sometimes need to make a video on a trending topic in order to get boosted by the algorithm. As a newer generation grows up in a world where social media isn’t a novelty, but rather a fixed aspect of society, the resistance towards content creation is disappearing. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

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