Creators Economy, Bull or Bear?

Some personal reflections on the creators economy

Whenever I look at something, I try to understand it from the perspective of the individual, the company and the macro perspective. I tend to value more the impact that particular thing (remote work, creators economy, etc) has on the individual, mainly because that is the most vulnerable part of the equation. 

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been giving a very gloomy perspective of what’s happening in the world. Once again, I’m not doing it because I’m a born pessimist, but because things tend to be less exciting and positive than the media, instagram and twitter want to make you think. So, let’s embrace whatever is happening, try to make the most of it, but keep a critical eye and hedge our bets. 

I have been fascinated with the level of excitement and enthusiasm around the Creators Economy. For those that have been distracted:

“The definition of the creator economy, also called the passion economy, is the class of businesses centered around independent content creators, curators, and community builders including social media influencers, bloggers, and videographers, plus the software and finance tools designed to help them with growth and monetization.” 

Picture from Freepik.

It’s hard to go on Twitter without immediately bumping into someone singing it praises and yelling how it is changing the life of creators. 

When I look at it, even though I see lots of potential and see lots of people really growing personally, professionally and financially because of all the opportunities and tools that make creators owners of their creations, I also see some danger. 

Here are some of those red flags. 

The first and the easiest one is: what’s the difference between the Gig Economy and the Creators Economy? In one you have gig workers and freelancers, in the other we call them creators, artists, writers and influencers. But underneath, the same principles apply: 

  1. Tech platforms came into the market and got rid of the middle men. In the case of Uber, taxi companies, in the case of Substack, Patreon (and many others), they got rid of newspapers, publishers, etc. 

  2. Platforms also introduced algorithms that change constantly and without any legal oversight, that these creators need to constantly be adapting themselves to. 

  3. We’ve seen people become super successful in one platform and never be able to make the transition to another, when the platform shuts down (see Vine).

  4. And you don’t own anything. Unless you have a Substack or Patreon, you don’t own your audience and are 100% dependent on the platforms for reach. 

My second red flag: If you join the Creators Economy you join a blockbuster business. What does that mean? Very few people are actually able to secure a living through their creations. It’s not a winner takes all, but almost. You have huge success cases (David Dobrik, MrBeast, Logan Paul, etc), but most of the time you have people making videos, podcasts, etc with just a few dozen views/likes, sometimes not even that. They want to convince you that one day you’ll have your big break, but that’s just a pipedream. You never hear about the millions of creators that day after day created and published their content and never went anywhere. 

Something that also proves this is a blockbuster business is the amount of creators with some level of success, that start selling online courses teaching others how to be successful creators. They do that, because with their creations only, they can’t pay the bills, so the next step is to teach. This is an old play in the book. 

My third red flag revolves around creative burnout. I’m not sure how much money the old “creations catalogue” actually makes and that might differ based on medium/platform but what I’m seeing is that this is gruelling work. Every day/week you have to put content out, understand where the trends are going, to stay relevant, adjust to algorithm changes and come up with new things to create. It might be glamorous to be an “influencer”, but it’s hard work and you can lose all that influence in a snap. And you have no safety net. It also takes a lot of money to keep people engaged. Whenever I end up in one of those big influencers Youtube pages (fortunately it doesn’t happen often), the videos with the most views are about the new houses and the new luxury cars. Lots of this is free (go figure), but a lot it’s also about sustaining a fake lifestyle for the fans. 

Also on this point, in my personal experience, it’s so easy for a content consumer to go find whatever they are looking for somewhere else. In the past year, I’ve subscribed to a paid newsletter that I really like. But the author is really inconsistent, just publishing every now and then. Repeatedly I thought about cancelling my subscription, which I haven’t done because this newsletter is part of a bundle of business newsletters that I enjoy reading. If you don’t publish, I won’t pay. And you are a slave of your fans. 

Bundles/Collectives are a tentative way to decrease the financial instability of a solo creator. They show that not everything is wrong with the old model. 

And now to my final point, which is a bit of a side track and a bit of a rant (skip to the final paragraph if you want). We have a new generation growing up idolizing people that in their youtube videos, just do stupid stuff. We have a new generation where kids don’t want to be astronauts, doctors or entrepreneurs, but want to be influencers, Tiktokers and Youtubers. These kids are growing up watching a fake life on screen, that they believe it’s true, watching people become rich, buying bigger and bigger houses and luxury cars and spending a lot of their time being insanely stupid without any regard for dignity and self-respect. These kids want a life that they (most likely) won’t have and are growing frustrated because their parents and context don’t support their aspirations. To prove my point, youth suicide rates have been on the rise:

“Between 2000 and 2007, the suicide rate among youth ages 10 to 24 hovered around 6.8 deaths per 100,000 people. Then, the rate curved upward, reaching a rate of 10.6 deaths per 100,000 by 2017 — a 56-percent increase in less than two decades.” 

Fame is not a mortal sin, but vanity is. And driven by vanity and an eagerness for fame, people are putting aside their self-respect and dignity, for a number in their social media profile and a bag of freebies. I understand that everyone wants to be loved and social media can give you the feeling that you’re, but we need to be careful with what we want.

Do you want to be a creator? Awesome! Just make sure you create a safety net in case that doesn’t work. Do you want to be an influencer? Awesome! Just make sure you know why and what that will bring. There are easier ways to be rich and successful. 

And to finalize, I leave you with a Bill Murray that I personally like very much:

“I always want to say to people who want to be rich and famous: 'try being rich first'. See if that doesn't cover most of it. There's not much downside to being rich, other than paying taxes and having your relatives ask you for money. But when you become famous, you end up with a 24-hour job.”

Throughout the text, I use the word creations instead of art, because I have a hard time calling art to a lot that I’m seeing people creating. Yes, I’m snobbish.