What you should know about the creator economy
Alice closes the door behind her. ‘Everything is ready for check-in. Have a wonderful stay!’ she writes to the AirBnB guests on their way to her home (aka “charming apartment in city center” with a 4,7 rating). “Are you ready for some sun, kids?” No response. Cassidy has not said a word all morning, determined to prove how upset she is to miss out on streaming video games to those watching via Twitch. Meanwhile, George is busy filming. He has informed his mother that he will be creating daily travel vlogs for TikTok, a task he is taking very seriously. Alice lets out a sigh and tries to focus on all the beautiful beads awaiting her in the Italian vintage boutiques. She’s going to put up the most beautiful necklaces in her Etsy shop once she is back from the holiday, she thinks to herself…
Welcome to the creator economy. With digital platforms at hand, it seems that anyone has potential to become the star of their own niche. But is it as simple as saying that everyone now has the liberty to live out their dreams? Let’s take a closer look at the blurred lines between creator and consumer.
With the rise of social media, we have gained plenty of opportunities to grow a following and make a profit from our passions, hobbies and creations. It is no wonder children nowadays grow up wanting to be influencers and YouTubers. It’s the modern-day equivalent of supermodels and movie stars – only we are far more likely to make it on social media than it ever was in Hollywood. Even for people who don’t break into the mainstream of influencer stardom, it is still possible to feel like a major celebrity within a tight-knit online community.
Regardless of your niche, there is bound to be a market for it as there are many ways to broadcast it on a global scale. Lady Di-themed pottery made by hand can be sold on Etsy. Collectors’ women’s magazines from the 60s can be sold on eBay. Stranger Things-inspired makeup tutorials can be shared on TikTok. Zines made in the comfort of a teenage bedroom can be distributed on Issuu. The world can consume amateur poems about rainy autumn days on Tumblr. Maybe that wannabe poet even self-publishes their own collection after a boost of followers. If you can think it, you can do it. Or so it seems.
As much as it is easy to take the freedoms of social media for granted, it is quite extroradnary to think about the access we have now, compared to the big names within publishing, journalism, music, film and television that would previously gatekeep and dictate what was consumed. We have come a long way since the consumer economy, characterized by the post-war reality, meant media and advertising encouraged people to spend more on consumer goods and essentially invented demand for new products and services. And it is certainly a far cry from the predecessor, an economy defined by physical labor performed on factory assembly lines during the industrial revolution. Now, consumers have abandoned the passive role they used to hold in favor of direct contribution in the new economy.
The dark side of the creator economy
Reflecting on the wonders of the creator economy, it may sound too good to be true – and I’m sorry to have to break those rose-tinted glasses. The truth is that despite the popularity of “side-hustling”, there is a big gap between those who are successful in monetizing their passion and those who only make a small profit. At the same time, the platforms used by these creators are cashing in. Take Alice as an example. Whenever she sells a necklaces, both Etsy and PayPal takes a cut of her earnings. Similar fees apply whenever she is renting out her home via Airbnb. When George uploads his travel vlogs to TikTok, the platform does not share ad revenue with him, regardless of how many followers that keep returning to the app to watch his videos. If he decides to upload his vlogs to YouTube instead, he might get a percentage of the revenue made from ads played on his channel. However, this does not apply to smaller creators.
There is yet an example of how corporations behind the platforms and technology are the real winners – and this is a cruicial one. When we talk about creators within the current economy, we often forget that the label is also applicable to anyone who are interacting with a device. When Alice uses Google Maps to find the hotel, she is creating. When she uploads a raving TripAdvisor review of their delicious dinner, she is creating. When she uses her smartwatch to track how many steps the family walk around the city, she is creating. When she shares a photo of the blood-orange sunset on Instagram, she is creating. Why? Because Alice is responsible for creating data streams that is sent back to the corporations behind each product and platform she uses. The digital footprint she leaves behind reaveals details about her location, her love of stone baked pizza and sunsets, her activity levels and other details of her personality and habits.
In other words, we are all responsible for creating huge amounts of data which we are giving up, oftentimes without being aware of it. In fact, 75% of all data produced daily exists because of individuals, yet we accept that tech companies are setting the terms and conditions. We might think that giving up our privacy is what we have to sacrifice in order to participate in the creator economy, but the real currency is data itself. Thankfully, people are growing increasingly aware of the importance of taking control of our data ownership. Imagine the value that can be produced once, we as creators, take back the power that always belonged to us! As history will have it, change is on the horizon.