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The creator economy: Smoke and mirrors

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Matthew Taylor
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The creator economy is a marketing term used so widely it’s been accepted as a given. But what does it mean? And does it exist?

We all vaguely understand the creator economy as a revenue-generating system where social media influencers and digital content creators can generate healthy incomes from their online output. But few people understand the actual dynamics of this concept, or that it is much less clear-cut than it seems.

It is a perceived economic opportunity for people with big followings on social media to make real money. But that’s not how it works – at least according to SmarterLicense co-founder and CEO Liz Hagelthorn.

“It’s not like you get a bunch of followers, and then all of a sudden you get paid, in the traditional sense,” said Liz. “I wish we were fighting for the small creator to win. But really, all of the commerce, marketing teams and billions in advertising are built on the quicksand that is the creator economy.”

In a traditional economy, there are incentives and disincentives for all participants. In the creator economy, however, there are very few incentives for the creators themselves beyond the promises of exposure that may – or may not – lead to something.

“The honest truth is that, when I encounter people in creator-related businesses, 98 percent of them, they’re like vampires. They’re coming to suck value out of the creator space,” said @YourKoreanDad creator Nick Cho. “So they extract some value; extract some money; extract attention to be able to scale their business… But, in the meantime, what is the reverse exchange of value?” asked Nick.

This is especially the case with the many consultancies and agencies that have sprung up in recent years to help turn small creators into bankable online property.

The reality is that most content creators never reach those heights. Nick believes there is a better way for creators to generate revenue directly from their content, rather than relying on partnership middlemen. Top creators are making massive money, but there should be more for the smaller creators lower down on the food chain.

To attract and maintain new creators, micro revenue streams such as payment for views could help people with smaller follower numbers develop their content more sustainably. So far though, no one has sought to address this issue meaningfully.

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