The post-pandemic landscape is significantly different from that which existed before. Many publishers pivoted to new revenue streams in the face of potentially fatal loss of advertising income. In many cases, companies have come out of the chaos better equipped and suited to the modern, digital world.
At the same time, a whole new economy burst onto the scene. This new breed of creators may be looked upon as charlatans and opportunists by some purists in traditional publishing, but the reality is there are more similarities than differences between this exciting new economy and traditional publishing.
What is the creator economy?
The creator economy is defined as a software-facilitated economy that allows creators to earn revenue from their creations. The most popular tools used to drive the creator economy include Twitch, Substack, OnlyFans, Lightricks, YouTube, Instagram, Collaction, Spotify, TikTok, and Patreon.
This definition fails to fully relay the ease with which the democratisation of technology has empowered almost any individual to turn their hobby or passion into a potential career. With the now simple addition of a reliable Internet connection and one or more of the above-mentioned tools, a brand-new economy has emerged that comprises more than 50 million creators and was estimated to be worth US$20 billion in 2021.
The success of this new creator economy is contagious. A recent survey found that 29% of American kids aspire to become YouTube stars, while only 11% dream of growing up to become an astronaut. With so much momentum behind this movement, it is no surprise that the global value of the creator economy is expected to explode even further and be worth more than US$100 billion in 2022. It is likely to hit US$1 trillion in the not-too-distant future.
The creator economy has enabled people such as viral train-spotting sensation Francis Bourgeois to turn his Instagram account into a destination that boasts 1.5 million followers, helping him become the face of Gucci.
How should publishers respond to this strange new world?
The instinctive first reaction of those in traditional media may be to pour scorn on this new economy and dismiss most of its leading figures as flash-in-the-pan anomalies who will disappear as fast as they appeared once the world regains some of its pre-pandemic composure.
Rather than focus on the differences that set traditional media and this new wave of creators apart, it is more sensible to focus on their inherent similarities. It is here where open-minded publishers have the opportunity to see where they, too, could capitalise on this new phenomenon.
Children of the pandemic
One of the greatest lessons from the pandemic for publishers was the already understood notion that diversification is essential. The overnight switching off of advertising dollars brought about by the pandemic reinforced the urgency of this understanding. It accelerated the shift to new sources of revenue streams, such as subscription models and the implementation of embedded e-commerce.
The creator economy also skyrocketed in popularity as millions of people were forced to stay at home and find new ways to occupy their time. Many popular creators first gained fame by showcasing their unique skills or hobbies during this period. These people essentially diversified themselves by turning their passion and media skills into businesses.
The key crossover here is that savvy individuals turned their social media accounts into valuable commodities that they could convert into new revenue streams. The most tuned-in publishers also understood that becoming direct-to-consumer (D2C) destinations was the ideal transition to make when loyal readers had little option but to stay at home and turn to their most trusted online resources.
Checkout from everywhere
The biggest similarity between successful publishers and content creators is community. Publishers are ultimately sustained by their readers, and creators only wield economic power because of the number of followers that make up their loyal and engaged community.
In an increasingly digital-first world, enabling these loyal communities to shop and checkout directly via content — whether an online article or a video — is what the consumer wants.
News publishers who produce high-quality content that delivers real value to their readers can now package it into embedded commerce with a seamless checkout that offers an enjoyable experience.
Content creators can also deliver this same kind of experience via Instagram Shopping and the increasing variety of live-shopping options. A glimpse into the possibilities afforded to both creators and publishers in this realm can be seen in the huge success this form of embedded commerce has had in the last few years, particularly in China.
Different journey, same path
In a sense, content creators and news publishers are two sides of the same coin. Each serves its own community, and they can learn from each other.
The challenges faced by publishers and content creators are also similar. Even with strong communities in place, both parties may struggle to make money from e-commerce. Therefore, becoming transactional destinations increases their brand value and helps them monetise better.