Creator economy offers 3 lessons for news publishers

By Dushyant Khare




Newsrooms stop mocking the creator economy and start learning from it,” wrote Candace Amos, director of audience for The Daily Beast in her NiemanLab journalism prediction for 2022. “Creators and influencers have gotten this far for a reason. It’s time newsrooms played the game, too.”

In 2021, the creator economy exploded into a US$100+ billion market. This massive creator wave has changed the way consumers consume and engage with media.

On the surface, it may appear that creators’ success is driven purely from entertainment-related content, but there’s more to this that aids their mass following and loyalty. And, as Amos noted, there are lessons publishers can learn from creators to unlock growth.

Lesson 1: Diversify revenue streams and monetisation strategies

Following a successful 2021 for the publishing industry (according to Reuters Institute), industry experts have an optimistic outlook for 2022 and are emphasising how reader revenue will play a key role in publisher growth. There is no single silver bullet to reader revenue: Take a look at The New York Times and The Guardian, which have two very different reader revenue models yet are highly successful. The approach to monetisation remains a critical area where creators differ from publishers.

Let’s consider virtual tipping solutions, which mushroomed in 2021. Twitter Tipjar, Clubhouse Payments, Facebook Stars, YouTube Super Thanks, and Instagram Badges all launched in 2021. Audiences are willing to support and recognise the efforts of their favourite creators through “creative encouragement.” This recognition is almost non-existent in most newsrooms.

Publishers like Vietcetera (Vietnam) or The Wire (India) have implemented a tipping solution. Most publishers are pleasantly surprised by the unexpected support they’ve received from their respective audiences. Indonesiana (part of Tempo Media Group in Indonesia) has decided to share its contribution earnings with the writers of the specific articles. Such incentives not only encourage existing writers to enhance their quality of work but also attract new writers, creating a growth flywheel.

Vietcetera collects virtual tips from its audience.
Vietcetera collects virtual tips from its audience.

Another form of reader revenue with increased demand from the public is pay-per-media. Technology, data platforms, and payments infrastructure have progressed multi-fold in recent years, making pay-per-media a lucrative monetisation option for publishers to consider.

The question publishers must ask themselves is: If a revenue model has no associated cost, does not impair existing revenue streams, results in purely incremental gains, and will be instantly adopted by the audience (because they’re demanding it), why not implement it? If done the right way, pay-per-media can become the gift that continuously feeds the subscriber funnel.

Consumers demand a pay-per-article option to access quality content.
Consumers demand a pay-per-article option to access quality content.

Slow decision-making is the biggest challenge faced by media companies. There is a significant opportunity if a more iterative mindset is adopted by media companies.

Diversifying revenue streams is the mantra for 2022. This necessitates quick experiments, risk optimisation, and data literacy, the precursor to which is an iterative mindset. As Li Jin puts it in her tweet, “Creator monetisation needs to be in service of end-user goals.” The same applies to publishers. Solve for user needs, and growth will follow.

Lesson 2: Link content, formats, and audience segments

Creators simply leverage platforms to display and monetise their skills. From Spotify podcasts and YouTube videos to Clubhouse sessions, Twitch live streams, and newsletters, creators tap into every format they have a skill for. In fact, there’s an entire category of creator tools that offer courses to upskill.

Creators study their audience segments closely and know what platforms work best for which audience segments. Similarly, the next phase of growth for publishers and media companies lies in leveraging newer content formats and matching them against their audiences to maximise engagement. For example, The Woke Salaryman, a Singaporean publisher that offers educational content on personal finance and wealth management, uses comic strips to engage its 30,000 followers on LinkedIn (and 280,000 followers on Instagram) and subsequently drive traffic to its Web site.

The Woke Salaryman from Singapore uses a comic strip format to engage its LinkedIn audience.
The Woke Salaryman from Singapore uses a comic strip format to engage its LinkedIn audience.

“The Times is in effect converting itself into a multimedia publisher and broadcaster,” said John Witherow, editor-in-chief of The Times London at the 2021 Web Summit. In addition to a podcast, The Times London also launched a radio station with a team of radio journalists and Times London writers. It has also started exploring video formats. Such efforts are part of Times London’s plan to capture a newer, younger audience.

In India, eSakal, the largest local newspaper in Maharashtra and part of Sakal Media Group, has adopted a pay-per-video model to monetise its premium videos.

Sakal Media Group from India implements a pay-per-video model for premium videos.
Sakal Media Group from India implements a pay-per-video model for premium videos.

Generation Z is now the largest population in the world, and the oldest of them have newly acquired disposable income. They do not bat an eye to cancel subscriptions and do not believe in brand loyalty, unlike the Baby Boomer generation. While Millennials are attached to text-based content (digital channels), Gen Z inclines towards more visual formats.

According to Reuters: “They (Gen Z) do not want traditional media to go away, dumb down, or radically change their style just to appeal to them. On the other hand, they also expressed strong interest in news formats that were more visual and easier to consume than an 800-word article.” Linking content with relevant formats using technology for distribution and monetisation to reach the right audience should be the goal.

Lesson 3: Build a community or an engagement loop

“Successful journalism brands have effectively become D2C (direct-to-consumer) brands,” Witherow said. “We also encourage our writers to engage with readers, to develop a relationship. We’re looking at moving towards making commenting a privilege of full subscribers only and using their real names to inform quality debate.”

This is an important statement, especially in 2022. The third lesson publishers can learn from creators is that of building a community. There’s good reason for this.

First, there is a reason to connect. Growing up, a lot of us may have been hooked to specific (print) newspapers because of guest columnists and their opinion pieces. While daily news has to be fact-based, a healthy discussion among the audience can still be encouraged through the comments section that is moderated by the journalist or a community editor. Creators build a lot of loyalty through the comments section and direct messages. In other words, this gives the audience an opportunity to discuss with the creator.

Secondly, it increases visibility with the “inside scoop.” In addition to the primary content, creators share “behind the scenes” content and highlight the effort that goes into making content.

Likewise, by letting their audience see what happens beyond the final output, publishers can build a trust surplus. Publishers may also empower their journalists to foster live connections on platforms such as IGTV, Clubhouse, or Discord.

In this age of “relational media,” people want to connect with the humans behind the brand, and they want to be able to support and recognise their efforts.

Shifting focus from content to creator

To drive home the point about what publishers can learn from the creator economy, I’d like to borrow a paragraph from Jarrod Picker’s Medium article:

“The relationship between creator and consumers is more valuable than its transactional currency (i.e. content). In this era of media, content is not the only product. The content is a key part of the value in that it’s the tool for consistency, but the creator and the community are the product. The true value is the connection between consumer and creator acquired through a variety of access points that eventually develop a consumer benefit. As the business moves from ‘content is value’ to ‘creator is value,’ we should shift the business opportunities that support it as well.”

About Dushyant Khare

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