The creator economy’s real problem is infinite supply

Last summer, in a now-deleted tweet, Hunter Walk Tweeted: “Creator Econony” is on its way to becoming as meaningless as “Sharing Econony” was…. And indeed, the Creator Economy rhymes With the Gig Economy.

We hear a lot about the Creator economy. A few years ago, the media had popularized the “gig” economy and then the “sharing” economy. Are there any throughlines between the three? I see a few themes, which all point to a paradox.

Democratization of Media: There is something very romantic and idealist about the independence of media, thinking anyone can become a storyteller AND earn a living doing so. Van Gogh’s paintings may fetch billions today, but he didn’t die on any Forbes list. Yes, freedom of expression may be a god-given right, but no one said people had to pay you for it. If you can command a salary or income stream, that is a privilege.

Disintermediation of Media: While web 1 saw the power of portals, web 2 saw the rise of platforms. Both still disinter mediated traditional media… and inasmuch as the portals broke the attention monopoly of the TV networks, the platforms broke the portals’ power. So while individuals could leverage the Web to avoid working for a corporation to create, the power was always fleeting.

Decentralization: Indeed, the ownership of media shifted from corporations to individuals, but content without distribution held little value. The second part of content is king is that with new distribution comes new revenue streams… but without distribution – be it a writer who reached million on Yahoo Sports or a YouTuber who reaches millions – in reality, the audience is rented. The downside of this is that the risks are also shifted from organizations to individuals. 

The irony of the creator economy is what makes it awesome: anyone can earn a living telling stories, is its drawback… anyone can become a storyteller (and why Hollywood as we know it is dead), which means supply is in fact infinite. That platforms have conditioned creators (large and small, individuals and organizations) to create content – and supply it to them pro bono – for free is the greatest move in the history of moves.

Google may have been founded by two very confident Stanford graduates, their Do No Evil slogan may roll eyes, but via Adsense, they realized they needed a healthy publisher ecosystem to grow. Thus when they acquired Youtube, they knew they had to share revenues. Facebook was more AOL, a closed wall garden. Mark Zuckerberg managed to get publishers to pay him billions for traffic, why on earth would he flip the script and pay out a la Youtube. Finally, TikTok’s parent earns $50 billion per year, with millions on its platforms desperate for attention. Yes, as with the gig and sharing economy there are some wonderful aspects, in the end, to some extent, it’s all bullshit.

In the attention economy, unfortunately you end up with a downward spiral where people say and do the darnedest things to stand out. It’s always the supply, stupid.