The creator economy is in hyperdrive. Is it time to climb aboard?

creator economy

A new research report showed that 36 percent of American consumers have posted or created content in the past year. While the majority of creators do it for fun, a whopping 26 percent of them aspire to join the creator economy as a part-time or full-time job.

Content is the new hustle.

The creator economy gold rush is reminiscent of other dotcom bubbles, and it’s something I study closely because I’m part of it!

Part of the momentum for this career choice comes from a hype-drenched belief that Web3 technologies like creator coin economies and NFTs provide a transformational economic change for creators.

Is the creator economy a profound new opportunity … or a variation on a historic internet theme with definite economic limitations?

The answer to both questions is … YES. Let’s explore why today.

A common thread

In any era of history, to beat the odds and make money as a creator, you had to possess some combination of:

  • Talent — Something people value.
  • Presence — If people are unaware of you, your creations cannot move through the economy.
  • Sustained creative output — To make money, you must keep creating.
  • Sponsorship — A person, company, or audience to pay you.

You don’t need these factors in equal measure. There are many ways to succeed by pulling these four strings in various ways.

For example, you might have average talent but such an overwhelming presence that you can succeed. Winston Churchill was a good painter, but his fame as a statesman helped drive more than $2 million for one of his paintings. You might have no talent at all, but does it matter if you have just one rich sponsor who loves you?

Talent, presence, output, and sponsorship still form the boundaries of the creator economy no matter what happens with technology.

The creator economy today

Whether you were living in the 1800s, you’re a creator today, or you hope to be one in the future, you must possess some combination of these elements for success.

The primary difference between the creator economy today and the one of 200 years ago is the internet. This provides access to a global audience, connections to collaborators and ideas, and creative new ways to make money like crowdfunding and Patreon. Developments like NFTs and the metaverse will unleash even more creative potential and enable new business models.

So … is the creator economy of today something bold and new? Yes, yes, yes.

Is it easier to make a living this way? No, no, no …

You still have to fight through …

Supply and demand

America was very prosperous a hundred years ago. The 1920s was a great time to be a creator because there was plenty of money flowing around for books, art, music, and theater performances.

But certain creators and performers were elite because their combination of talent and presence rocketed them to the top. Money always follows the scarce and elite. And that won’t change.

Even with all the significant advantages of an internet-enabled creator, elite still matters.

The early internet was heralded as the savior of starving musicians. Theoretically, great artists would no longer be slaves to greedy record companies. Anybody could create an audience and make money directly on the web.

But that did not happen in any significant way. Even with unlimited access to a global audience, there are still a small number of elite stars who can fill a stadium and make millions. There are many more who will trudge around the country endlessly playing in bars, and still more writing songs in their basement for Patreon donations. Almost no artist has the power to monetize directly. Radiohead tried it a few years ago, and it did not go well.

“Elite” still impacts your income level whether you’re in a Web3 creator economy or not. Just because you call it Web3 doesn’t change the fundamental economics of supply and demand. You still have to be elite to make a decent living.

White hot creator economy

And that brings me to this important issue of supply. The biggest change to being a creator today compared to 100 years ago is the barrier to entry.

In 1920, almost nobody could follow a career path as a “creator.” I looked it up!  For fun, here are the top 10 careers from 100 years ago:

  1. Dairy Farm worker
  2. Clerk
  3. Retail worker
  4. Servant
  5. Sales
  6. Machinist
  7. Carpenter
  8. Textile worker
  9. Teacher
  10. Bookkeeper

To make it as a creator long ago, you had to find time to leave the farm or factory to take lessons in your craft, practice, and attract a financial supporter. Making money as a creator was a remote possibility because the barrier to entry was so high.

Today the entry barrier to the creator economy is almost zero. All you need is a smartphone to take lessons, practice, and find financial support.

The majority of content creators are Gen Z or millennials. These generations are also more engaged with the world of creators themselves, which may, in turn, influence their own content creation ambitions.

Most of the top Instagram or TikTok stars haven’t had any formal training in art, music, or dance. And yet many have entertained their way into seven-figure incomes by playing video games all day or doing make-up tutorials.

I’m not criticizing these folks at all. I admire their hard work, dedication, and innovation. I’m happy they have a chance to make money doing something they love.

But the technology enabling this opportunity also raises a new entry barrier: the supply of creators is exploding.

Although “creator” does not show up in the top 10 careers of today (yet), seemingly an entire generation wants to be one. 86 percent of American teens aspire to be a professional influencer or creator one day.

The economic reality

In summary, the internet and Web3 open up wonderful new opportunities for creators. But to make significant money, you still have to be elite, and that’s more difficult because of the low barrier to entry and sheer number of people who aspire to make a living as a creator.

My view: If this is your dream, go for it. Give it everything you’ve got. Live with no regrets.

But also realize that the hype about the creator economy, Web3, NFTs, and smart contracts doesn’t mean a path to success is any easier or assured.

Whether you want to be a star in the NBA, a famous singer, or a successful creator, elite talent still matters. The economics fame of don’t change.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He is the author of some of the world’s bestselling digital marketing books and is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak at your company event or conference soon.

Follow Mark on TwitterLinkedInYouTube, and Instagram. Discover his $RISE creator community.

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