The new ‘creator economy’ forces us to rethink our ideas of skills, work-life balance, labour relations and economic theory. It creates hubs of nano-entrepreneurs.
Even as I write this, more than five crore people are making videos, writing blogs, recording podcasts and sharing photos across the globe.
They upload, post, and tweet a variety of content. For around 20 lakh people, this is full-time work. They represent the rise of a creator economy — a variation from the ad-based consumer economy.
Creator economy is an emerging digital marketplace for creative, ambitious, and passionate individuals to share their abilities, work, and ideas. Though it is founded on content, content, community engagement and monetisation are its cornerstones.
Drivers and models
Web technologies, social media, and inexpensive creation tools drive the creator economy. The field grew due to the pandemic induced job loss and search for alternative living.
The industrial economy focuses on manufacturing and shipping, aiming for efficiency and productivity. The consumer economy rests on marketing forces dominated by mass media advertising. Now, the creative economy derives value from engagement, data and interaction.
Artists, musicians, journalists, comedians, designers, actors, singers, dancers, writers and coders use digital platforms to monetise their work, representing an ascent of the creative class.
The content may range from infographics to live courses, apps and literary works. The creators make money through a combination of subscriptions, sales, donations, affiliate marketing etc. Creator economy and platform economy are overlapping subsets of the digital economy. Creators operate on platforms and reinforce each others growth.
For example, Udemy who has a strong presence in India has recently reported 81% revenue up year over year.
Skills for Nano-entrepreneurs
Great creators are always good at playing to their strengths, moving from the margins of a part-time stint and hobby, creating content is a primary profession.
As information is everywhere, creations using specific skill sets are valued in the marketplace. Creation involves new ways to conceive value, novel models of engagement and different forms of delivery. All of them require a shift from the workforce mindset to a creator mindset.
While factory based employment pattern requires us to have a standardised job, the creator economy favours individuality as a valuable feature. So, plan for building unique and useful skill sets with deep subject expertise.
Gone are the days of lone creative genius oblivious to the world. While focusing on their craft, creators act as nano-entrepreneurs who build their team, found start-ups and create wealth. This means a melding of entrepreneurship, remote work and skill-based creativity.
Companies see creators can engage well with customers and can customize the message the marketer wants to deliver, particularly with Gen Z and millennials. Many brands tend to rely on influencer marketing due to the increase of creator-driven activities on social media.
The global market size of influencer marketing has surged eightfold in the last five years. At the same time, simply having followers will not make you an influencer, but a strong personal brand rooted in useful skills and demonstrated abilities will.
Creating, not gigging
As you experienced with Ola or Zomato, businesses and work are increasingly mediated by platforms. Platform economy does digital matchmaking of economic and social transactions. Shorter employment contracts using platform technology, termed gig economy, is different from creator economy in many ways, though both are online-enabled.
Unlike in the gig economy, where the payment is per trip or one-time, the creator economy is passion driven. It provides a wider array of targeted services. Gig-works are often standardised.
While the earning structure in the gig economy is linear — think of miles driven by an Ola driver or number of food packets delivered by a delivery boy — in the creative economy the earning is nonlinear and unpredictable. This leads to some common challenges.
Some of the platforms may resort to algorithmic monopolies and gatekeeping, by which the creator gets locked in. Income instability, job insecurity, volatility and similar limitations of the gig economy are replicated in the creator economy as well.
As a response, many creators and creator communities often set up their own websites, self-host, directly engage with the audience and keep other platforms as accessories to increase traffic. Of late, there are attempts to use crypto tokens and networks towards creator-friendly business models.
Another problem of poor credibility comes from the creation of refurbished content without the required depth. The influx of unhelpful material and superficial resources pooled from different websites, paraphrased with AI tools and corrected with apps harm the creator economy. At the same time, it expounds on the value of originality.
Many speculate that the creative economy will be the future of work.
We cannot really be sure unless it expands and overlaps with fields other than content.
While we think of jobs in terms of career tracks and career ladders, the creator economy works on innovation, usefulness and network economics. In a network of co-production and collaborative consumption, freedom turns into interdependence.
(Salil Sahadevan works with the University Grants Commission. Views are personal.)