How we covered the creator economy in 2022 • TechCrunch
This summer, I went straight from VidCon — the biggest creator conference — to a labor journalism seminar with the Sidney Hillman Foundation. One day I was chatting with famous TikTokers about their financial angst (what if they accidentally got banned from TikTok tomorrow?), and the next day I was learning the history of American labor organizing.
These topics are not at all unrelated: at the heart of writing about the creative economy is labor journalism. The rhythm of the creator is a rhythm of work.
Creators are rebelling against the traditional way of making a living in the arts industries, taking control of their income to make money for themselves, rather than the big media conglomerates. Think of creators as Brian David Gilbert, who has built a devoted fan base as the chaotically hilarious video producer for Polygon, Vox Media’s video game publication. Gilbert quit to work full-time on other creative projects, probably because he realized that with his audience he could make a lot more money independently than what his salary was bringing in. the media. Then there are YouTube channels like Defunctland and Swell Entertainment, which are basically investigative outlets run by individual video producers. We see chefs building their brand by going viral on TikTok, or teachers supplementing their income by sharing educational content on Instagram. In arts industries that notoriously underpay the expertise of their workers, YouTubers, Instagrammers, and newsletter writers are proving that creativity is a monetizable skill—one with which they deserve to earn more than a living wage.
This belief – that the creator economy is labor-intensive – has guided my coverage of the industry this year. Below, I’ve rounded up some of our best stories about the state of the creator economy.
Like most teenagers, Chris McCarty spent a lot of time on YouTube, but they had a serious question. How can influencers’ children protect themselves when they’re too young to understand what it means to be a staple in online videos? As part of their Girl Scouts Gold Award project, McCarty worked with Washington State Rep. Emily Wicks to introduce a bill to protect and compensate children for appearing in family vlogs.
As early as 2010, amateur YouTubers realized that “cute kid does stuff” is a genre prone to virality. David DeVore, then 7, became an internet sensation when his father posted a YouTube video of his reaction to anesthesia titled “David After Dentist”. David’s father turned the public interest in his son into a small business, earning around $150,000 in five months from advertising revenue, merchandise sales and a licensing deal with Vizio. He told the Wall Street Journal at the time that he would save money for his children’s school fees, as well as for charitable donations. Meanwhile, the family behind the ‘Charlie Bit My Finger’ video has earned enough money to buy a new home.
More than a decade later, some of YouTube’s biggest stars are kids too young to understand the life-changing responsibility of being an internet celebrity with millions of subscribers. Seven-year-old Nastya, whose parents run her YouTube channel, was the sixth highest-earning YouTube creator in 2022, earning $28 million. Ryan Kaji, a 10-year-old who has been playing with toys on YouTube since he was 4, has earned $27 million from various licensing and brand deals.
I’m fascinated by MrBeast, but kind of like “watching a car accident”. MrBeast is still riding comfortably along the freeway, but I’m worried about the guy (…not too much. I mean. He’s fine). Its business model simply does not seem sustainable to me, despite its immense wealth and irreplaceable success. As he attempts to lift a unicorn-sized VC tower, we’ll see if he can continue to step up his stunts without becoming another David Dobrik.
Is it always better to be bigger? MrBeast’s business model is like a snake biting its tail – nobody makes money like him, but nobody spends it like him either. He described his margins as “razor-thin” in a conversation with Logan Paul, since he reinvests most of his profits into his content. His viewers expect each video to be more impressive than the last, and from the outside it looks like it’s only a matter of time before MrBeast can raise the bar no further (and for more). other creators, this led to disaster). So if MrBeast’s business really is a unicorn — I’d bet it is — then he has two choices. Will he use the $150 million cushion to make his business more sustainable, so he doesn’t have to keep burying himself alive? Or will he keep asking for more until there’s nothing left?
Speaking of David Dobrik, longtime YouTuber Casey Neistat launched a documentary at SXSW this year about the 26-year-old YouTuber. When Neistat started working on the documentary, he wanted to capture the phenom that was Dobrik and his Vlog Squad, who were once YouTube royalty. The documentary took a turn after Insider reported allegations of sexual assault on Dobrik’s film set — then, Dobrik nearly killed his friend Jeff Wittek in a stunt gone horribly wrong. Neistat does a brilliant job capturing the creator’s downfall, as well as how the lack of regulation on YouTube film sets can set the stage for disaster, especially when creators are pressured into doing more stunts. crazier to stay relevant.
TV shows like ‘Hype House’ and ‘The D’Amelio Show’ devote entire storylines to creators’ fear of being ‘canceled’, but Dobrik is still doing well, questioning how far a creator has to go to lose. His fans . Dobrik has just opened a pizzeria in Los Angeles and has his own Discovery TV show. Wittek has undergone at least nine surgeries to date following his accident on the Dobrik plateau.
“I think there is always a pursuit. It’s relevant for a musician – how do you keep your music interesting? said Neistat. “But what differentiates individuals like David Dobrik is that their goal isn’t to release the next song or make the next movie. Their pursuit is, how can I be more sensationalist? And it’s a very, very, very dangerous pursuit, because as soon as you achieve something crazier than the last one, then you have to move past that.
The biggest open secret in the short video is that you can’t get rich on TikTok alone, as even the most viral creators derive a negligible portion of their income from the platform itself. TikTok has long dominated the shortform scene, but YouTube Shorts could give TikTok a run for its money next year as it becomes the first platform to share ad revenue with shortform creators. Ad revenue doesn’t sound so glamorous, but I couldn’t be more excited to see how this program will change the short game in 2023.
One of the main reasons why TikTok and other short video apps have yet to unveil a similar revenue sharing program is that it is more difficult to determine how to fairly distribute ad revenue across a stream of short videos. generated by algorithm. You can’t embed an ad in the middle of a video — imagine watching a 30-second video with an eight-second ad in the middle — but if you put ads in between two videos, who would get the revenue share? The creator whose video appeared just before or after? Or, would a creator whose video you watched earlier in the stream also deserve a cut because their content encouraged you to keep scrolling?
Over at TechCrunch Disrupt, I interviewed OnlyFans CEO Ami Gan and Chief Strategy Officer Keily Blair about the future of the platform, particularly as it relates to sex workers. Largely due to the success of adult creators, OnlyFans has paid out more than $8 billion to creators since 2016. For comparison, primarily work-safe competitor Patreon has paid out $3.5 billion since 2013. Online sex workers are some of the savviest and highest paid creators in the industry, but they are the most vulnerable. Changing credit card company regulations and internet privacy laws can wipe out their business, and last year it almost happened on OnlyFans. The company said it would ban adult content, then backtracked on that ban — but even still, adult creators are skeptical about how long they can continue to make a living on the platform. On our stage, I asked Gan if adult content would still be on OnlyFans in 5 years. She said yes.
OnlyFans has gone to great lengths to transform its image from an adult content subscription platform to a Patreon-like home for all kinds of creators, but it’s far from straying from them as as users. Today, the platform’s CEO Ami Gan confirmed that adult content will still have a place on the site five years from now, and these creators will be able to continue to make a living from it.
The confirmation, made today on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt, is notable because of the rocky relationship OnlyFans has had with adult creators. Last year, the company announced it would ban adult content on the site after pressure from card payment companies and alleged efforts to raise outside funds. Then he abruptly suspended the decision less than a week later after an outcry from users.