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Most creators today are pressing publish for more than just the fun of it. Creators we speak to are certainly moved to make something unique, but many are also being moved to build businesses. The next iteration of the global economy will surely include the creator industry right up there with sectors like tech, B2B marketing, machinery, and retail.
Creator-led businesses are changing the global business landscape—but that change won’t continue without growing pains. Creators we speak to almost always lament the same thing: Hiring is among the biggest challenges in this industry. (It’s why we’ve started featuring job openings from creators in our new Creator Moves section in our Tuesday newsletters.)
But hiring is necessary for growth: As a creator’s business becomes more sophisticated and picks up steam, they need producers, editors, designers, and operators to help bring their ideas to life and capitalize on their opportunities. Simple job descriptions—but not so-simple jobs to fill.
That’s in part due to an outdated interpretation of the agent–manager–talent relationship made popular in the entertainment industry. By and large, most traditional manager and operator roles today are still structured for the talent they were initially built to serve: film stars, recording artists, and the like.
Creators have adopted that model without many modifications even though the needs and nuances of a creator are vastly different from those of, say, Ryan Gosling.
While Ryan’s agents might prove their utility by sourcing new opportunities, their services would be far less valuable for a creator—because creators are usually flooded with opportunities in their inboxes and DMs. Those creators don’t necessarily need an Ari Gold. They need operational and strategic support to organize, evaluate, and negotiate the influx of inbound deals. Someone who can say no when necessary. Someone who can drive the creator and even their growing team toward the larger vision and focus.
Knowing that their needs are different from traditional entertainment media’s, creators rarely feel excited by the standard 15–20% collective cut agents or managers typically expect. It’s a lot of revenue to shave off their top line for not actually getting the support they may need the most, especially considering that creators have to operate like scrappy startups—hiring a team, paying rent, accruing expenses, and always scaling their business.
As Dan Runcie, founder of Trapital, put it , “If you want to know where trends are heading, follow the music industry. It’s first to get disrupted; its artists are early innovators. Musicians influence mainstream culture.”
And we think they’re influencing the creator industry, too. Recognizing how much the traditional model leaves on the table, creators will take a page from the modern musician’s playbook to reshape the standard talent relationship structure.
We’ll explain: In a recent investigative video, Vox found that artists who broke on TikTok are capable of striking more favorable deals with record labels—some even at a 50/50 revenue split as opposed to the traditional 85/15.
Why? Artists who’ve carved out a name for themselves on TikTok have already done the hard part: finding an audience. That gives them leverage in negotiating with management.
Second, a mindset shift is at play for creators right now—instead of leaning on outdated models that rely on external agents and managers who often represent multiple clients, creators are gravitating toward building their own media companies that they own and operate, with teams they hire, put on salary, and incentivize themselves.
Thomas Brag of Yes Theory explained the reasoning behind hiring their first Head of Operations on The Colin and Samir Show:
With that, we predict more job postings for in-house roles like Head of Operations, President, and Executive Producer. What those jobs might look like:
A head of operations or executive producer should support the creator in building out business functions beyond YouTube (or whatever the creator’s platform of choice is).
For example, Yes Theory has launched a new YouTube channel connected to their apparel line, Seek Discomfort; a card game called Spark, and a new Snapchat syndicated show. They also just produced their first feature-length documentary paired with a worldwide theatrical tour. All of those new projects need business minds and skilled operators to reach their fullest potential.
This is an empowering shift for creators, one that opens up opportunities for creatives, media operators and leaders, and more—who will build alongside creators for the long-term.
The pandemic was a right-place-right-time catalyst for the creator economy: People were stuck at home with time on their hands. Relationships with work shifted majorly. Traditional Hollywood entertainment was put on pause. Ad dollars flooded into new avenues of spending. The TikTok For You Page made the lean-back experience (where only the best content rises to the top) the norm. A new cast of characters caught our attention, and followings were built lightning fast.
These are all good developments as far as we’re concerned. The more creators the better. But the details are important here—because all of these new creators can’t all make a living on the FYP.
What we’re seeing: Not enough creators have mapped out their path from short-form audience-building to business-building.
Consider short-form vertical content—its distribution power is unmatched, and it’s catapulted tons of creator careers since 2020. But because attention is currency and short-form content grabs it in bits and pieces, often without full attribution to creators, short-form wasn’t necessarily built with the DNA for long-term monetization.
FWIW, YouTube did recently announce a monetization plan for Shorts that will see a new revenue share paradigm pay creators for their short-form content. But the general consensus from creators: Short-form content alone still isn’t enough to sustain a real income stream.
At the end of the day, relying entirely on short-form vertical content to build an audience can create challenges for creators. The audience relationship tends to be more shallow on short-form than it is for longer-form content. And even if that short-form audience is massive, can it sustain a living or a career?
Maybe not. We’re already seeing creators with significant followings unable to make meaningful income from their content. Even top-tier creators like MrBeast and KSI have called out TikTok for their measly payouts. While some positive developments have been made, like YouTube moving away from a creator fund model toward a revenue-sharing model, we’ve yet to see short-form monetization take off in earnest.
You can’t go to college and major in Creator (yet). All those creators who’ve built major followings on TikTok or IG Reels have audiences—but they might not have the strategic guidance and business expertise to transition into becoming long-form or career creators.
Until short-form content can be rewired to support more full-time creator careers on its own, we predict that this problem will be solved in three ways: by mentors, by companies, and by creators themselves.
Mentors: Mentorship can be major, and we expect to see more educational content businesses, like Colin and Samir’s, providing creators with insight into the creator career path.
Companies: We’re encouraged by how many are springing up with the purpose of helping aspiring creators through education. There are the course-oriented businesses like CreatorNow , Nas Academy , and Ali Abdaal’s Part-Time YouTuber Academy , all backed by creators who provide courses and community to aspiring creators.
Determining what counts as a “real” recession is up to you, your therapist, and the macroeconomic powers that be. We won’t split hairs over whether today’s economy is really in a recession, let alone how bad that recession might be. But we will say this:
The economic vibes are decidedly off. From inflation to supply chain issues to a labor shortage to interest rate hikes—things have shifted. People have less optimism and less money is up for grabs today than there was just six months ago. That doesn’t mean these economic circumstances are permanent, but it does mean that creators could face more uncertainty in the months ahead—especially in comparison to those pandemic boom times we mentioned before.
While the impact of an economic downturn isn’t unique to creators, it certainly impacts them uniquely. Already, we’ve seen some brands (and their marketing budgets) clam up. Consumers might think twice before hitting “buy now.” Building a media business from scratch means overcoming new challenges.
But those challenges won’t be insurmountable—and the creators, both big and small, who want to make it through to the next economic cycle can and will. Here’s how—
Why make one prediction when we can make three?
First: Creators who focus on fundamentals will thrive no matter what the latest inflation print says.
The threat of a recession will force businesses of all kinds to get back to basics. Here’s the approach we expect creators to take in order to adapt:
Taking a granular approach to finances: getting scrappy and being smart about what’s outsourced and what’s done in-house.
Doubling down on what’s already working: fewer new product launches and more going deep on what works.
Keeping a realistic pulse on what’s going on: with your audience, your advertisers, your talent pool. Things are going to change quickly.
This playbook doesn’t have to be particularly complicated, and that’s in part because of the nature of the creator industry.
Consider this: Macroeconomics factors might force a change in individual and family budgeting—maybe consumers will become less likely to buy things they don’t need off an Instagram ad. But a recession is unlikely to make most digital media consumers unfollow their favorite creators.
Second: The smartest marketers will read the room—and adjust budgets accordingly.
The prevailing logic has always gone like this: When brands are forced to tighten the proverbial belt, marketing dollars tend to go first. For creators who are largely ad-supported, that shift in marketing budget might directly impact their brand relationships, term sheets, and bottom lines.
But think back to when the last sustained, major recession ended. It was June of 2009. Instagram wouldn’t be founded for another year. TikTok was just a twinkle in ByteDance’s eye. YouTube was where you went to watch “Muffins” and “Potter Puppet Pals” and not much else. And most notably—traditional advertising would dominate digital ads for another decade.
Today, advertising is a far cry from the multi-million dollar deals for primetime slots on network TV that dominated in the aughts. As digital media have splintered into smaller, more precise bits centered around community (and the notion that quality > quantity), advertising has also evolved.
Today, successful ad campaigns aren’t about sheer volume or reach—they’re about a brand’s messaging finding the right person at the right time in the right place. And no better instrument exists for facilitating that connection than digital media creators who’ve built brands around a like-minded community—especially during a (maybe) recession, when dollars need to be optimized for follow-through.
Marketers will begin to understand that specificity is the key to continued advertising success in a downturn, and creators who can offer that specificity via a niche audience will weather the economic storm—and keep their revenues steady.
Third: Creators will adapt, like they always have.
Creators have adaptability baked into their DNA. Whether it’s evolving to meet the changing whims of an algorithm or morphing to grow up alongside their audience or even switching strategy to make it through a recession, change is part and parcel of the creator industry.
We’ll leave you with some advice: Rely on the knowledge that you’re capable of rolling with the punches—and recognize that your creativity isn’t limited to what you publish. Extend the curiosity and originality that got you here to forge the path that will get you where you
want to be.
Because you’re armed with something a recession cannot strip away—
a bright miNd