Dossier 12: The Creator Economy


Over the past decade the profits of social media platforms have grown sky high. For instance, Meta turned a revenue of $27.9 billion in the first quarter of this year, a 6,6% increase compared to the one before. Yet it is not just the social media platforms themselves that are benefitting financially, the creators of the content that is being hosted there are making revenue as well, and it’s only growing. For many kids—who presumably watch adult YouTubers do kid stuff like eating tons of candy in one go or renting a trampoline park all for themselves—influencer or YouTuber is now their dream job. But is this ‘dream job’ really all it’s made out to be? As a content creator you live and die by the ever-changing algorithm and Terms of Service of the platform(s) you’re active on.1 Taking time off, having your content marked as inappropriate and getting shadow banned, or simply not following along with whatever is getting prioritised in the feed can all be detrimental for your career.

The ‘creator economy’ that we want to explore with this dossier, and our event, is not just limited to online creators and the brands that sponsor them. Many other parties are involved as well—creating an entire complex ecosystem. Think of managers, marketing teams, or talent agencies: all jobs that are fulfilling some sort of middleman position between the influencer and the brands they work with. But that’s just the beginning, once creators become popular and can make money off their content there are even more jobs created. Popular creators might want to increase production or get (more) active on other platforms. When this happens they often start hiring others to edit their videos or pictures. Depending on how popular and/or professional the creator is, this can be a professional company or freelancer, or just an enthusiastic fan with some self-taught editing skills.

The first big platform that let its user monetise their content was probably YouTube. Here, creators who meet a set of requirements—like a certain subscriber count, hours of your videos watched, and having your videos follow content guidelines—can get a cut of the platform’s ad revenue. Of course, the more views your videos get, the higher the pay. In recent years, platforms eager to grow, like TikTok and Snapchat, set up similar strategies with their Creator Fund program and Spotlight feature. Triller even started paying for the rental costs of creator mansions, the lease of vehicles, and expensive lunches for some of the biggest influencers on TikTok (their rival platform). Last year they even promised a group of three hundred Black creators $4000 a month to upload videos on the platform. Recently, word got out that they failed to pay. Not only were the creators left with no payment from Triller, the strict rules of the partnership restricted them from expanding their careers on other platforms.

There are other ways of making money, where you have more control, too. Creators on platforms such as Patreon or Substack offer their followers exclusive content via paid subscriptions. This model is an interesting one, as it allows for creators with a small, but dedicated following to make a living out of their content. It might also offer creators a bit more stability. Here the pay-out does not depend on how many views you have been able to rack in from a feed where an unfathomable algorithm decides what gets prioritised.

Of course, it can be questioned to what extent the creator economy really created new jobs or if it mostly extended jobs that already existed within marketing. What is clear however is that in this “new” market old problems, and structural inequalities, still prevail. Black creators are often paid less than their white colleagues. In a lot of cases legislation is behind on the reality of the creator economy, for instance regarding kids that go viral, which can cause precarious working conditions. Another issue that often comes up is transparency of what is and isn’t an advertisement, which can sometimes be hard to tell, especially for young audiences. However, legislation is starting to catch up with this.

In this dossier we explore the possibilities and obligations of monetising online content. Sjef van Beers talks to the Dutch Media Authority about new legislation for what they call “video-uploaders” that is in place as of July 2022 and goes behind the scenes of the creator economy with writer, artist, and influencer Cesar Majorana. Guus Hoeberechts writes about the workshop we ran in our Discord server on Kim Kardashian’s Instagram ads. Eva Boxtel revisits her film Narcissism is a global phenomenon, and it has no borders shot at one of Europe’s first selfie museums. And Jak Ritger has created elaborate models to map out the different ways of monetising online content.


1 When the Terms Of Service of, for example, YouTube changes, the qualifications for making a video monetisable can change as well. In 2019, during a crackdown on supremacist content, several political videos and channels were not only deprioritised or deleted, but demonetised as well.