The New Creator Economy Is Actually Not New
I love the term “creator economy.”
I don’t know who first coined this phrase, but kudos to them. As a marketing professional, I’m pretty critical when it comes to slogans and jargon. I’ve been naming products and businesses for 20+ years. It’s tough to come up with a new, original, descriptive, and memorable term or name. (Commercials for pharmaceuticals prove this point, while new car makes and models tend to disprove it.)
Despite the current well-deserved buzz for the creator economy, it’s not a new concept; the idea of artists, writers, musicians, and other creators trying to make money off their creative work rather than expending all their energy on a “real job,” let’s say a non-creative role in academia, tech, marketing, or hospitality.
If you’re reading this on Medium, there’s a 95% chance you are part of the new creator economy.
Let’s get real. Most Medium writers ended up here trying to make money off their writing: a valiant goal. Sure, there are non-writing readers visiting Medium, too, but most of them don’t even realize they’re on a platform called “Medium” unless they are also writers.
You can find lots of Medium experts who will tell you what you’re doing right or wrong in the making-money part of this venture. That’s not my area-of-expertise (by choice), despite my presence on this platform as a writer since 2014.
My area-of-expertise when it comes to the creator economy has been trendspotting and community building.
I spot opportunities for making money doing the thing I’m not only good at, but truly love and define as my purpose. (ie. Marketing = something I’m good at. Not necessarily my purpose. Writing about healing= something I’m good at. Possibly also my purpose.)
After I spot a trend, I try the thing out. Over the years, “the thing” has looked like sponsored blogging, sponsored newletters, one-on-one coaching, planning IRL events, planning online events, as examples.
In the past, I’ve reached some level of success doing the thing. Then I lose steam. Because that’s what striving does to a person, especially a creative person who especially needs non-striving time for inspiration, for wonder, and for all the other ingredients that go into creating the beautiful, healing works of art, music, writing, etc. that so many people the world over need for survival. (More on that claim below.)
Until now, I’ve excelled at kinda-making-it-enough-that-people-know-about-me in the creator economy, but not-enough-to-pay-the-bills-doing-only-what-I-love. There’s always been the question in the back of my mind as to why. I have a few theories.
My latest attempt at making it in this new creator economy is on Patreon. You can find me reaaaaaaal easily there by searching for my name, Jen Maidenberg. (Medium gets pissy when you try to make money on other platforms.) Will I really make it on Patreon? I’m not sure yet. Do I care? I’m not sure about that either. It makes sense to me though, that my community of long-time readers and fans would be the most likely to support my current research and writing efforts. Most likely, those people are the ones who’ve been touched or moved by something I’ve written in the past. They might feel inspired to support me as a result.
Which gets me to the second thing I am pretty good at when it comes to the creator economy: community.
Like many of us in 2021, I’m in that in-between state trying to figure out who I want to be and how I want to live in the post-but-not-really-post Covid-19 world.
One thing I know for sure: I want to support creatives, and I’ve been putting my money where my mouth is. I want to be a loud and obnoxious supporter of disrupting our current way of thinking about currency, transactions, and idea exchange. But I also want to show how much I care by sending money the way of creatives. I’ve been doing that this year.
Will a change in the way we all perceive the value of art, writing, music, and healing also benefit me?
I hope so! I am a writer. I am a healer. I believe my work contributes to healing and growth, is of service to others, and deserves to be valued more than it currently is in our economic model.
Is that why I’m speaking out more and more about the creator economy?
As it turns out, bitterness and resentment against a system’s failing ME is not typically enough for me to put myself at risk of being seen or heard in the public arena. Hence my deafening silence on the US healthcare system.
What typically drives me to activism is … at the risk of sounding over-dramatic …grave injustice to people I love and care about. First, my children. Then my family and friends at-large.
It may not be the gravest injustice that creatives have to hustle their whole lives to pay the bills of the hamster wheel that is our modern society. But we all have our parts to play in change-making, and this is mine.
Sure, there are much graver injustices than whether or not artists are starving. But that doesn’t make it insignificant that we as a society still do not value the creative work of others despite the clear evidence that it heals what ails us. The irony? We pay more money to the things that ail us than we do to what heals us.
Health insurance, for instance. ;)
Art heals. Music heals. Blog posts and poetry heal.
I was talking about this to a friend of mine recently and he argued he doesn’t listen to independent musicians and doesn’t read blog posts. The conversation was a quickie and I was in a bad mood that day so I didn’t ask him what I’m going to ask you to do.
Stop and consider this for a minute. Consider the “free content” you consume.
Maybe you also only listen to big name musicians who have contracts with major labels or only read books by big-time, well-paid novelists. We could get into a discussion about how much you pay for Netflix, and whether or not most of the artists involved in the content you pay Netflix for are starving or not, but let’s save it.
Consider what or who you listen to over and over again on YouTube. For years, let’s say, you’ve been listening to that ukulele player, that astrologer, that mad scientist who studies black holes. For free. You’ve listened on the treadmill to distract you. You’ve listened on the drive home after seeing your ex. You’ve listened on the walk with the baby around the neighborhood during the witching hour, or you’ve binged on a new blog during the nights you couldn’t get to sleep due to paralyzing anxiety.
That’s the product of the creator economy. We are all creators.
Personally, it’s not an exaggeration for me to say that free content on YouTube saved my life. It literally saved my life.
Countless times over the last couple of years when my mental health was questionable. Countless times before I learned the term “dysregulation” and figured out how to cope with it on my own. Countless times before I understood how fried my nervous system was and in need of intense healing.
Free content saved my life.
It’s probably saved yours, too.
That is why, I now actively seek out ways to financially support creators. Some have Patreon accounts, some have paypal accounts where people can drop tips. (I have one, too, btw.) For some digital artists whose work I follow on Instagram, this looks like me going to their Etsy store and buying their work for gifts as opposed to shopping on Amazon.
I always want to give more than I am currently able, but even a little bit matters. Of course, it does. Just like the little bit you get back from the IRS matters; just like the little bit you find in a pocket in the laundry matters; just like the little bit you get in an envelope on your birthday from your grandma matters. It adds up.
And, I promise, one day the amount will be more. My hope is that if you are someone who has more to give right now, you also give more to creatives.
Especially the ones who’ve saved your life even a little bit: with a song, a blog post, a funny meme, a joke, a podcast, a spell, a lecture on the vagus nerve, a TedX talk about narcissism, an explanation on Quantum Physics, an audio of a book you needed to read for class, but didn’t. They are all creators. We are all creators.
This is the creator economy.
And it might work this time if we think less about how we can make money and more about how we can give money…to other creators; and amplify their voices, and promote their creations.