The Addition’s Charlotte Henry will be writing a monthly column for Media Voices focused on what business lessons publishers can learn from creators. In this introductory column, she explains why we should be paying attention to the creator economy and what has shifted in the power dynamics.

The early weeks of 2024 have been full of miserable media industry news, with journalists being laid off and outlets closing. LA TimesPitchfork… The Messenger… you probably don’t need reminding.  However, there is one part of the media landscape that, one way or another, continues to thrive – the creator economy. An April 2023 report from Goldman Sachs concluded that this exciting confluence of platforms and people could be worth half-a-trillion dollars by 2027.

We’re not just talking about Mr Beast and his gazillions of YouTube views either. There are a host of individuals and small businesses covering everything from tech to beauty to sport. They are doing robust work that brings in audiences and revenues. 

It would be wrong to claim that this work can fill all the holes being opened up in legacy media, but these creators can still do a huge amount of good. It’s why I’m so excited to be covering these developments in this new monthly column!

The biggest issue people often highlight in the current media landscape is local media, the traditional ecosystem for which has been decimated both in the UK and the US. As readers will know, the Manchester Mill, which has morphed into a network of fantastic local newsletters, is a rare good-news tale in this space that shows how journalists can deploy the tools used by creators and serve their communities. More, please!

Whichever way you look at it, the lines between creator and journalist are getting ever blurrier and this means there are huge opportunities for individual journalists. The likes of Taylor Lorenz at the Washington Post and UK-based freelancer Sophia Smith Galer both do “proper” journalism and also “create content”. Doing the latter undoubtedly makes them more valuable to the people for whom they do the former. 

The value of direct relationships

Elsewhere, the Wall Street Journal’s senior personal tech columnist Joanna Stern writes a traditional column, but she also creates highly produced videos that are watched by millions on YouTube and writes a newsletter. Publications like Puck and Semafor have used newsletters, advertising and subscriptions to build serious newsgathering operations that readers want to support. Substack-based newsletter The Ankler is at the forefront of cover Hollywood. Casey Newton has broken major tech stories through his Platformer newsletter and hired other journalists to work with him.

All these examples build one crucial factor – the ability to build a direct relationship with an audience so that they read, watch or listen to everything you make (and maybe even pay for it). Previously, only the top-tier of columnists and presenters could hope to achieve such a thing. Now, while newsrooms may impose certain restrictions on staff, things are far more open for journalists of all kinds. As a June 2022 Polis report by Salla-Rosa Leinonen noted:

“The need for authenticity to create trust is dominant in all research related to social media influencers, bloggers, Instagrammers, and Youtubers. In journalism trust is also highly valued and considered to be a key towards building relationships with audiences. So are journalists so different from influencers?”

Changing dynamics between publishers, platforms and creators

Traditional outlets are starting to get wise to what is going on in the creator economy and why people are engaging with it. On Friday, Piers Morgan announced that he will no longer present his nightly linear TalkTV show. Instead, the content will exclusively go to YouTube, without the confines of having to fill a traditional TV hour. 

Now, we all know that in reality News UK did not fork out the huge sums of money it did to hire Morgan because it wanted him to make YouTube videos. He was meant to hold a traditional cable news channel together. The numbers make clear that such an ambition has failed. 

The change in approach allows Morgan to focus on big set-piece interviews that get attention and, like him or loathe him, he does tend to have a decent sense of where to find an audience. That is much more likely to be on YouTube than the buried in the Freeview channel guide.

A crucial factor here, that I suspect many of TalkTV’s rivals will be monitoring closely, is how News UK successfully monetises this pivot. As a I commented in a blog post shortly after the news broke, they surely cannot simply be relying on Adsense revenue. Are we going to see Piers Morgan imitating the brand deals creators crave and promoting products during the videos?

It is not all rosy or straightforward, however. For one thing, creators, like their traditional news counterparts, are almost entirely dependent on platforms they have no control over. There have been rows about Substack in recent times and the genuine possibility that TikTok could be banned remains.

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and co. has long decided it has no interest in supporting news. Indeed, Threads told Axios’s Sara Fischer that it will not “proactively recommend political content from accounts you don’t follow”. An interesting decision in a year when over 50% of the world’s population is going to head to the polls, and undoubtedly a deterrent to those who want to make political content.

To reiterate – the creator economy cannot and will not fill the voids that are being left in traditional media, but there is great work being done on a number of platforms and plenty of opportunities. The most exciting part is that we’re only at the start.

Charlotte Henry is an author, journalist and broadcaster who creates and runs The Addition newsletter and podcast; an award-winning publication looking at the crossover between media and technology.

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