It seems as though a new ‘economy’ pops up every few years to take society by storm. The gig economy — coined in 2009 by Tina Brown, former editor of The New Yorker and founding editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast — put a name to the commodification of freelance and knowledge-based workers. A result of the 2007 economic downturn, the gig economy is largely synonymous with the surge of independent contract work with ride sharing app Lyft, homestay marketplace Airbnb, or food delivery services like Instacart. But it also gave rise to the ‘side-hustle’ that quickly institutionalized itself as a lucrative source of income, which in many ways spurred the adoption of the influencer, and the eventual creator.
Traditional influencers — think the fashion and mommy bloggers of the twenty-tens — blurred the lines between creating content for content’s sake, and brand marketing. Thus, creating a utilitarian pathway for bloggers, social media users, and anyone else on the Internet, with an opportunity to monetize their digital presence. What was once a passion project turned into a side-hustle, which for some, galvanized into a career.
The demand for content
Over the last year and a half, as companies and schools adopted remote work, individuals were spending more time than ever at home, and for many, that meant passing the hours tapped into technology. Indicative of our prolonged couch time was the 1B+ global streaming subscriptions surpassed in 2020 — Disney even completely restructured its business model to focus on direct-to-consumer amid the rise in streaming. Not only were we consuming traditional forms of entertainment like television and film, but also gravitating towards short-form content found in Instagram Reels, TikToks videos, and DanceFight challenges, long-form Twitch streams and Substack posts, or audio-first experiences like Clubhouse, just to name a few of the many platforms and types of content that have recently rocketed to popularity.
This period served as a catalyst to the birth of an entirely new concept of content creation, distribution, and consumption — the creator economy — extending far beyond traditional entertainment and internet influencers. And as we saw roughly $2B raised by 50 creator-focused startups just in the first half of 2021, it’s clear we’re only in its infancy.
Am I a YouTuber? Influencer? Creator?
Creators may seem like a direct outcome to our year at home, though, the origin dates back to 2011. Taylor Lorenz of the New York Times, and at the time The Atlantic, reports that YouTube devised the term as an alternative to “YouTube star.”
So where does that leave the Vine stars, Instagram influencers, and Twitch streamers of our past? Technically, they also live under the creator placard. Shortly put, the term ‘creator’ is a catchall for anyone who is involved with the creation of digital content — including, but not limited to, videos, podcasts, music, media — whether it’s educational or for entertainment.
What’s the creator economy anyway?
All of these creators — over 50M of them according to SignalFire — funnel into the creator economy, which is broadly described as a class of businesses affiliated with the creation, and housing, of content online. This undeniably means content creators, bloggers, and influencers, but by definition, this also includes music, video, movie, gaming, entertainment, and digital content rightsholders — artists, musicians and labels, producers, publishers, authors, the list goes on — along with tools to build content, the user-generated content (UGC) and social media platforms where that content is distributed, and services that enable creators to monetize off this content.
Though less widely embraced, what the creator economy really resembles is the creative economy, which Americans for the Arts defines as an “economic ecosystem of for-profit and nonprofit creative industries, artists and artist workforce, educators, entrepreneurs, vendors, policy makers and funders that produce and distribute creativity- and artistic-based goods and services.”
When you consider all elements of the content creation process, you begin to see how omnipresent the creator economy is. Take for example a TikTok video featuring a viral dance — there’s the obvious individual dancing in front of the camera, but also the choreographer receiving the dancing credit (dc), the rightsholders of the music being used, which technically involves at least two copyrights owners (one for the sound recording, and one for the composition), not to mention, the platform housing the content, the tools the creator used to edit the content, the financial services helping monetize the content, as well as any affiliated brands or sponsored partnerships.
The creator economy engine
Given the nascent nature and tidal push towards the creator economy in just the last year and a half, there’s endless opportunity for new tools and services to emerge, providing innovative solutions as the industry takes shape.
Pex’s Attribution Engine is one of those solutions. Music is a central piece to creators’ content (84% of YouTube videos contain at least 10 seconds of music), and behind that music is another key player in the creator economy — music rightsholders. If using that music without it being licensed, that content creator could face a takedown due to copyright infringement. Attribution Engine mitigates that possibility by identifying, attributing, and licensing copyrighted content before it is published to UGC platforms. In other words, when platforms license content, creators are able to use copyrighted content without fearing a takedown, while individuals across the broader creator ecosystem also benefit by receiving proper accreditation for their work.
If we are to use the gig economy as a signal for the future of the creator economy, it’s easy to see that we’re only in its beginning. As more creators, businesses, and industries (e.g., music, gaming, and entertainment) embrace the creation and distribution of content online, new iterations of the creative ecosystem will continue to emerge, offering novel ways for all constituents of the creator economy, from content creators to rightsholders to platforms, to flourish.