“Newsrooms stop mocking the creator economy and start learning from it… Creators and influencers have gotten this far for a reason. It’s time newsrooms played the game, too”, says Candace Amos, Director of Audience, The Daily Beast in her prediction for journalism for 2022. This inspired me to write this article.
In 2021, the creator economy exploded into a $100B+ market. This massive creator wave has changed the way consumers consume and engage with media. On the surface, it may appear that creators’ success is driven purely from entertainment-related content, but there’s more to this that aids their mass following and loyalty. And, there are lessons that publishers can learn from creators to unlock growth.
Following a successful 2021 for the publishing industry (Reuters Institute), industry experts have an optimistic outlook for 2022 and are stressing how reader revenue will play a key role in publisher growth. There is no one silver bullet to reader revenue - just take a look at the New York Times and The Guardian - two very different reader revenue models yet highly successful. The approach to monetization remains a critical area where creators differ from publishers.
Let’s consider virtual tipping solutions, which mushroomed in 2021. Twitter Tipjar, Clubhouse Payments, Facebook Stars, YouTube Super Thanks, Instagram Badges - all launched in 2021. Audiences are willing to support and recognize the efforts of their favorite creators through ‘Creative Encouragement’. This recognition is almost non-existent in most newsrooms.
Publishers like Vietcetera (Vietnamese publisher) or The Wire (Indian publisher) have
implemented a tipping solution. Most are pleasantly surprised by the unexpected support they’ve received from their respective audiences. Indonesiana (part of Tempo Media Group, Indonesia) has decided to share its contribution earnings with the writers who wrote the article. Such incentives not only encourage existing writers to enhance their quality but also attracts new writers - creating a growth flywheel.
Another form of reader revenue that is seeing demand from the public is pay-per-media. Technology, data platforms, and payments infrastructure have progressed multifold in recent years, making it a lucrative monetization option for publishers to consider. The question publishers must ask themselves is - if a revenue model has no associated cost, does not impair existing revenue streams, results in purely incremental gains, and will be instantly adopted by the audience (because they’re demanding it), why not implement it? If done the right way, pay-per-media can become the gift that continuously feeds the subscriber funnel.
Slow decision-making is the biggest challenge faced by media companies. There is a significant opportunity if a more iterative mindset is adopted by media companies. Diversifying revenue streams is the mantra for 2022. This necessitates quick experiments, risk optimization, and data literacy; the precursor to which is an iterative mindset. Just as Li Jin puts it in her tweet, ”Creator monetization needs to be in service of end-user goals” - the same applies to publishers. Solve for user needs, and growth will follow.
Lesson #2: Content, Formats, and Audience Segments
Creators simply leverage platforms to display and monetize their skills. From Spotify podcasts to YouTube videos, to Clubhouse sessions, to Twitch live streams, to newsletters - they tap into every format they have a skill for. In fact, there’s an entire category of creator tools that offer courses to upskill. Creators study their audience segments closely and know what platforms work best for which audience segments. Similarly, the next phase of growth for publishers and media companies lies in leveraging newer content formats and matching them against their audiences to maximize engagement. For example, The Woke Salaryman, a Singaporean publisher that offers educational content on personal finance and wealth management uses comic strips to engage their ~30,000 followers on LinkedIn (and ~280,000 followers on Instagram), and subsequently drive traffic to their website.
“The Times is in effect converting itself into a multimedia publisher and broadcaster,” explained Witherow. In addition to a podcast, The Times London also launched a radio station with a team of radio journalists and The Times writers. It has also started exploring video formats. Such efforts are part of Times London’s plan to capture a newer, younger audience. In India, eSakal, the largest local newspaper in Maharashtra and part of Sakal Media Group, has adopted a pay-per-video model to monetize their premium videos.
Generation Z is now the largest population in the world, with the oldest of them having newly acquired disposable income. They do not bat an eye to cancel subscriptions and do not believe in brand loyalty, unlike the baby boomer generation. While millennials are attached to text-based content (digital channels), gen Z inclines towards more visual formats. According to Reuters, “they (gen Z) do not want traditional media to go away, dumb down, or radically change their style just to appeal to them. On the other hand, they also expressed strong interest in news formats that were more visual and easier to consume than an 800-word article.” Linking content with relevant formats using technology for distribution and monetization to reach the right audience should be the goal.
Lesson #3: Build a Community or an Engagement Loop
“Successful journalism brands have effectively become D2C (direct-to-consumer) brands. We also encourage our writers to engage with readers, to develop a relationship. We’re looking at moving towards making commenting a privilege of full subscribers only and using their real names to inform quality debate,” said John Witherow, Editor-in-Chief, The Times London at the 2021 Web Summit. This is an important statement, especially in 2022. The third lesson publishers can learn from creators is that of building a community.
Reason to Connect
Growing up, a lot of us may have been hooked to specific (print) newspapers because of guest columnists and their opinion pieces. While daily news has to be fact-based, a healthy discussion among the audience can still be encouraged through the comments section that is moderated by the journalist/writer or a community editor. Creators build a lot of loyalty through the comments section and direct messages - in other words, giving the audience an opportunity to discuss with the creator.
Increase Visibility (Inside Scoop)
Besides the primary content, creators share ‘behind the scenes’ content and highlight the effort that goes into making content. Likewise, by letting their audience see what happens beyond the final output, publishers can build a trust surplus. Publishers may also empower their journalists to have live connects on platforms such as IGTV, Clubhouse, or Discord.
In this age of ‘relational media’, people want to connect with the humans behind the brand and want to be able to support and recognize their efforts.
“The relationship between creator and consumers is more valuable than its transactional currency (ie. content). In this era of media, content is not the only product. The content is a key part of the value in that it’s the tool for consistency but the creator and the community are the product. The true value is the connection between consumer and creator acquired through a variety of access points that eventually develop a consumer benefit. As the business moves from “content is value” to “creator is value,” we should shift the business opportunities that support it as well.”
Dushyant is a Co-Founder & Chief Commercial Officer at Fewcents, a plug-and-play solution that helps digital publishers and creators monetise content with cross-border micropayments in the form of pay-per-content or tips. He spent 13 years at Google where he led strategic partnerships, working closely with some of the biggest digital publishers in Asia. Prior to Google, Dushyant has worked at SAP Ariba, American Express, and two tech startups. He holds an MBA from the ISB, Hyderabad and is an active angel investor & advisor for startups in Southeast Asia.