If Everyone Is a Content Creator – Is Anyone? The Paradox of the Creator Economy

The creator economy is booming. What was once a niche pursuit has gone mainstream, with millions of people around the world now considering themselves "content creators." But with so many people creating, what does it really mean to be a creator in 2023? Is the term losing its meaning?

To find out, we dug into the latest data and spoke with professional creators about their journeys and predictions for the future. What we discovered was a fascinating paradox. While the creator economy is more accessible and lucrative than ever, it‘s also more competitive and complex. Not everyone who creates content can make a living from it. And yet, the act of creation itself holds intrinsic value that goes beyond money or fame.

The Rise of the Creator Economy

First, let‘s look at the scale of the creator economy. According to a recent report by Stripe, the number of creators earning a living online has grown exponentially in the past decade:

Year Number of Creators Earning Income Online
2010 25,000
2015 1 million
2020 50 million
2022 200 million

This growth shows no signs of slowing down. The same report predicts that by 2025, the creator economy will be worth over $100 billion and support more than 400 million creators worldwide.

But what exactly counts as a "creator"? The definitions vary, but most agree it‘s someone who produces and shares original content – whether that‘s videos, music, writing, art, or social media posts. Platforms like YouTube, Instagram, Twitch, Substack, and Patreon have made it easier than ever to create and monetize content.

A recent survey by Adobe found that a whopping 40% of people between the ages of 18-34 now consider themselves content creators to some degree, even if they don‘t do it full-time. Many start creating as a hobby or side hustle before transitioning to make it their main gig.

So with the barrier to entry so low, does that mean everyone is a creator now? Well, yes and no. There are certainly more people creating and sharing content than ever. But not all of them are doing it professionally or at a scale that earns a real income. In fact, data shows the vast majority of creators have relatively small audiences:

  • 84% of creators have less than 10K followers
  • 39% have less than 1K followers
  • Only 2% have over 1M followers

This mirrors the classic "power law" or Pareto distribution we see in many industries, where a small percentage of top performers capture most of the value. Think of how a tiny fraction of artists account for most music sales and streams. Or how a handful of tech giants dominate the stock market.

So while "everyone" may be a creator in some loose sense, only a select few are able to break through the noise and make it a viable career. The competition for attention is fierce.

What Do Creators Think About All This?

To get a more qualitative pulse on the state of the creator economy, we interviewed a range of professional content creators about their experiences and outlooks. Here are some of the key themes and insights that emerged:

"Creator" Is a Spectrum, Not a Binary

Most creators we spoke to pushed back on the idea that the "creator" label has become meaningless or cliché. Instead, they see it as a spectrum encompassing many different levels and types of creativity. You don‘t need a certain follower count or income to call yourself a creator.

"Being a creator is really a state of mind," said Marques Brownlee, a tech YouTuber with over 15 million subscribers. "It‘s about having a curiosity to figure stuff out and a drive to make things and put them out there. That could be a 12-year-old making TikToks for fun or a full-blown production company."

Others pointed out that there have always been "creators" long before social media – they just went by different names like artists, writers, filmmakers, etc. The internet has just made creation and distribution more accessible.

"I actually prefer the term ‘creator‘ over ‘influencer‘ because it puts the focus on the work, not the metrics," said Sasha Exeter, a lifestyle content creator and entrepreneur. "An influencer is more about leveraging an audience. A creator is about expressing a vision or idea."

Creativity Is Inherently Valuable, Regardless of Monetization

While the potential to make money is certainly a draw for many creators, most said it wasn‘t their primary motivation. Creating is intrinsically fulfilling and meaningful to them, even if they don‘t get rich or famous from it.

"So much of being a creator is really about the process – the joy of making something, learning, evolving your craft," said Ali Abdaal, a YouTuber who makes videos about productivity and entrepreneurship. "Of course we all want to grow an audience and maybe make some money. But that‘s more of a byproduct than the goal in itself."

This sentiment was echoed by many creators who started out as hobbyists before slowly scaling up over time. They emphasized patience and enjoying the journey rather than fixating on metrics or external validation.

"When I started my blog, literally my mom was my only reader," said Gaby Dalkin, the founder of the popular cooking site What‘s Gaby Cooking. "I was just excited to have a creative outlet to share my recipes and connect with other food lovers. Building a business came later and almost by accident."

The takeaway? Even if you‘re not (yet) making a living as a creator, your creative expression still has inherent worth. Don‘t let comparisons or expectations rob you of the simple joy of creating and sharing.

Niche Down and Diversify to Stand Out

With so much competition for attention, many creators stressed the importance of differentiation. The riches are in the niches, as the saying goes. Rather than trying to please everyone, successful creators often go deep on a specific topic, medium, or audience.

"There are literally millions of beauty vloggers out there now," said Nyma Tang, a beauty YouTuber known for her inclusive makeup tutorials. "I knew I needed to offer a different perspective to break through. For me, that was catering to darker skin tones and amplifying voices that aren‘t always represented in the beauty industry."

Other creators differentiated by developing a strong personal brand and voice, experimenting with new platforms and formats, and diversifying their income streams beyond just ads or sponsorships. Examples include:

  • Starting a newsletter or membership community
  • Teaching online courses or workshops
  • Launching digital products like ebooks or templates
  • Pursuing brand partnerships and licensing deals
  • Live streaming and accepting tips/donations

"As a creator, you‘re essentially a one-person media company," said Jay Clouse, the founder of Creator Science. "That means you need to think strategically about your brand, intellectual property, and business model. Relying on one platform or revenue source is risky."

The Dark Side of Being a Creator

While being a creator can be immensely fulfilling, it also comes with unique challenges and pressures. Many creators spoke candidly about the toll it can take on mental health and work-life boundaries.

"There‘s this pressure to always be ‘on‘ and constantly churning out content to feed the algorithm," said Roberto Blake, a creative entrepreneur and YouTuber. "It can lead to burnout, imposter syndrome, and this feeling that your worth is tied to your views or likes."

Others mentioned the vulnerability hangover that comes with sharing so much of your life and personality online. Dealing with trolls, harassment, and cancel culture is an unfortunate reality for many creators, especially women and people of color.

"You develop a thick skin over time, but it can still get to you," said Marina Mogilko, a language education creator and co-founder of LinguaTrip. "I‘ve had to learn to set boundaries and not engage with every negative comment. Focusing on the positive impact I‘m having on my community helps a lot."

There‘s also the precariousness of building a career on ever-shifting platform algorithms and audience trends. What works today may not work tomorrow. And for full-time creators, that uncertainty can be stressful.

"It‘s a bit of a wild west out there," said Evelyn Ngugi, a lifestyle vlogger and consultant known as Evelyn From the Internets. "You have to be adaptable and scrappy. Save your money, own your intellectual property, and always be thinking about the next move. It‘s exhilarating but also exhausting."

The Future of the Creator Economy

As our interviews showed, being a professional content creator is not all glitz and glamour. It‘s hard work that requires persistence, resilience, and constant reinvention. But for those with a true passion for creating and connecting, the upsides outweigh the challenges.

Looking ahead, industry experts predict the creator economy will continue to grow and evolve. With web3 technologies like blockchain and NFTs, creators may have even more ways to monetize and engage fans. AI tools will lower the barriers to production and unlock new forms of generative creativity.

At the same time, creators will need to navigate thorny issues around data privacy, content moderation, and equitable compensation. Policymakers will grapple with how to properly classify and support this rising workforce. Burnout and mental health will (hopefully) come to the forefront.

Through it all though, the basic human desire to create, express, and connect will endure – just as it always has. What‘s changing are the tools and platforms at our disposal. Being a "creator" in some form is quickly becoming a rite of passage, if not an economic necessity.

But that doesn‘t mean "everyone" is cut out to be a professional creator with a huge platform and income. Nor should that be the bar for success or fulfillment. Like any creative pursuit, being a creator is a deeply personal journey that will look different for everyone.

The key is to focus on the intrinsic rewards, not just the extrinsic ones. Create because you can‘t not create. Share because you have something valuable to say. Build because you want to leave something behind. And know that your creative gifts matter, whether you have an audience of one or one million.

In that sense, perhaps a world where everyone is a "creator" is really about unlocking the latent creativity in us all. It‘s about democratizing the means of creation and giving more people a shot at being seen and heard. About expanding the cultural conversation and making room for diverse voices and perspectives.

So go ahead and call yourself a "creator" if that resonates – even if you‘re not quitting your day job anytime soon. Embrace the journey and enjoy the process. The world needs your singular creative magic now more than ever.