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7 Things All Online Creators Want You To Know

This week, a dear friend of mine who makes a living publishing original content on social media and who has a large, vibrant following, messaged me to catch up on life and work. She shared her sadness at needing to make the difficult decision to pursue a realtor’s license, despite an outwardly thriving niche platform that takes up well over forty hours of her week and reaches tens of thousands of people all over the world.

“It’s just too much to always be continually hustling and to still not be able to pay my bills.” she said. “People tell me all the time that they love and appreciate the work I do but when I ask them to compensate me for it in some way, they act as if I’ve offended them. It’s so damn discouraging.”

And she’s not alone.

Every day I cross paths with writers, artists, musicians, speakers, ministers, podcasters, journalists, and creative people of all kinds who are finding themselves being slowly squeezed out of the work they love because those who directly benefit from that work are more and more reluctant to financially support it.

As someone who has been fortunate to have made a living online for nearly a decade, I thought it was important to share some things you may be unaware with regard to the creative people whose workplace is largely online:

1) Social media followings don’t equate to income levels.

One of the greatest myths of social media is that the size of your following reflects the money you make serving that following. This is categorically false. Yes, there are some who’ve managed to secure consistent income from their online work but they are the smallest of minorities.

In fact, a couple of years ago I asked ten popular creators from different fields to give me some idea of the percentage of their followers who pay for their work, whether in subscriptions, store purchases, commissions, monthly support, etc. The data we compiled together showed that less than half of one percent of our combined communities were regular financial supporters. So, subtract 99.6 percent of someone’s following and see if that doesn’t feel different.

2) Social media platforms are slowly marginalizing artists.

Just a few years ago, a creator could publish a post to their readers/followers on a social media platform and be fairly confident that their complete audience would receive that content. This is no longer at all true. Every major platform has continually adjusted their algorithms to not only limit the number of people creators reach but to prevent them from making income for free via their portals. We can argue about whether this is ethical or not, but the net result is that there are fewer and fewer spaces where creative people can access those who might enjoy and support their work. Not only that, but the communities these creators have carefully curated for years are increasingly not fully accessible to them.

3) Most outlets pay little or nothing to contributors.
When a writer scores a big online op-ed spot or a musician is featured on a high profile website or someone goes viral for a week or so, most people assume that this is naturally a financial boon, but the reality is that print and entertainment outlets very rarely pay creators for their contributions. The mindset in place, is that the audience these outlets are allowing creators to reach, is free essentially marketing
and will ultimately financially benefit them—but as we’ve discussed, those new followers may be economically passive, so this back-end promise is usually unfulfilled. Visibility is great but visibility without compensation can’t pay the mortgage.

4) Music streaming has devalued all creators.
As streaming services arrived a number of years ago and brought a paradigm shift to the music industry, it decimated musicians’ abilities to make a viable income from their work relative to what was possible previously. And while massive mainstream artists also lament this reality, it is the smaller, independent artists who suffer the most, as their margins are already non-existent. Music streaming also set the precedent by which people could get for free what they’d always paid for in the past. Almost overnight, the contributions of musicians, singers, and songwriters were subconsciously diminished in people’s minds. More on that in a second.

5) Most online creators are self-employed.
Nearly all the musicians, writers, comedians, and artists I know are partially or fully self-employed, needing their income to cover not only their daily family and living
expenses but their health insurance costs as well. As anyone in America fortunate enough to have employer-subsidized healthcare knows, many of them are still only one serious accident or one unexpected diagnosis away from bankruptcy. In addition, most online creators don’t have retirement funds unless they are able to compile
these themselves, which millions just can’t manage.

6) AI is rapidly devouring creative people.
A few days ago, a former high school classmate who is a brilliant illustrator publicly lamented a large long-term client he’d just lost because the marketing department of the company he’d been contracted to work with decided that they could use AI to get close enough to what my friend provided. Again, tabling the conversation on the moral implications of these tactics for another time, the impact of keyboard search-creations is that living, breathing human beings who’ve studied, paid for, and devoted a lifetime to their craft are being replaced and rendered obsolete—unless their communities choose to validate them.

7) Consumers now feel entitled to everything.
As I mentioned previously, due to the ubiquitousness of social media, the changes in streaming services, and the general devaluing of artists that we’ve seen over the last two decades, people now simply believe they deserve everything for free.

Last year, I moved part of my writing to this platform, one that allows me to offer free content to some subscribers, while also providing exclusive material to those choosing to pay a small subscription fee; a model that has become quite popular for writers, as blog ad revenues have largely dried up in recent years. Not surprisingly, about four percent of subscribers opt for a paid plan, which is of course fine.

However, just this morning I received a revelatory email from one of those free subscribers, who wrote to express her disappointment at what she determined was me “making it all about money.” She went on to say, “I’ve been faithfully reading your writing for seven years and this is just sad to see.”

I responded to this woman, explaining as gently as I could, that writing is my life’s work, that it is my passion, and that while I offer a free blog and all sorts of written and video content at no cost, I also have also created options for people who are able and who desire to financially support me. I half-jokingly asked her if she offered her nursing talents for free, (which she of course did not).

Then, I said to her, “You tell me the writing means so much to you that you’ve been reading it almost daily for seven years (for which I’m very grateful), yet you’ve also admitted you’ve been doing so for free for three quarters of a decade.”

”Wow.” she said, seemingly stunned. “I honestly never thought about that.”

And that’s really the story here, friends. Most people simply don’t realize how important online creators are to them because they’ve gotten so used to their presence.

This really isn’t about me. I’m incredibly fortunate that for a decade I’ve been able to pivot and change and evolve to support my family, and because I have a do have wonderful caring and engaged online community who truly do appreciate my contributions to their lives and tangibly partner with me.

I’m not asking for anyone reading or listening to this to fund the work I do, but I am asking you to take note of all the artists, authors, musicians, speakers, journalists, and video content creators in your life: the people who regularly encourage and lift and challenge and inform you—those who make your daily existence funnier or easier or better.

Consider tangibly and financially supporting one or two of them so that they can focus their time and attention on the very specific gifts they provide the world: gifts that make a difference in all our days.

Thanks for listening.

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