The Big Battle for Creators 🥊

Can labor organizing *actually* work this time?

Good morning. Happy (almost) Thanksgiving to everyone celebrating. We’ve got a special edition today—a little food for thought on the future of creator labor, featuring tech journalist Taylor Lorenz. Have a great long weekend, and we’ll see you on Monday.

What Is the Future of Creator Labor?

Illustration by Moy Zhong

The longest actors' strike in Hollywood history ended this month, but the 100+ days creators spent with their actor peers in the crosshairs of studios has left a lasting impact. Today, it seems many creators have been inspired to reflect on how they might benefit from collectivization of their own. 

“Hollywood has done a really good job of showing that these deals that are being struck will benefit the biggest stars down to the smallest working actors,” tech journalist Taylor Lorenz told us.

But for creators to benefit from collectivization in the same way actors have, they’ll need their own mediator to take on platforms the way SAG-AFTRA took on studios.

Maybe that’s already in the works: Just in the last nine months, creator organizations like Creators Guild of America and have formed with big names like Ryan Trahan, Justine “iJustine” Ezarik, and Safiya Nygaard joining their ranks. 

Their mission? Advocate for equitable monetization, platform accountability, and fair data policies, the last of which SAG-AFTRA doesn’t specifically target…even though the actors’ union has allowed creators to become members since 2021. 

FYI: We’ve been here before. In 2016, Hank Green founded the Internet Creators Guild to protect creators and advise platforms on how to best serve them, but it shut down in 2019 due to lack of funding. Meme accounts also had a short-lived attempt at unionizing.

Crucially, though, these newer creator organizations aim to function more as industry associations that advocate for creators instead of unions like SAG-AFTRA, which function via collective bargaining. Part of the reason why a true creator union would be tough to pull off?

1. SAG-AFTRA or the United Auto Workers union, for example, are typically taking on more homogenous adversaries—studios and automakers mostly function the same. But for creators, there are multiple highly relevant platforms that all function in different ways with different ambitions.

2. Creators are largely advertiser-supported, and many advertisers might not want to collectively negotiate with creators. 

3. There are way more creators than there are actors, making the industry difficult to unify. SAG-AFTRA has 160,000 members; meanwhile, there are more than 4 million people who consider themselves to be professional creators.  

So the focus remains on building industry norms and establishing context through sophisticated creator associations.

“Because our internet memory is so short we’ve never reexamined and contextualized [content creation],” Lorenz said. “It’s not just important for giving credit, but it can inform how [creators] approach these platforms and learn very important lessons.”

One of those lessons is the 2016–2017 so-called “adpocalypse,” which Lorenz outlined in her book, Extremely Online. During that time, advertisers boycotted YouTube over Google’s then-inability to prohibit ads from appearing next to hateful or offensive content. That resulted in creators losing AdSense earnings and ended many creators’ careers entirely. 

Since then, the stakes have gotten higher: Payments from advertisers to creators in the U.S. have more than doubled since 2019 to $5 billion annually. The creator economy has grown to a $250 billion valuation, with over 207 million people now working as or for a creator. Still, the majority of those creators are making less than $50,000 per year (with only 12% making more than that).  

And there is no safety net—at least not yet. As social media analyst Matt Navarra told the Washington Post, creators must not only adapt to shifts in culture and taste and open their personal lives up for potential harassment in order to succeed, they must also do so on platforms that can change the rules anytime. 

So can organizing work this time around?

Possibly, Lorenz said, if these organizations succeed in educating creators and consumers—and big creators step up to lobby for their industry as needed.

  • “Even on a state level, if you could go to these members of Congress and say ‘these people are your constituents, these people are making a living this way online, and if you could address those needs this is a real win for you,’” Lorenz said. 

  • “But there’s no one there collecting that data or meeting those members of Congress as we don’t have an industry association,” she added.

These companies like and Creators Guild of America could function that way, appealing to both platforms and lawmakers.

“Part of me is like, if Hank Green can’t make it happen, who can. At the same time, that was so many years ago and there weren’t enough creators to get momentum,” Lorenz said. “I think that these platforms right now are operating with impunity, and we need some sort of counter to that. Otherwise, it’s a very dystopian future.”

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🦃 Press Worthy

In honor of Turkey Day, here’s our multi-course meal of recommended headlines and viewing to catch up on over the holiday.

  • Hors D'oeuvre: Cinematographer Brian M Tang releases a VFX-heavy Star Wars fan film he shot in just one day.

  • Appetizer: Cleo Abram meets Boston Dynamics’ viral Atlas robot—and explains what to expect from humanoid machines like it.

  • Salad: Snapchat launches a Creator Hub to educate users on best practices and more.

  • Beverage: Over 100,000 creator-educators use this platform to grow their business—up to 40% off for Black Friday.*

  • Main Course: Casey Neistat goes on Impaulsive and provides an update on when viewers can expect to see his Under The Influence film. 

  • Dessert: Documentary creator Defunctland uses no narration (only actors and archival footage) to tell the story of how Disney World opened its EPCOT theme park.

*This is sponsored advertising content.

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