Are We in the Golden Age of Platform Monetization?

A Publish Press investigation

Good morning. Welcome to our Labor Day special, where we’ve brought together some of our favorite creators and operators to evaluate the past, present, and future of platform monetization. Please enjoy, share with a friend, and have a great rest of your long weekend. 🏖️

The Summer of Creators Getting Paid

Illustration by Moy Zhong

In the two years since we launched the Publish Press, creator monetization has dominated our industry’s news cycle almost as frequently as “MrBeast breaks [insert record here].”

From TikTok facing criticism for Creator Fund payouts in 2021 to YouTube monetizing Shorts earlier this year to TikTok revamping its fund shortly after, there’s always been chatter of creators making money via platforms.

But this summer, there was a distinct vibe shift. We were no longer dealing with a slow trickle of creator monetization news, but rather a gushing stream of it. Every major platform—Snap, TikTok, Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), and YouTube—now offers payouts for creators.

And it’s not just video creators. Spotify runs an earnings program for podcast creators, and newsletter platforms like Beehiiv and ConvertKit are testing ad networks.

But how do we see the signal through the noise, to understand whether these highly-publicized creator payout programs are meaningful enough to creators’ incomes to introduce a new class of full-time creatives in our industry? We asked creators and their teams, and here’s what we learned.

Not all platform monetization is created equal. As journalist Taylor Lorenz pointed out to us, no matter the hype, X’s creator monetization efforts have been flimsy at best: X owner Elon Musk has slashed X’s creator partnerships team, the platform was delayed on payments, and X still owes money to creators who monetized through Subscriptions.

“No one is going to [prioritize] a platform where you have no creator partnerships team, you have no product team working on creator features, and you’re not transparent about payouts,” Lorenz told us.

But on TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram, creators are reporting significant earnings growth this summer.

  • Victoria Paris made over $9,000 in one month through TikTok’s revamped creator fund (now known as the Creativity Program), and Bobbi Althoff claims TikTok pays “so well now.”

  • Some creators’ platform earnings account for more than ⅓ of their business. For example, Mark Rober told Colin and Samir that half of his revenue comes from AdSense. In contrast, education creator Ali Abdaal's AdSense accounts for less than ¼ of his earnings (still, he made about $650,000 last year via AdSense).

But: These snapshots from high-profile creators don’t represent the majority. In 2022 (before TikTok’s revamped creator fund and YouTube’s Shorts monetization), only 35% of creators were getting paid through online platforms and only 12% of creators earned more than $50,000 a year. FYI: The median income in the U.S. is around $70,000 a year, according to the latest census.

Infographic by Moy Zhong

That’s why new monetization efforts have been so closely monitored by our industry. For many, new monetization opportunities for creators of all sizes represent the possibility of the long-awaited “creator middle class,” or the cohort of creators making a living off of their content without needing audience sizes in the multi-millions.

That creator middle class potential is our industry's incentive for championing new platform payout programs. But what about the platforms themselves? What about this summer caused this shift toward bigger, more widely available payouts for creatives?

Platforms are wising up to the fact that they need creators for a thriving online ecosystem. 2021 saw a boom in VC-backed creator startups, and even though that bubble has burst, the movement did push platforms to take creators more seriously, Lorenz told us.

“[VC startups] did put a lot of money in the [creator] space and helped legitimize it to where it sort of influenced these platforms into taking creators seriously and engaging with creators in some way,” Lorenz said. “Even if they haven’t fully built out effective revenue share programs, at least they can’t treat influencers the way they did all throughout the 2010s.”

Worth noting: Though both platforms and creatives are motivated to participate in payout programs, their incentives aren’t always aligned.

“Platforms have this push/pull with their biggest content creators because what the creators want doesn’t always align with what the platform wants,” Lorenz said.

  • Look no further than last week, when YouTube and TikTok pulled external links from short-form videos, moves that could be detrimental to creators who make money through affiliate links and product sales.

A small change in platform policy like that could radically impact a creator’s business. For example?

  • Ali Abdaal used to earn $60,000–$70,000 a month from Skillshare. When the platform changed its teacher earnings, Abdaal’s revenue shrank to $20,000–$25,000/month.

  • “It’s a useful example of what can happen when a company owns the audience that you are catering to, and then decides to change course,” Abdaal’s manager Angus Parker told us.

Big picture: This summer marked a shift in the ways money flows in this still-nascent creator industry. But as is often the case with new paradigms in new industries, creator monetization should be treated as one strategy toward top-line growth, not the only strategy.

“Platform payments for the [creator] middle class are a shaky ground to build on because they’re so volatile,” Colin and Samir told us. Instead, think of how your audience could be funneled to other products. “The question you have to ask yourself: if your content reaches 10,000 people on a regular basis…that’s not significant with an ads business, but it is for product sales,” Colin and Samir said.

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👀 Creator Moves

  • Zac Alsop is hiring a full-time junior editor based in London.

  • Ali Abdaal is looking for a content executive to work on the social media team.

  • The Skorys are hiring a video editor to work on their family-friendly mystery videos.

🔥 Press Worthy