A new criteria for evaluating creator income

A creator who just started out should not be placed in the same category as someone who's been producing content for years.

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Stratechery: Sovereign Writers and Substack

From the article:

The real reason why the media has reason to fear Substack: it’s not that Substack will compete with existing publications for their best writers, but rather that Substack makes it easy for the best writers to discover their actual market value.

About a week ago, a huge firestorm broke out over the fact that Substack pays out advances to a select group of high-profile writers. I thought about writing about it in last week’s newsletter, but a lot of the anti-Substack attacks focused on the political views of certain writers, and I didn’t want to get bogged down in trying to parse those views.

What I like about Ben Thompson’s piece linked above is that he sidesteps the political discussion and focuses on the other attack lodged against Substack: that it somehow misleads us in its marketing. By not disclosing who it pays advances to, this argument goes, Substack is painting a misleading picture of how difficult it is to generate a full-time income on its platform.

Thompson does a pretty good job of debunking that argument, so you should definitely read his piece. But an additional point I want to make is that it’s 2021, and by this point we should all be applying a caveat emptor lens to any claims about how much money a particular creator makes on a platform, since those success stories are almost always outliers.

By now, we should understand that the economics of internet publishing are incredibly harsh, and that the vast majority of creators will fail to generate a sustainable living. It takes literally a few minutes to create an account on Substack, Patreon, or virtually any other platform, so it shouldn’t surprise us that only 1% of creators will succeed. If it were as easy to launch a restaurant as it is to create a Substack account, then 99% of restaurants would fail too.

In fact, I don’t think we do a very good job of assessing platform income opportunities because we don’t differentiate between truly committed creators and those who make half-hearted attempts for a month or two before giving up. To illustrate what I mean, check out this recent quote from Kevin Kelly’s newsletter:

Most overnight successes take at least 5 years. As Dave Perell notes in his newsletter Monday Musings, “[Marques Brownlee] is one of the most popular technology-focused YouTubers in the world. As I write this, he has 13.6 million subscribers and his videos have been watched 2.4 billion times. But when he recorded his 100th video, he only had 74 subscribers.” In other words he made and posted his first hundred videos with the tiniest possible audience. To make something great, keep showing up! As Perell noted in another of his issues: “If you create something weekly for 2 years, you WILL earn an audience.” That is, make 100 creations BEFORE you have a big audience. Every “overnight” success I’ve ever seen was preceded by years of relentless, and sometimes unappreciated, hard work. — KK

Viewed through this lens, I don’t think it’s especially helpful to read a stat like “99% of creators on [Platform X] generate less than $10,000 a year.” Instead, I’d love it if platforms started releasing stats like the median income for creators who have published a minimum 100 pieces of longform content. That would be far more illuminating, and I’m fairly certain that a much larger portion of creators who fit that criteria are succeeding.

My latest: Rick Ellis's entertainment news site generates millions of views a month. Here's how he built it.

From the article:

At the end of 2020, I went back and tried to figure out my weekly output, and it turned out I was averaging somewhere in the range of 55,000 to 60,000 words a week, which is a crazy amount.

Let me be blunt

Every week I get emails from media executives and entrepreneurs who tell me how much they love my newsletter and podcast because of the insights they deliver -- insights that help them with their jobs. For those who fit within that category, let me be crystal clear: this newsletter is not yet sustainable. I’m currently burning through a combination of savings and good will from my spouse. At its current funding level, I can’t promise that it’ll go on indefinitely.

If you want to support the work I do here and ensure this newsletter’s survival, there’s only one way to do so: by becoming a paid subscriber. Subscribing not only helps pay for the work I do here, but it gets you exclusive articles delivered to your inbox -- articles that package the kind of insights that will help you in your career.

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Nieman Lab: Most U.S. news organizations still won’t let most readers cancel their subscriptions online

From the article:

Bad news for people who hate using the phone: Just 41% of U.S. news publishers “make it easy” for subscribers to cancel their subscriptions online, according to a new survey from the American Press Institute.

News organizations also vary widely in how and whether they identify or assist subscribers who are at risk of canceling. The blunt, “we’ll-just-make-it-hard-for-you-to-cancel” method remains more common.

This annoys me to no end. There should be a law that states that if a company allows users to subscribe to a product online, they should be also allowed to cancel their subscription online.

It’s particularly egregious when publishers do it, especially when they go on podcasts or issue press releases bragging about their subscription growth numbers and low churn rates. If I have a publisher’s VP of audience growth on my podcast, they’ll never volunteer the information that their #1 churn reduction strategy is simply making it difficult to cancel.

Hot Pod: The Undervalued Work of the Audio Producer

From the article:

If you look up the job descriptions of “podcast producers” online, you’ll find that they often vary tremendously, with responsibilities that can include conceptualizing the arc of a show or an episode, conducting research, writing interview questions and scripts, pre-interviewing guests, editing, leading calls with clients, determining show policy, managing budgeting, scheduling, booking, travel, invoicing, etc. These lengthy descriptions imply that the job is typically somewhat fluid and that applicants need to be prepared for whatever comes their way.

However, according to the people I spoke with, such expansive expectations often make it challenging for producers to get hired at the appropriate level, set limits, negotiate raises, claim credit for their contributions, and more.

Media companies have a tough time hiring and keeping podcast producers because they can't define what a "podcast producer" is. It's become a catch-all term that describes everything that happens behind the scenes.

My private Facebook group has almost cracked 500 members

It’s a group that I keep private and only promote at the bottom of my newsletter. This ensures that most of its members are just as obsessed with media as I am. Not a day goes by when I’m not impressed by the level of discussion that occurs in it. Join here: [Facebook]

Axios: Verizon to center media arm around new subscription platform Yahoo+

Apparently Yahoo has 3 million paying subscribers to its various information products.

I always have a hard time assessing any Yahoo product simply because I rarely visit Yahoo and I almost never see people share it to the various feeds I follow, and yet I still get the sense that it has this massive user base and pulls down bigger traffic numbers than all but a few other websites. So will that user base convert into a sizable subscription business? Who knows! Though based on its last 15 years of operations, I’m not especially bullish on any Yahoo projects.

Creator spotlight: How Ben Collins built a Google Sheets blog with 400k views per month

From the article:

Perhaps my biggest takeaway was realizing that saying yes to something means saying no to something else ... I had to let go of a lot of mental baggage before I felt comfortable turning down client requests to focus on the online courses.

Howard Owens: Aspiring local news publishers: Just Launch

This is fantastic advice for anyone wanting to launch a local news startup.

Bloomberg: The Preteen’s Guide to Getting Rich Off YouTube

From the article:

In total, products bearing Kaji’s World branding generated more than $250 million in sales in 2020.

All for a YouTube channel that consists of a kid playing with toys.

One could argue that the Adpocalypse — the neologism for when YouTube began demonetizing videos that its algorithm deemed as not “advertising friendly” — was the best thing to happen to YouTube creators. It forced them to forge their own relationships with sponsors, build out merch lines, launch subscription offerings, create online courses, and develop at least a half dozen other business models. YouTubers have the most sophisticated, diversified business models of any creator community.

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Simon Owens is a tech and media journalist living in Washington, DC. Follow him on TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn. Email him at simonowens@gmail.com. For a full bio, go here.