Representative image. In the digital universe, the economy of recognition is mostly self-created.
It was in 2010 that our content division at Encompass came up with a unique TV concept . When I discussed IP (intellectual property) ownership with the TV channel, I was asked, “Beyond the idea, whose risk was it?" And was glibly told that if I offered to fund the show, I could then claim IP. We were happy to see our work on a screen and moved on. Most creation in India suffered from this. The hit-making machines claim their fair pound of flesh, and royalties were almost always written off to music producers and labels. A decade later, things are changing.
Megha Rao is a 23-year-old poet who fondly refers to her followers as wolves. Just this week, she launched her newsletter. Already a well known slam poetry artist, during the pandemic she took her poetry workshops online and now conducts a poetry workshop once a month. With a podcast that sits pretty in the Top 100 on Spotify, she quit her full-time job a year ago.
Amit Varma, a journalist, poker player and cricket commentator turned podcaster four years ago. Initially working with a network, he went solo around 2019. During the pandemic, he launched his course ‘The Art of Clear Writing’. Sold at Rs10,000 plus GST, the course has had over 800 students so far. Amit often puts shoutouts on his podcast asking for a contribution to help the show. He has just launched his newsletter as well.
This is the intimate economy. One fuelled by creator tools and the vast audience that the internet gives a creator directly. The era of platforms and production houses being the arbitrators between talent and their audience is fast changing. Today you can use Anchor to make your own podcast, publish your book on Kindle Direct publishing, offer music royalties in exchange for funding an album on Royalties exchange, get super fans to tip you on Patreon for exclusives. If you are a journalist, Mirror and Substack let you publish and get paid on your own and there's Twitch and Discord for gamers. Each day, multiple new technologies and apps bring the power more into the hands of the creator.
Platforms have noticed this and that brings me to the second economy I speak of. The economy of recognition. Content creators who cross 1 million followers have built their following over time. Their audience goes with them almost cult-like to any new destination they choose. Platforms recognize this, and from meagre cheques, now grants and revenue distribution are becoming larger and more transparent. Many are building creator funds. YouTube distributed $4 billion this year to creators. Spotify has built a music fund. Clubhouse is offering key creators money. Snap and Tiktok ($200 million creator fund) are doing the same. Creators should be happy but they live in a constant fear that the platform may cut off the monetization tap or change the algorithm basis consumer trends. As of now an uneasy calm remains, as with mega deals, the creators seem satisfied.
But for intimate creators with deeply invested fans, there is a growing economy. Be it via shoutouts, or exclusive events. And to fill this gap, we have Cameo, OnlyFans, Patreon. If you are recognized, you can sell merch (merchandise), gifs, courses, you name it.
Bollywood superstars, musicians and sports stars sit at the top of the celebrity funnel. They are not creators and are run by a parallel image economy. An industry feeds off them but is struggling to keep them relevant when the glamour of paparazzi, premieres and player tournaments are missing.
In the digital universe, the economy of recognition is mostly self-created. Prajkta Koli, Zakir, Tanmay who have built their audience over time have huge fan bases. But they are far more in control of their narrative. And build their recognition of their mass appeal. Prajkta has become the honest take it or leave it persona, Zakir is the sakht launda, Tanmay the OP gamer boy. All of them are gatekeepers to their tribe, and have also become content houses, seed investors and entrepreneurs.
The next wave is what Ranveer Allahbadia has done. He found a partner in Viraj Sheth early and set up his own agency called Monk entertainment. Today they represent creators across major genres as they have first-hand experience of working with brands, know creator problems and also how to scale. Ranveer's podcast is the first to rest exclusively on Spotify. Joe Rogan did this for $100 million in the US.
In the US, creator houses are becoming a trend. Creators don't just live here but create here, collaborate here and have all the tools at their disposal. Think of it like a commune for creators. Direct monetization is the buzzword, NFTs and tokens are the latest craze. Keeping the creator at the centre of the deals and not cutting them out is the new way forward. A slew of SAAS companies serving creators are being formed.
Archimedes had said, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” Creators are finding new ways to move their audience and new levers are being made every day for them.