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3 Predictions for the Future of the Creator Economy

Round Editorial

Web3, NFTs, and other new technologies are radically changing how creators build on the internet. Learn more about the next wave of the creator economy. Tens of millions of people around the globe call themselves creators. In fact, according to a 2020 report by the venture capital firm SignalFire, the creator economy represents the “fastest-growing type of small business.”

The question on many of these creators’ minds these days? How will they— artists, musicians, creative entrepreneurs, influencers, thought leaders, and more — be able to leverage emerging technologies, such as web3 or NFTs? Thaniya Keereepart, VP of Customer Experience at Harvest, and Saadiq Rodgers-King, Product at Proof Holdings, joined Round for a recent virtual discussion to share their thoughts on the next wave of the creator economy. Here are three key takeaways.

1. Web3 and NFTs has the potential to put economic power back in the hands of creators

With Web 2.0 (the version we’ve all been using since about 2005 or so), becoming a digital creator was easier than ever before, thanks to platforms like YouTube, TikTok, and more. Still, distribution and monetization was rarely in the hands of the creators.

That’s where the excitement about the next iteration of the web — often called web3 — comes in. While the extent of web3s’ transformation remains to be seen, proponents say the big advantage is the potential for a “middleman-free” digital economy, where content is creator-owned and platform-agnostic, thanks to the use of NFTs. NFTs are essentially certificates of ownership registered on the blockchain. “To the extent that they’re on the blockchain, many marketplaces have access to it; no one marketplace owns it,” says Rodgers-King.

Consider, just for example, a meme or video uploaded to the internet that accumulates millions of views. Owning the NFT of that file doesn’t limit others from using it; anyone on the internet is still free to view, share, and remix the file. The difference is that NFTs make it possible for creators to receive direct compensation for their digital goods. Think of it as a royalty system, minus any extra legal legwork required to cash in on those perks. This means that creators across every industry — from publishing to music to art — can have access to a new revenue stream that’s been missing until now. Instead of being the sole domain of one company whose server these digital creations have lived on, NFTs put ownership back in the hands of creators.

2. Existing creative platforms will remain a necessary marketing tool

When we peer into the future of a creator economy, some wonder if there will still be a need for creators to use existing platforms. Take Patreon, for example, where creators build memberships by providing exclusive access to their work and find ways to connect with their communities. “From a platform perspective, one of our biggest strengths is that we built all these tools and services for creators to market themselves. That’s not something that the blockchain currently has,” says Keereepart. “The blockchain is like the wilderness. And while the technology can facilitate ownership, it can’t necessarily facilitate marketing.”

Ultimately, “you still need to be a marketer and you still need to be a business person in order to push out the thing that you’re doing,” says Rodgers-King. The magic may lie in the combination of existing platforms and new technologies.

3. Quality content will still be paramount

These days, anyone can call themselves a creator. Just take podcasts, for example, the de rigueur “content type” adopted by the masses and even many corporations. “New technologies allow everyone to have a podcast, but if your podcast isn’t good, no one wants to listen to it regardless of whether you have the tools to create it and put it out there,” says Rodgers-King. “Similarly, anyone could create an NFT collection. But what are you actually building beyond little tokens that sit on the blockchain? Are you building a community? Are you building a brand? A cultural awareness? Are you building an art collective?” These are the questions that creators will still need to ask themselves to find success in the web3 era and beyond.

Based on their content quality (and, of course, the following they’ve amassed), creators will have new opportunities to reimagine their business approach. “Some of the things I’ve been most excited about in the art space have been examples where people have played not just with the creative, but also the mechanics of the whole system,” says Rodgers-King, calling to mind a 2021 project by British artist Damien Hirst called “The Currency.” It consisted of a collection of 10,000 NFTs in which each token corresponded to a physical painting that Hirst created (initially sold for $2,000). A year after making their purchase, buyers had to make a choice: they could either take the painting, meaning they would lose the NFT, or hold onto the NFT, resulting in the painting being burned by Hirst himself. (Spoiler alert: Plenty of his artworks have been burned.)

For all of the evolution that’s in store for creators, this highlights a simple truth: “When it comes to creative work and art — whether it’s a traditional form like a sculpture or painting or something uploaded to YouTube — somehow the basic economic models go out the window,” says Keereepart. “In large part this is because art’s value is very, very much determined by the beholder of the art, not the creator of the art.”

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