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The creator economy is booming—despite a possible recession, legal troubles and questionable platform changes—creators have figured out how to turn their videos into careers.
One way to turn content into cash is creator funds, where social media platforms set aside money to pay creators per video view. Last January, one creator was able to make almost $3 million from Snapchat’s Spotlight fund. But the days of the creator fund as a viable source of income have seemingly come and gone.
I’ve spent the past few months speaking with countless online creators, and when I ask them how much they earn from these funds, most respond with a laugh and say something along the lines of “almost nothing.”
“The key with creator funds is, the earlier creators get there, the better it is because eventually there's a lot of creators sharing the money and the creator funds run out,” says Evan Britton, founder of Santa Monica-based Famous Birthdays.
Here’s a look at the state of different social media platforms’ creator funds.
When TikTok launched its Creator Fund in 2020, it boasted $200 million. Since then, it made promises to grow the fund to $2 billion. But as its user base grew, so did the number of people vying for the pool of money. Most creators say they make between two and four cents per 1,000 views. That means a creator getting 100,000 views only results in about $4, —a meager offering from the supposed billion-dollar fund.
While plenty of people can still make TikTok into a decent side hustle, they have to rely on business savvy instead of passive income from the Creator Fund. Some, however, are thinking bigger, with a group of creators exploring how to unionize. But navigating tricky labor laws is made even more difficult by the decentralized nature of social media, meaning creators will likely have to look elsewhere for pay equity.
In 2020, when Snapchat launched its creator fund dedicated to creators using the TikTok clone Spotlight, the company promised to dole out $1 million to creators every day. That sum was decreased to $1 million per week last year. Snapchat reduced that fund yet again in October, promising creators millions per year. The announcement came days after a dismal Q3 earnings report caused its shares to fall, meaning the move likely was a cost-cutting measure. For what it’s worth, Snapchat creators aren’t the only ones who took a pay cut this year—Snap Inc. CEO Evan Speigel’s net worth dropped by $12 billion this year. But Snapchat’s struggling creator fund demonstrates how users need to hop on a fund early if they want to make substantial earnings.
But even new programs don’t always pay out. Pinterest launched its Creator Rewards program with $20 million last year. Early in the year, income was high—one creator brought in $13,000 in three months through the program. But those kinds of earnings were short-lived, as Pinterest shuttered the program at the end of November “in order to focus on other creator programs and features.” Creators can still make money through the separate Creator Fund, but the $1.2 million dedicated to that program severely limits how much money people can pin down.
Trying to compete with TikTok’s short-form dominance, YouTube launched the $100 million Shorts Fund last year. But that fund was always scheduled to end by 2023. Instead, where YouTube has the leg up over other platforms is its ad revenue sharing program, which offers creators 45% of the ad revenue from Shorts and 55% of the ad revenue from traditional videos. Alternatively, TikTok’s ad revenue-sharing program, Pulse, is only available to the top 4% of videos on the app.
Are creator funds a relic of social media past?
Britton says creators should look to revenue sharing if they want to make a substantial income. And, despite short-form videos taking over social media, it’s long-form videos that can allow creators to reap the most rewards. Which explains why TikTok creators are contemplating switching to YouTube to make more money off their content.
“I think creators have to know going in that this isn't going to be forever, but this can be a way to make revenue and start to grow on a platform,” Britton says.
In short: payments were an enticing promise made by these platforms to appear as though they were supporting small creators. But the consequence of luring more creators has resulted in the already limited funds going to a larger pool of people.
The current economic climate also makes it unlikely that these companies will view large pools of money dedicated to creators as a worthy use of their tightening budgets. While the concept of the creator fund isn’t completely dead, its funeral might be coming in 2023.– Kristin Snyder
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