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Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

The creator economy was supposed to democratize media, but it turns out that a small portion of creators still reap the most revenue for their work across multiple platforms.

Why it matters: New tipping and micropayments features will hopefully make it easier for smaller creators to get paid. But for now, much of the creator economy is still supported by pricier subscriptions, forcing consumers to be selective.

Driving the news: Data revealed as a part of a massive Twitch hack last week found that this year the top 1% of all streamers earn more than half of all revenue on the platform, per the Wall Street Journal.

  • Video: While a handful of creators have made substantial money, the vast majority of earners on Twitch have made less than $120 this year so far, per the report.
  • Newsletters: The top ten publications on Substack collectively make more than $20 million a year in subscription revenue, while less popular newsletters typically make tens of thousands annually.
  • Podcasts: The top 1% of podcast earners make the vast majority of podcast ad revenue, although efforts to broaden podcast revenue through new creator programs at Apple and Spotify will hopefully help more creators get paid.
  • Social: A report from TechCrunch last month found that Twitter's new "Super Followers" feature, which allows people to tip their favorite creators, only brought in $6,000 in its first two weeks.

The big picture: What's happening now with the creator economy mirrors all of the previous waves of digital media economies built before it via social media, blogging and websites.

  • New platforms have long offered hope of empowering smaller voices, only to see the top creators reap the most benefits.
  • Internet theorist Clay Shirky famously dubbed this phenomenon the "power law distribution" in 2003.

The bottom line: "In systems where many people are free to choose between many options, a small subset of the whole will get a disproportionate amount of traffic (or attention, or income), even if no members of the system actively work towards such an outcome," Shirky wrote.

  • "This has nothing to do with moral weakness, selling out, or any other psychological explanation. The very act of choosing, spread widely enough and freely enough, creates a power law distribution."

What to watch: The same phenomenon is happening today in the news media. While bigger publications like The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal attract millions of digital subscribers, smaller regional papers are struggling to keep up, despite offering a differentiated product.

Go deeper

Jan 11, 2022 - Economy & Business

The ad tech industry's record rebound

Expand chart
Data: LUMA Partners; Chart: Baidi Wang/Axios

A record number of advertising and marketing technology companies went public last year, according to a new report from LUMA Partners, a leading media and marketing investment firm. Deal volume among ad tech, marketing tech and digital media companies soared 82% year-over-year.

Why it matters: It wasn't long ago that investors were pulling back from the ad tech industry, fearing it would crumble as the sector moved away from tracking cookies and toward privacy-focused targeting solutions.

45 million Americans under winter storm watches near New England

Computer model projection showing the winds moving around the powerful East Coast storm on Saturday Jan. 29, 2022. Credit: https://earth.nullschool.net

Nearly 45 million Americans are under winter weather alerts and warnings from North Carolina to northeastern Maine Thursday night, as a major winter storm threatens the region.

Why it matters: It is predicted to be the biggest blizzard since 2018 to strike the Northeast with more than 2 feet of snow possible in parts of eastern Massachusetts, according to the National Weather Service.

1 hour ago - World

Zelensky questions U.S. warnings of "imminent" invasion in Biden call

Biden and Zelensky at the White House last October. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty

President Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had a back-and-forth in their call this evening about just how "imminent" the threat of a Russian invasion might be, according to three sources briefed on the call.

Why it matters: Biden has said previously that he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin will probably "move in" to Ukraine, and White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday afternoon that "an invasion could come at any time."