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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

Updated Nov 27, 2021 - Technology

From Malcolm X to "Free Britney," new media shapes the justice system

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

True crime documentaries, podcasts and social media campaigns are bringing new attention to real-world legal proceedings — and are often affecting the outcome.

Why it matters: New media platforms can instantly put a national spotlight on cases that have long been forgotten or buried under red tape.

18 mins ago - Politics & Policy

GOP fights itself on shutdown politics

Reporters question Senate Minority Whip John Thune before the Republican Party's weekly lunch on Tuesday. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

GOP leaders on Capitol Hill are scrambling to reach a deal with a bloc of 15 Senate Republicans threatening a government shutdown to force a fight over the Biden administration's vaccine mandates.

Why it matters: The push to defund the mandates — by holding the short-term government funding bill hostageis largely symbolic, and highly controversial within the Republican Party. A shutdown as early as midnight Friday could trigger everything from national park closures to delays in receiving Social Security checks.

Stacey Abrams launches second campaign for Georgia governor

Photo: Eze Amos/Getty Images

Stacey Abrams, voting rights activist and former 2018 candidate for Georgia governor, is running for the position again in 2022. Abrams would be the first Black female governor in the country.

Why it matters: Abrams caught national attention in 2018 by narrowly losing an election to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in a state held firmly by the GOP for nearly two decades.