The sheer amount of content that we have access to online is staggering, and much of it is available free-of-charge. Social media platforms. News articles. Podcasts. YouTube videos (for the most part). Blog posts. And so much more. They’re all out there on the web, just waiting for anyone and everyone to consume them without paying a dime.
This is something we’ve come to expect and maybe even to take for granted. But what too many of us fail to recognize is that all of these things that we enjoy are being created by people who devote their time, energy, and resources to making the best content that they can for others to enjoy. Creators pour themselves into making content that is valuable to their audiences, and creating that value is costly. Sure, it may be free for us, the end users, but it isn’t free for those who make it.
The way that the internet has traditionally dealt with this imbalance is by enabling creators to place advertisements in and around their content. Advertisers recognize that quality content attracts attention, and they’re willing to pay money in order to piggyback on that quality and potentially attract some attention from consumers for themselves.
But the ad-supported model that the internet has relied on so heavily for the entirety of its existence has some serious flaws, and those flaws are only becoming more apparent. How much should content creators be compensated? Should advertisers have any control over the content that their brands are associated with? How do those (like YouTube) who bridge the gap between creators and advertisers navigate the differing—and often even conflicting—priorities of the parties involved?
These are difficult questions, and the current system is proving itself inadequate for addressing them. Thus, many creators are seeking alternative forms of funding their projects that rely less on traditional models and more on the people creators care about most: their audiences. Plunging advertising rates and increased content “guidelines” are forcing those who make content online to re-think their strategies and come up with new, creative ways to make a living.
Naturally, the vast majority of internet users are going to be resistant to this sort of change. After all, why would you want to pay money for something that you usually get for free? But the truth is that you are paying every time you access ad-supported content, through the time you spend engaging with advertisements and the data that advertisers gather about you as you browse the web. Online consumers have always paid for their content in this way; now we’re being offered alternatives that protect our privacy and more directly support the creators that we enjoy.
I must admit that as an online content creator myself, I am a little biased. I know the amount of time, effort, money, anguish, sacrifice, and more that goes into the process of making content for the internet, and I’m nowhere near the level of professional content creators who do this sort of thing for a living. (Note: I currently do not monetize any of my online content through ads or any other means.) But as I look over the landscape of the amazing content offered online today from some incredible creators, I can’t help but feel a sense of duty to support those who make the content that enriches my life.
Educational videos that help me understand the world in new ways. Podcasts that amplify voices I would have never heard otherwise. Articles that inform me about events taking place in the world right now. Not to mention software and platforms that allow me to connect with others and conduct my life in deeper, more meaningful ways. All of these things have tangible, real-world value. Who am I to passively consume all of this content and never expect to give anything back?
As I said above, I understand that this is an emerging idea that many will approach with skepticism at best. To be honest, my thoughts on this issue have developed over time and only recently come to any sort of actionable conclusion. But I’ve come to understand that supporting content creators is an important responsibility that I can no longer neglect. What exactly that support looks like will vary drastically at different times and with different people, but I’d like to conclude with just a few ways that you can support online content creators if, like me, you feel convicted to do so:
- consume | On the most basic level, experiencing a creator’s content is the easiest way to support them. Whether it’s reading a blog post, watching a video, listening to a podcast, or whatever else, simply being a part of the audience does help creators in big ways, especially if they still rely on the ad-supported model.
- engage | You know how annoying it is when a YouTuber asks you to like and comment on their video or a podcaster pleads with you to “review us on Apple Podcasts” at the end of each episode? Well, they’re asking you to do that because it really does make a difference. Engagement is a key way for creators to increase discoverability. It’s a way for them to demonstrate that their content has appeal and value. Plus, it’s a fun, easy, and free way to help out someone who’s given you something you really enjoy, and it gives you a chance to offer feedback and constructive criticism, potentially leaving an impact on future content.
- share | Whether you realize it or not, you have a platform. You have influence. There are people within your networks (both online and offline) who value your opinion and are are willing to check out content that you endorse. So if you find something on the internet that really speaks to you or that you find of particular value, tell someone about it. Tweet about it. Text the link to a friend. If it comes up in conversation, let people know where you got your information and how much you enjoy the creator who provided you with it. Your stamp of approval is valuable, and if you love something, why wouldn’t you want others to experience it as well?
- contribute | This is by far the biggest and most difficult step in supporting content creators, but it’s also the one that helps them out the most. Whether it’s pledging to give monthly on Patreon, subscribing to YouTube Red, buying merchandise, or some other means of giving, contributing money to fund a content creator is a profound and impactful way of telling them how much you love their content and giving them the ability to make more of it. It requires a bit of sacrifice on your part, but that sacrifice means the world to the one who receives it, someone who themselves has sacrificed a lot in order to bring you something worthwhile.
Am I saying that you owe money to every person you watch, read, or listen to online? Of course not. Very few people have that kind of means. But most of us have enough to give at least a small amount to the content creators who enrich our lives the most, and I believe that if we want to keep the internet full of interesting, engaging, enriching content, it’s on us to make it possible.