This question was recently asked on X. Is the creator economy a pyramid scheme? The answer is no — because it doesn’t need to be and when you look at a lot of creators, it is not. But the answer is becoming yes because of what is happening.
To expand on this. Let’s look at the first wave of creators — for this I am talking about everyone who started out before 2020. In my area, which is productivity, I am largely looking at people like Thomas Frank, Matt D’Avella, Carl Pullein and Francesco D’Alessio. You could include Ali Abdaal in here as well but he is slightly special case in my view. They are creating content in a specific niche or area. They have built a sizeable audience over a significant length of time. Carl Pullein recently reached 100,000 YouTube subscribers and it has taken him 7 years of consistent creation to get there. This wave of creators is not a pyramid scheme.
During lockdown and in the post pandemic period, everyone wants a ‘side hustle’. I don’t know if part of the impact of lockdown has been that people have spent more time consuming content like this, but there does seem to have been a boom of people ‘building in public’ and seeking to throw off the shackles of the 9 to 5 and work for themselves creating content.
Here is where it gets messy. In part the boom in creators is due to lure of people like Ali Abdaal or Thomas Frank telling us that they make $thousands or even $millions online from their business. This is great that they do this and great that they share this. But, this content represents a small fraction of what they produce. This is important. Everyone who is starting out creating content wants to build an audience. But, we (note I am including myself here), are not thrilled at the prospect of writing into the void for 5+ years until our audience has grown to a significant size. We would love to see explosive growth in the first 6 months and be able to quit our jobs and live an amazing life with minimal effort whilst the content we produce in a few hours a week earns $millions for us in the background.
It is an important point to note that this expectation is totally the opposite of what people like Thomas Frank, Matt D’Avella and Carl Pullein would say we should expect and would say we need to do. They advocate that hard work, patience, action, consistency and time are all required to build an audience.
But the boom in creators wanting an audience quickly has created a massive demand, even a hunger, for tips, guides and advice on how to build an audience. So, enter the second wave of creators. They have seen this demand and have stepped in to exploit it. I am not criticising these people. I know none of them but strongly suspect that they would be people with experience in social media marketing, SEO and the like and made the most of an opportunity by creating a new niche to genuinely help the growing pool of creators. I suspect their audiences would boom with people coming to their feet to learn the secrets of building a content business that can support that dream lifestyle.
And so, many would witness this and see that teaching people how to build an audience is a quick way to build an audience. Enter the third wave. This wave would not have the same expertise from their previous work but would be in a position to quickly grow their audience by sharing the things that they have learned about how to grow their audience. The way I imagine this goes down is more like survival of the fittest — or survival of the type of content that generates the most engagement and increases your audience. You may write about productivity or tech, but you produce one post about audience building and the numbers lead you to double down on that topic in future.
And so we enter the cycle — wave after wave of creators, building their audience by teaching people how to build their audience and providing systems and templates that enable this.
This is the pyramid scheme, though I think it’s by accident more than design.
The sad thing is, the wave will break on the final generation of this who spend $$$ on templates and courses and implement the ideas but by this point …. everyone has had enough.
So, my advice, stop seeking the quick build. Stop producing content about building your audience. Find whatever area you originally wanted to talk about and double down on that. Patience, Action, Consistency & Time. It may take 7 years, but if you love the topic, its going to be worth it.