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Report claims indie US creators earned $6.8bn online in 2018


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A year ago, Music Ally reported on a study calculating the value of the ‘independent creator economy’ in the US, from an organisation called the Re:Create Coalition. It claimed that musicians, filmmakers, artists and other creators earned nearly $6bn from online platforms including YouTube, Instagram, Twitch, eBay and Etsy in 2016.

We also noted that the coalition was formed of tech-industry bodies, internet-activist organisations and a consultancy with Google as a client, with an emphasis for “balanced copyright” and against “efforts to turn US Copyright law into a one-way ratchet” – which was important context for understanding the motivations behind the report. But we still felt there was some useful data in it.

Anyway, the study has now been repeated for 2017, with bigger numbers. “16.9 million independent, American creators earned a baseline of $6.8 billion from posting their music, videos, art, crafts and other works online in 2017,” is the headline claim. “Building upon last year’s study, the updated report found the number of new creators grew by 2.4 million (16.6%) and total revenues grew by 14.8%.” As before, the study covers nine platforms: Amazon Publishing, eBay, Etsy, Instagram, Shapeways, Tumblr, Twitch, WordPress and YouTube.

Instagram was the fastest-growing platform in terms of revenues generated by creators, up 49.5% to $460.1m for an estimated 5.6 million US creators – around $82 per head on average, although clearly there’s a wide spectrum of earnings. The study claims that 2.2 million YouTube creators earned just over $4bn on that platform in 2017 – around $1.8k each on average (but again: a big spectrum). The report does stress that these numbers are just for independent creators – “distinct from mainstream artists such as Ariana Grande or Dwayne Johnson”.

It remains a shame that crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Patreon aren’t included, as well as D2C platforms like Bandcamp for the music industry. It would also be really interesting for this kind of report to grapple with the question of how much truly-independent musicians are making from the big streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music – a topic Midia Research and WIN recently engaged with on a global basis. This ‘artists direct’ sector deserves more research.

In any case, the nature of the Re:Create Coalition – and the continued tensions around copyright reform and safe harbour – may lead many music-industry people to write off the new study as propaganda. That would still be a shame: the context of who produced this report and why they did it is important, but understanding how independent creators are making money from the platforms that it does cover can also be useful for our industry, right up to Ariana-level artists.

So: be aware of the context; keep an open mind about the data; and remember that there is a debate (well, a steaming great row, more accurately) about the extent to which copyright reform would affect the earnings of independent creators – not just for worse, but perhaps for better.

Stuart Dredge

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