Forbes' Top Creators: explained for the old and/or stupid!
TikTok goes the clock, counting down until we are all in the grave.
Apologies for anyone whose Monday was unexpectedly not improved by the non-arrival of Future Proof. It was, as I’m sure you know from the global media blackout surrounding the event, the Queen’s funeral. I had originally intended to write anyway – propriety be damned! – but I was roped, in my capacity as a television critic, into writing an analysis of the coverage of the service and procession, which you can read here.
Anyway, now it’s Tuesday and the third Caroline era has begun. Hence why you are receiving this belated newsletter.
This is going to be one of those emails that explains some not-very-complicated stuff, but possibly in quite highfalutin and pompous terms. So apologies in advance. But before we get into it, a note: a reader wrote in last week to say that they had read my piece about groupchats and how they have become the frontline of media dissemination. But they added that their appreciation of the piece had been hamstrung, from the off, by the fact that they didn’t know what a groupchat was. It didn’t really matter how simply I described everything else; they couldn’t get over that hurdle.
Today I’m going to be talking about content creators. If I were an alien just arrived on planet earth, or a boomer, I might be confused about that term. After all, aren’t we all content creators to some extent? In one way or another, isn’t the path through human existence simply the creation of more and more content, until you die?
Well, when people talk about content creators, they are really talking about people who make a living from self-publishing in digital media. So no, Steven Spielberg is not a “content creator”, even though he creates content, because his content is not inherently digital – it’s screened in cinemas, or at least it used to be… – and he’s working as part of a large media operation. It’s the difference between Tom Clancy, who writes book after book for airport WH Smiths, and Joe Nobody who self-publishes erotic fixture about the minor royals on Lulu. It’s the difference between Ed Sheeran, who has a record deal and does stadium tours, and Joe Nobody who sings acoustic covers of R’n’B hits on YouTube with “shorty” and “baby” swapped out for “Beatrice” and “Eugenie”.
The term “content creators” is synonymous, for better or worse, with the following sites (written here in order of importance, according to the vague criteria in my head): YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Twitch, Spotify, OnlyFans, Twitter, Wattpad, Facebook (and Substack/Medium, nerds). If I’ve forgotten something obvious from that list, it’s because I’m not as young as I once was.
Last week, I saw a post on LinkedIn from podtrepreneur James Bishop pointing people in the direction of this Forbes list of the Top Creators 2022 (see how Forbes has even dropped the “content” from the title). “These 49 social media savants,” the piece announced, “are redefining celebrity for our connected age.”
I noticed this piece because it’s the sort of thing that catches my eye – Forbes is very useful in exposing who/what is cutting through to the mainstream – but also because James was lamenting the absence of a LinkedIn content creator on the list. Insert, at this point, the Simpsons meme of Grandpa yelling at the cloud…
Anyway, I wanted to take a moment to run you guys through the list a bit and try and parse what the list is telling us. Who are these people? What do they do? Are they making money? If so, how?
At No.1 on the Forbes list (and don’t worry, I’m not going to go through all 50 of the entries) is, unsurprisingly, MrBeast. Subscribers to this newsletter will remember that, back in April, I dedicated a whole edition of this thing to Mr Beast’s conversation with Joe Rogan, which you can read here. According to Forbes, MrBeast, real-name: Jimmy Donaldson, made $54m last year. Forbes highlights the entrepreneurial nature of his brand, leveraging the success of his YouTube stunts to sell burgers from ghost kitchens. Anyway, you don’t need to hear more about MrBeast.
You also probably don’t need to hear more about No.2, Charli D’Amelio. She’s 18, she’s a dancer on TikTok, and I imagine she’s having her brand managed to death. Still, she and her family (sister Dixie is also on the list (#21), and her mom is competing against her daughter in the current season of Dancing With the Stars) are making bank on a number of cosmetic brand deals. As with MrBeast, the big money isn’t in the native platform, in this case TikTok, but in the associated advertising contracts and, more tellingly, direct sales. D’Amelio Brands – of which Charli is the jewel in the crown – has a $100m valuation before earning a cent in revenue or producing a single product. Forbes estimates D’Amelio’s earnings at $17.5m for 2021.
At No.3 and repping for all the spotty podcasters in their moms’ basements, is Alex Cooper, host of Call Her Daddy. Forbes estimates that Cooper netted $20m in 2021, predominantly from the $60m that she signed with Spotify. She also has an average engagement score (the four metrics Forbes uses for the rankings are: earnings, followers, avg. engagement and a mysterious “entrepreneurship score”) of 15.98%, far higher than either MrBeast (5.99%) or Charli D’Amelio (2.16%).
At No.4 is predominantly Instagram based meme-maker FuckJerry (can’t imagine how the dude behind it, Elliot Tebele, has made a cent, but apparently they’ve released a card game and a tequila) and at No.5 it’s Emma Chamberlain, one of the more diversified creators on the list. Chamberlain is Instagram focused, with 16.1m followers on Facebook’s image/video sharing platform, but she’s also a major force on YouTube (11.8m subs) and in podcasting, where her show, Anything Goes, is a regular chart-topper. Oh, and don’t forget her direct sales: she has her own brand of coffee, Chamberlain Coffee, that’s helped her to $12m in earnings.