This is an opinion editorial by Joël Kai Lenz, a professional content writer focused on Bitcoin and the Lightning Network, and host of the “Rabbit Hole Stories” podcast.
In my previous life, as a professional in the legacy digital media world, I used to sit below a giant neon light. I didn’t particularly like the look of the light, but I loved its message. It was a quote by Steve Jobs.
You may have heard or even seen the quote online. It’s the last few words of a famous Apple commercial, where Jobs spoke to society’s outsiders:
“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”
In my earlier internet days, when I spent hours changing the CSS of my Myspace page, I was always fascinated by creators. For some weird reason, I resonated with them. Not because I’m particularly creative but because I liked their approach: You’ll get rewarded if you’re courageous enough and take on risks. Or, in Bitcoin terms, if you put in the proof of work, you will get rewarded.
However, my work wasn’t rewarding anymore. Although I was the misfit in my group — the only one who didn’t graduate in media studies or journalism — I still found a way to blend in. But that was the issue, I blended in and didn’t challenge the people reading my stories. I was just another one of these tech-bro writers who didn’t question anything.
Luckily, I was a contractor, and as long as I pitched stories with unique angles, my editor let me pursue other avenues, outside of the typical tech-bro coverage. He encouraged it, as long as I put in the same effort as I did before. That day, I looked at the neon sign and told myself: You know what? I’m going to take a closer look at changing the word by telling more personal stories, and joining the creator economy myself!
The Problem With The Creator Economy
This was in 2018. TikTok was just starting, Facebook wasn’t involved in as many scandals yet, and YouTube was, in my opinion, at its peak. I felt that on these many emerging platforms, there must be the chance to support myself as a creator and tell the stories that I wanted to tell.
Also, because most of the creator economy was digital, I was sure to run into someone else who was into Bitcoin. After all, it’s magic internet money, and these people have to get paid or want to use this new form of money to their advantage. At least, that’s what I told myself.
Not only was I wrong, but I was also disappointed to find out that there were no creators out there who had an issue with how the creator economy was run. Once you got a peek behind the curtain, you realized that most of these prominent creators were captured by talent agencies.
The deeper I dug, the quicker I realized that there are two currencies in that world. The first currency is the connections and people who you know. The second one was the U.S. dollar. Although I mainly spoke to European creators, all of them told me that they have to obey their audience, and the majority of that audience was in the U.S.
Therefore, the only real currency most of them valued was the U.S. dollar. If they did a good job, their agents could introduce them to better opportunities, and in the end, they would get paid more, all at the whim of Big Tech and payment providers such as PayPal or Stripe.
The number of creators who didn’t want to work with a talent agency or get paid in other currencies was almost nonexistent. Also, remember, this was right after the peak of the 2017 ICO bubble. All of the crypto creators I spoke with got paid in shitcoins that went bust and at that point were not open to accepting anything else but fiat money.
The goal of my pivot to tell more personal stories through the creator economy was to find people who would embark on their quirkiness, question the status quo, and maybe even use bitcoin as an alternative to the fiat system. After 18 months of hard work, attempting to join the creator economy and become empowered to deliver quality content directly to audiences, not much had changed. It seemed as if all of the “creators” were still forced to act in the interest of big agencies or promoteshitcoins to get ahead in their careers.
Subscriptions Have Destroyed The Internet
Like the monetary system at large, the creator economy is also broken and desperately needs a fix.
The main problem that these creators have as relayed to me in my research is their reliance on centralized entities, whether they be the agencies representing them or the gatekeepers online that define what’s morally good or evil. Just like so many other things online, the creator economy is rigged.
Not because the participants decided to rig it, but because they’re part of a controlled environment that likes to possess everything. The best example of this is the subscription model with big media companies.
I get forwarded a ton of Financial Times articles daily. Unless I use a tool to get around the paywall, I must subscribe to the newspaper to read even just one article.
Media outlets require recurring subscriptions for even a single piece of content because they need a steady income stream to facilitate content production, but they also seem to rely on people forgetting what services they signed up for. Many people won’t cancel a subscription, even if they only read one article. You never know when you need it again, so why bother canceling?
That thinking has allowed centralized payment providers to obtain a monopoly on the internet and lock users in for eternities. The same applies to content creators, because they have to play by these rules or offer their content for free, hoping that advertisers recognize them and pay them. Spoiler alert: they never do and they abuse creators just as much as companies abuse customers through subscriptions.
Lightning And Bitcoin Change The Game
Now, this is where Bitcoin and the Lightning Network come into play.
They allow creators to monetize every single piece of content online, whether that be a blog post, video or even a poll. Lightning enables us to interact differently with content. Users won’t have to subscribe to read one article, they can simply pay for that single article on a case-by-case basis.
And this is all without needing to enter card details — just take your phone out or use a web-based wallet, send some sats, and off you go. This incentivizes readers to curate content and their time spent online differently. Instead of blindly subscribing in the hopes of choosing the right service, they can engage with creators and have their voices heard more directly.
You already see this online with places like Nostr or through podcasting 2.0, where people are getting paid directly without a middleman, and followers can voice their support or concern with their sats. Compared to the current model, where users are the product 99% of the time, this new model (which will take some time to flourish) puts the users first, which is crucial.
This model enables everyone online to take part in a better creator economy. It could potentially also lift the barriers you see online these days. To get monetized on a platform like YouTube, you need a minimum number of subscribers and view count, all in favor of YouTube because it can gather data on their audiences, used to show them ads later.
Creators of the Lightning or “Value4Value” economies won’t need YouTube because they only need to offer the content in places where zapping or Lightning infrastructure exists. They could also create content with certain paywalls in mind. A good example would be a book where the author requests payments per chapter instead of for the whole book at once.
These approaches would increase the content quality — after all, you would need to create better content and keep followers entertained to send sats — but it would also increase the financial relationships that creators have with the web as a whole. They’ll be in charge of where and when their funds are released. There will be no more need to wait for biweekly payments with high fees, they can just create invoices and send it to their wallets of choice.
It’s a crazy idea to go against the current tide. However, as Jobs stated in that Apple commercial, it’s the crazy ones who change the world. Bitcoiners are crazy enough to challenge not only central banks and fiat money but also content monetization online.
Therefore, if you speak to a creator friend of yours and they complain about not getting paid, show them how Lightning works, explain what Value4Value is all about and how they can start today.
This is a guest post by Joël Kai Lenz. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.