Monetizing a Small Audience

April 29, 2019

If automation continues to eat manual human jobs, it seems like the future of work looks a lot more like humans entertaining each other. If that's true, we're going to need more tools for earning a living from that kind of work, especially when it comes to small audiences.

We're already well into the fragmentation of celebrity. Maybe there were hundreds of celebrities in the 1950's, and now there are tens of thousands of influencers making a full-time living on YouTube and other platforms. What's the logical next step for this trend?

To me, it's millions of people making a full-time living off an even smaller audience. I can't come up with a great term for this type of person, so for now we'll call them "entertainers." If you have a better term in mind, please tweet at me.

Here's the step by step layout:

  1. Celebrities: Hundreds of creators, tens of millions of fans
  2. Influencers: Tens of thousands of creators, hundreds of thousands of fans
  3. Entertainers: Millions of creators, thousands of fans

Each step in the progression needs to be enabled by new distribution and monetization technologies. We couldn't have had celebrities without television and movie theaters. We couldn't have had tens of thousands of influencers without platforms for them to distribute and monetize content at the right scale.

What will it take to make it possible for millions of people to earn a full-time living from an even smaller audience?

Right now, for the most part, it takes a large audience to make a full-time living as a content creator. AdSense needs lots of eyeballs to generate serious income. Brand deals only make sense with influencers who have a big enough audience to justify the friction of negotiating and paying for a partnership.

Platforms like Patreon and Substack have made the first steps towards allowing people to monetize smaller audiences. After all, just 1,000 patrons at $10/mo means $120k in annual income. Both are relatively simple models where audience members pay monthly either as a donation, or to receive content and rewards.

I'm interested in any new technology that will enable better monetization of a small audience, and I think that pretty soon we'll have lots of new and creative ways to do this.

Cameo is one company that's way ahead on this trend. Their product lets you purchase a personalized video shoutout from a celebrity. The key insight is that in today's environment, the scarce resource is an influencer's attention back towards their audience members. There's not enough time for every fan to be acknowledged, and Cameo's product provides access to that scarce resource.

Another interesting model I saw recently is Camelot. They're providing a "video bounty" platform for influencers. Any fan can pay money to request a specific video from their favorite creator. Their product is still brand new, so it's yet to be seen if it will actually work.

I'd love to see more products within this line of thinking. In part because I'd love to earn an income through content that I produce, but I don't think I've quite reached the bar for Patreon or Substack to make a difference for me. Maybe the right tool could change that.