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The future of the creator economy: 10 bold predictions for the next 10 years

Look to the future with Podia CEO, Spencer Fry, and his ten predictions about the creator economy for the next 10 years. Plus, why they matter for you.

January 6, 2021 by Spencer Fry

I founded Podia six years ago. 

Today, we’ve served more than 80,000 creators and counting, and my job is to spend as much time as I can thinking about one question:

“What’s the future of the creator economy?”

What will it look like in the next one, two, five, and ten years, and what does that mean for Podia, our creators, and all future creators?

Given the explosion in the creator economy over the last year, a lot of creators are asking this question themselves, and for the first time ever, I’m going to share my predictions publicly. 

Keep in mind that these predictions aren’t backed by third-party trend research or rigorous industry analysis, but by my own experiences “living” in this world day in and day out. I expect to be right on some, wrong on others, and to miss many more.

The toolset for the creator economy is still being built

The early days of the creator economy, less than a decade ago, went something like this:

A creator would put a digital product (eBook, audiobook, online course, etc.) up for sale, typically hacking together their own payment and delivery mechanisms — and later, perhaps a couple of rudimentary WordPress plugins — and tell people about it. They might email their list, or post to early social media platforms, or share it on some forums.

They’d wait for sales to trickle in, and hope that buyers would promote the product further.

There wasn’t much meat on the creator economy’s bones at this time. These were pioneers who were hoping to share some knowledge, and maybe earn a few dollars along the way. The legend of the million-dollar creator didn’t exist yet.

Fast-forward several years, and the existing tools out there have mostly focused on creating software that makes the above simpler and easier to do for creators. But the tasks the market has empowered creators to do haven’t evolved as much as you’d think. They didn’t have to, because new creators didn’t need much more than that.

This will change over the next decade as the needs of creators change, too. 

A lot of the infrastructure for the creator economy has been built by Podia and others, and these existing platforms will continue to evolve. More supporting tools, powering niche functions and secondary needs, were built in 2020 than ever before. And 2021 is going to bring even more, going deeper into the cracks and crevices of the creator journey: before a creator starts selling, during, and long after.

There are many parallels between the digital creator economy and the physical e-commerce economy. Many of the tools that support physical e-commerce, from the back office to the front end, will need to be built to support the digital creator economy as well. 

Browsing Shopify’s 5,000+ App Store apps might give you an idea of what digital creators need today or will need in the future.

There is a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs and investors to help build and shape the creator economy — and I welcome everyone. Here’s what I think will happen as this market grows:

Prediction #1: Creators will connect with their audience in new ways, and that connection will be far more important than it is today

The next 10 years will be led by businesses that make it simpler and easier for creators to connect with and support their audiences.

This is something we’ve been dipping Podia’s proverbial toe into over the past few years:

  • In 2017, we introduced a memberships feature to Podia as our first foray into connecting creators with their audiences.
  • In 2019, we introduced a messaging feature.
  • In 2021, we’ll take our third step (and biggest by far) by introducing many more ways for creators to connect with their audiences and for their audience members to connect with each other.

I’m being a little vague here about the specific details of what we’ll be releasing over the next year, but I believe that building tools for creators to connect with their audiences, and for their audiences to connect with each other, is the future.

That’s not to say that this’ll be every creator’s path, and it’ll certainly take time to see more widespread adoption across the market.

Some will choose to sell and market in the traditional ways, but those who want to create real communities and strong brands and not get left behind will need to eventually catch up.

Prediction #2: More and more online courses will have a live component

We’re already seeing this trend since we released our webinar feature back in March of last year. 

It turns out that online courses that have a live component sell better, and for higher prices, than online courses that don’t.

This makes a lot of sense, but before 2020, we didn’t see a lot of creators doing this. The online courses that were being created were typically evergreen (i.e., students could purchase them anytime, and start/stop when they choose).

The powerful thing about having live webinars or discussions that go along with your online course is that it creates accountability, community, and a personal touch, all adding value to the student’s experience and their outcome.

Prediction #3: More online courses will run as cohorts

A cohort is a group of people going through a course at the same time.

Just like the live component, cohorts increase accountability and give every student a sense of community.

While there may be more work for a creator, a cohort-based course can be priced higher for the added value the cohort provides the buyer, as well as the scarcity it creates by forcing buyers to purchase by a specific date or risk missing out.

Cohorts are most successful when combined with a live component and a community.

Prediction #4: Private and small group sessions will become as popular as online courses

While they’re not nearly as popular today, creators will sell more of their time, either as individual sessions or group sessions over live video.

These sessions will either be standalone, sold as part of an online course, or as upsells within the online course itself to help students better apply the concepts they’re learning.

This is contrary to the reason many creators originally get into digital products (“sell your work, not your time!”), but we see many creators reframe this as their business grows. They go from “stop selling your time” to “sell your time in a way that’s profitable, inspiring, and gratifying for you”.

And as the technology becomes better, internet speeds get faster, and the inherent need of people to connect face-to-face increases, this shift will only accelerate.

Live cooking classes, exercise classes, and anything that might have previously been taken in a classroom or activity space will be able to shift online.

Online classes are less expensive to run, can reach people anywhere on earth, can be run more frequently, and creators can spend less time delivering them. These also tend to have price tags that are less expensive than in-person classes, which attracts more buyers.

It’s a win-win for everyone.

Prediction #5: The creator economy is less than 1% of what it’ll be in my lifetime

The creator economy has grown a lot since I first joined in 2014, and with COVID-19, it’s been exploding with every passing month.

Not only has Podia seen tremendous growth this past year, but every platform that serves creators is growing. And, more importantly, creators are making more money than ever before, with more people willing to buy.

When I’ve spoken to first-time creators over the past few months, their mindset has shifted from “selling digital products online is something I may need to consider” to a clear message of “this is something I need to do to evolve my business, and I’m not looking back”.

In fact, creators telling us they’re “not going back” after switching to online entrepreneurship is one of the most noticeable, and encouraging, trends we see every day in our support inbox.

There are more motivated creators than ever before, selling more digital products, and creating more demand among buyers. This isn’t going to stop.

When I first told people the idea behind Podia back in 2016, many stared blankly; now there isn’t a single person I come across who doesn’t understand what we’ve built and what the creator economy is.

Even people who have never heard of it understand that selling digital products is the future.

There’s nothing quite like being at the start of a new market.

Prediction #6: Creators will not sell on any platform that takes a percentage of their sales

We’re already seeing this happen at Podia, but over the next ten years, the value of a marketplace to a creator (or any platform that takes a percentage of sales beyond payment processing costs) will diminish to zero or almost zero.

There’s simply no reason for it when you look at people like John D. Saunders who switched to Podia from Udemy and earned over $100,000, compared to the $1,100 he earned on Udemy, which took a large chunk of his sales.

Marketplaces were great for creators in the early days of the creator economy, as there were limited ways to find creators and their products. Today, fantastic online course marketing guides exist, and the benefits a creator gets from listing on a marketplace is close to zero.

They’re too saturated, they take too large of a cut, and creators are no longer okay with “renting” an audience; they want to own their relationship with their customers and build a sustainable business.

As the market matures, creators will gladly pay a reasonable monthly amount to a platform in exchange for keeping all of their revenue and their audience.

Prediction #7: Creators will grow from solopreneurs to team players

Selling digital products is mostly a solo business today, but I predict that over the next ten years, more creators will work with other people to build their creator businesses.

Especially as you start to scale into the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, a creator business is just like any other business and often requires additional people to help you grow it.

Creating a business around digital products takes a lot of time and resources to do well, and having additional people to work with, hold you accountable, and push the business forward will appeal to a lot of creators as the economy matures.

Creators will be able to put out more content, more products, offer better support, and reach more people as a team than they can on their own.

Prediction #8: Google and other search engines will promote digital products as they do physical e-commerce in search results

Google and other search engines have been listing e-commerce products in the search results for quite some time now.

Digital products (online courses, eBooks, communities, webinars, and so on) don’t get the same prominence in Google search results today, but over the next decade, as more people across the world are shopping online for digital products, Google will begin to overtly promote these products at the top of the search results.

Listing digital products in the search results will lead to more sales for creators, and more people flocking to become creators as the creator economy booms.

Prediction #9: Buyers will look online for digital products (classes, courses, etc.) before looking in-person

It’s clear today that more and more people are turning to the internet to shop for products before looking in local stores. COVID-19 accelerated this, and there’s absolutely no way that the trend doesn’t continue over the next decade. Fortunately, many local stores are adapting, though many more will need to.

With this trend of online shopping, more people are going to be searching for digital products (e.g., live cooking classes or piano courses) before looking for a local venue that offers in-person events.

There are several reasons for this:

  1. The price point of online classes and courses tend to be lower than their in-person counterparts
  2. It’s a great household activity that you can get everyone to participate in, rather than schlepping to a physical space — do it in your pajamas!
  3. Event hosts can reach more people and from all areas of the world
  4. The technology is only getting better to support these types of live events
  5. The teachers are only getting better at hosting and creating great experiences for their customers
  6. No rent!

This will lead to more creators hosting online events rather than in-person. It’ll especially be true for people who want to test whether or not they have an audience of customers before investing in local space.

The startup cost for entrepreneurship makes it accessible to anyone, and that’s one thing that won’t change.

Prediction #10: Creators will trust a single platform for everything (website, products, payment, email, etc.)

As platforms like Podia become better every single week, creators will look for all-in-one platforms that do everything they need to run their digital creator business.

Why host your website, email, checkout, marketing tools, and everything else on separate platforms? You lose continuity, your customers are scattered, it costs more, you need to use another tool to make everything talk to each other, and you don’t get the convenience of everything under the same roof.

A lot of all-in-one platforms that exist today will continue to mature and get better with every passing week. And a lot of uni-tasker solutions will eventually need to expand to cover more of the creator stack, or integrate deeply with all-in-one offerings, in order to survive.

The future is an all-in-one platform that has everything you need to run your business.

Let’s see what happens

The creator economy is just getting started, and I predict that there’s going to be a lot of shakeup over the next decade as creators, customers, and platforms become more mature.

The future is ready for anyone who gets in early, sticks with it, and builds a creator business around authentically offering their digital products directly to their audience.

Best of luck to everyone. I’ll be here to support you and ensure that Podia continues to look to the future.

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