5 Reasons Creators Are Shifting To Pay-To-Play Content

The influencer marketing industry is ever-changing, and creators know all too well that there are times when one should observe passively vs. other times when one should act quickly. As any influencer can attest, content creation is much more than simply posting once on Instagram or producing one fun TikTok video. Rather, creators are running a business through their personal brand. Each piece they create is strategically crafted and layered in nuance. 

Pay-to-play content comes in many forms. At its core, pay-to-play content refers to original work produced by creators that audiences have to pay to access. It could look like an email newsletter, a Patreon membership, an educational course, a subscription tier on YouTube or Twitch, exclusive fan club content, and so much more. 

Pay-to-play content is a creator’s secret weapon — and more influencers are jumping on this strategy now more than ever before. Here’s why. 


1. There Are More Creative Strategies To Explore

For some creators, the more typical endeavors of creating Instagram in-feed or Facebook posts, TikTok videos, and more may not always scratch their creative itch. Or if they do, perhaps creators are interested in diversifying their skills in other areas. Pay-to-play content is a great outlet for creators to explore new mediums such as podcasting, teaching, newsletter production, journalism, and more. Or it can come to life in more unique ways, like the following examples::


2. Creators Can Gain More Control

Not only does this pay-to-play strategy help creators grow their personal brands, but it’s also a way to empower creators to gain control over their professional futures. An influencer who incorporates a successful pay-to-play model could very well rely on a completely new revenue stream in lieu of brand partnerships — or at the very least, cut down on sponsored content production while prioritizing work that might be more meaningful to them. 

This is an important distinction because of how many people across industries battle burnout, anxiety, and depression in their careers. In fact, a 2021 study found that 78% of content creators are battling career burnout. With greater control and less stress in one’s careers, influencers are more likely to keep doing what they love without putting their health in jeopardy. 


3. It’s A Way To Diversify Revenue Streams

Exploring pay-to-play options to supplement or replace brand partnerships isn’t only beneficial for just professional and mental health reasons. Because of our world’s economic instability and rampant budget cuts, brand partnerships can be tenuous. 

Herein lies the paradox: even though some brands claim that influencer marketing programs are on the chopping block, influencer marketing spending is reported to increase by 23.4% in 2023 — which would bring its predicted spending to $6.2B worldwide. This is good news for influencers — but some creators may still want to have more than one strategy locked and loaded to ensure that their income isn’t jeopardized. With pay-to-play content, slow months with brand partnerships may not be as nerve-wracking as they once were.


4. Underrepresented Creators Are More Empowered

It’s common knowledge that underrepresented creators face many challenges in the space, especially when it comes to getting the same opportunities with brands as their white peers. On this note, Black creators have reported blatant differences in pay when doing the same work as white creators  — a staggering 35% difference, according to a 2021 study.

When brands choose not to work with underrepresented creators, it does a disservice to the creator economy, brand audiences, and society as a whole — to not see the true world represented in media is wrong. Therefore, pay-to-play content is a revitalizing avenue because it empowers creators to make space for themselves and the things that are important to them. There is no campaign to be rejected from, no whitewashing of content, no censorship of sensitive issues, and no bureaucratic red tape to prevent voices from being heard.


5. Competition For Brand Partnerships Is Lowered

With 200 million people worldwide identifying as content creators, you may wonder how they’re all able to secure sustainable work. The reality is that every creator tirelessly advocates for themselves and strives to get their work noticed by brands and obtain sponsorships — but it’s a competitive atmosphere in which not all creators will thrive. 

And, with new competition like virtual influencers entering the chat, creators now have to battle with a non-human option that never gets sick, tired, or needs a break in order to perform at top capacity. Virtual influencers are an increasingly popular entity that poses a legitimate threat to human creators.  Based on a recent Statista report, 75% of adult Gen Z social media users admit to following a virtual influencer.

Pay-to-play strategies have their own challenges — like competition among similar content types and creator niches — but it’s not as cutthroat of a game as brand partnerships. Instead of clamoring for the same campaigns, influencers are vying for the attention of their existing audiences — which is a battle that could be easier and more exciting to manage.


Pay To Play Attention

2023 is the year of self-sufficient influencers. Not only is a pay-to-play content model more sustainable, but it also gives creators more control over their work. It’s a great way for influencers to reach their full potential as their own creative directors, producers, writers, designers, and promoters — something they’ve already been doing under the umbrella of brand partnerships. 

That’s not to say that creators should stop partnering with brands for sponsored content. The reality is that sponsored content and pay-to-play content are equally valid — but it’s up to each influencer to determine which method is best for them to focus on.

What future do you envision for creator content? 


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