The Future of the Creator Economy
A convo with Embedded's Kate Lindsay
In lieu of links this week — mostly because there is no news, just end-of-year lists; how many end-of-year lists can the internet produce? the limit apparently does not exist — here’s a conversation I had with Kate Lindsay, one of my very favorite internet writers.
Embedded, the newsletter she publishes with Nick Catucci, is one of my absolute favorites. They’re never not ahead of the curve. (For example, she covered this on December 14, and the NYT didn’t get around to covering it until the 23rd.) You can subscribe here! But you should also follow her on Twitter, because she’s a pretty prolific freelancer and you don’t want to miss any of her bylines.
Ahead of our conversation, I’d been thinking about what, if anything, I learned in the last six or so months of tracking youth culture trends. Was there a sweeping conclusion or action point or theory or something profound I could share?
Beyond the quite obvious hunch that we (or I, at least) would be much better off reading more books and doing less scrolling, I think something meaningful to keep in mind is that, like any generation and/or cohort of young people, Gen Z is nuanced and ever-shifting and constantly trying to figure themselves out. But that’s what has always made adolescents so interesting, both now and fifty years ago. They have no idea who the heck they are, so they’re much more willing to try out different identities and styles and technologies. Generations, as a concept, may be flawed, but generational trends absolutely matter. (Even if those generational trends are the very same generational trends millennials invented 20 years ago. 🙃)
With that, I’ll kick it over to Kate, who had much more thoughtful things to share.
What are the most memorable or surprising things you've learned reporting on creators in the last year?
I think one of the most memorable takeaways is how now that creators are being recognized as legitimate workers, infrastructure is being built for the industry, such as SAG-AFTRA opening up to influencers so they can contribute to healthcare and retirement plans. Entering an industry with built-in legitimacy (as opposed to millennial creators, who had to carve the path by asserting their own legitimacy) I find younger creators are much more open about talking about money, sponsorships, and the realities of being creators—and their audiences are also aware and want to support them in those things.
Has being Very Online and aware of trends impacted the way you consume (specifically shopping, but also more broadly)? What has TikTok made you buy it, as they say?
Absolutely. I'd like to say seeing the ways trends move so fast has made me consume less, because I know how quickly the shirt or pattern will lose relevance, but I think that attitude has also itself been informed by trends and creators. I follow many sustainable influencers whose content has had an overwhelming impact on my behavior. TikTok still influences my habits, but I'm primed to filter out a lot of the noise. For instance, I started going to the farmer's market regularly because of Emily Mariko, and am this close to purchasing the tools to gua sha, but I would never buy a Shein dress or the latest thing to curl hair, because by the time it arrives, I know things will have moved on.
I feel the exact same, and if anything, following trends more closely has made me reject trends altogether and just want to wear my Levi’s and crewneck sweaters and Converse (black, not brown, because I am a trend-rejecter!) for the rest of my life. Are there any specific trends you're excited about in the new year?
I used to think Twitter would be the first of the major platforms to collapse, but I'm more and more thinking it's Instagram. I'm not excited for it, necessarily, because I loved what Instagram was and how it used to make me feel, but it's not that anymore. If it does peter out, it'll be because users — Gen Z, specifically —found an alternative, and I'm looking forward to what that is.
Has the last year of reporting on, among other things, the creator economy left you with optimism? Dread? (I vacillate between feeling really excited about how so many rules — professionally, personally — are being re-written because of The Great Resignation, etc, and at the same time, the creator economy as The Future makes me feel like I want to move to a cabin in the middle of the woods with no internet).
I think something firmly in the middle. The model of the creator economy is being replicated across industries — most notably, journalism. Writers going to Substack is a microtrend in media, but part of a larger shift in the creator economy towards direct payments instead of sponsorships (aka, advertising). I'm very outspoken about the specific ways social media and the creator industry can be toxic, but if it becomes the scaffolding for more industries, the advice can no longer just be "log off." It will actually have to be addressed and made more sustainable.
Thank you, Kate!
And thank you all for subscribing and reading and supporting this lil project of mine. Happy New Year!
And, finally, apologies in advance for any typos. I’ve been mainlining sugar cookies (these specifically) and egg nog for a week, and my brain is feeling it.
Funny, I feel that boredom with Instagram so hard that I redownloaded Twitter this year. It feels like it's inching closer and closer to Pinterest as time passes.