From mommy bloggers to TikTok stars: How creators built a $250B industry

Oct 30, 2023
From mommy bloggers to TikTok stars: How creators built a $250B industry
The first blog appeared on the internet 30 years ago. Today, there are millions of content creators producing blogs, vlogs, podcasts, video content, newsletters and more, and online creation has become a major industrial sector.

On YouTube alone, creators support the equivalent of 390,000 full-time jobs in the United States, according to the video giant — four times more than General Motors, America’s biggest automaker. More than 70 percent of American adults under 30 say they follow an influencer on social media, according to a 2022 Pew Research Center survey. A majority of those young social media users say influencers sway their decisions as consumers.

The U.S. government does little to measure or regulate this industry, so hard data about the sector is difficult to find. But estimates suggest that online creation supports tens of millions of workers and attracts hundreds of millions of customers. This year, Goldman Sachs valued the creator economy at $250 billion and predicted that it would double to nearly half a trillion dollars in the next five years.

Here are some key moments in the rise of the creator economy.

Blogging takes off
The first easy-to-use tools for online publishing appear, allowing anyone with light computer skills to share their thoughts with a digital community. Personality-driven blogs by young mothers begin to attract big audiences, while other blogs edge into the world of traditional media, covering news, politics, music, film and fashion.

The party photo era
Nightlife photography moves online, propelling a new generation of “it girls” to cult fandom on blogs like Hipster Runoff and the Cobrasnake. Together with the rise of reality TV and viral video stars on YouTube, they transform the definition of celebrity, making it seem as if almost anyone can become famous.

Money floods in
Technological advances supercharge mobile phone use, allowing creators to easily record videos and upload them for a rapidly growing audience of smartphone users. Venture capitalists take note, pouring cash into multichannel networks, which offer YouTube creators services such as audience development and monetization in exchange for a cut of their earnings.

America goes viral
The wild growth of video apps like Vine and Snapchat — as well as the microblogging site Twitter — reveal the power of the internet to make any random person famous. But that power also begins to be weaponized, opening a bitter, new front in the culture war.

Backlash and burnout
The election of Donald Trump as president turns a spotlight on social media and its most problematic content, including misinformation and extreme stunts by content creators. Creators, meanwhile, start speaking openly about the mental health costs of nonstop creation and the tyranny of social media algorithms.

The TikTok era
As the coronavirus pandemic shuts down public life around the globe, people turn to their phones for shopping and entertainment. Downloads of TikTok and Twitch spike, and views skyrocket for online creators of every stripe.