How do you combine ownership over what you create, and fair pay of creative work with reach, standing out, and finding the right audience? With the creator economy at its highest peak and continuing to grow each year by 48%, the appeal to become a creator is high, and promises are big.
In 1971, political scientist Herbert Simon already predicted the creator economy to be the main replacement of the industrial- and consumer economy. Or as he described it: “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently.”
In other words: stuff is no longer the sought after good. Instead, the information abundance turned engagement into the next money-making machine, with new winners and losers. And oh boy, he was right.
Creator stories beyond Social Media
When we think of the creator economy and its ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, the most obvious stories we tend to think of are those of creators on social media platforms like YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram. Big platforms are making a lot of revenue and creators being left with only a small percentage of that. Interestingly, most data and reports take into account just that; the data of social media content creators and the business models linked to those platforms.
However, according to Stripe, one of the largest segments within the Creator Economy is the Education sector. While it’s true that educational content creators do heavily lean on said social media platforms to build community, an important chunk of their income can come through various online course platforms, of which we have less official research and data compared to social media platforms.
So what are the stories when it comes to those educational platforms? Who are the winners and who are the ones left on the other side of the equation? And when it comes to education, should there even be a case of ‘winning’ and ‘losing’?
“When it comes to education, should there even be a case of winning and losing?”
Let’s find out! We’ve sat down to talk with Rik Lomas. As the founder of the online course platform SuperHi he knows the stories from victory to struggles that educational creators face like no other. And has experienced some of them himself.
What challenges did you have with setting up SuperHi and creating content from scratch?
Rik Lomas: Originally, SuperHi was a bootstrapped business. As the solo founder, it was hard work trying to get it off the ground and came with a ton of risk. Trying to build an audience that may not have been there, investing a ton of time on something that no one may have given shit about, and having no real feedback mechanism for what I was doing either. I also had to spend time freelancing to pay the bills which meant a lot less focus and momentum for what I was wanting to do.
“When you’re wanting to do a massive, lofty goal like ‘change how people learn online’, it’s tough to be capped by both money and time.”
What would you say are the biggest struggles (educational) creators face now?
RL: At the moment, there are really two ways to be a content creator. Either you take on all the risk yourself, like I did starting SuperHi, or you go and produce content for a company and they own your content outright.
The problem with this all-or-nothing choice is that in the first scenario, you will have to invest money from your own pocket. In reality this usually means that the creator has at least one other occupation next to creating content. Apart from the fact that you take on a huge personal risk (potentially losing your savings with no result), it can mean that as a creator you have less time and resources to focus on the content creation. This can impact the quality of your content which then impacts again most likely its success. In both cases, neither the student or creator benefits.
In the second scenario, we often see that companies charge large fees and the creator can’t make a sustainable income. Next to that, many platforms regularly release courses of similar topics, resulting in competition among the creators. For students, it can result in a paradox of choice. They simply choose the video with most views and miss out on the content that might be best for them.
The platform comes out as the biggest winner along with a hand full of creators that managed to beat the algorithm, but the majority of creators are left with results below their initial expectations.
Designing a win-win-win model: for student, creator and platform
How does SuperHi approach this situation?
RL: Throughout the last years we have been working heavily on how we can support creatives to make a living through the SuperHi platform and how we can offer our students more diverse and quality content. We’ve always been a progressive, and forward-thinking company – we were the first company to properly support a transparent basic income project.
To take that even further, we’re currently working on the largest change for SuperHi so far, called SuperHi Plus. We’re wanting to help up-and-coming, and established creators make the best content for the web and share it with a large, established community through our platform. We’ll be opening SuperHi up to allow new creators to post their content to the SuperHi community—something we’ve never done before.
The main difference between compared to other platforms, is that we’re fully leaning into the idea of collaboration over competition, through a new model that we’re calling co-ownership.
Okay, so what exactly does co-ownership mean for a content creator?
RL: Think of it similar to say a record label or a film producer. We want to see great, high-quality content out in the world so we’re going to be supporting content creators by reducing their exposure to risk and helping them with funding and guidance throughout a 12-week program.
For the creator, it’s completely free to sign up and they’ll be able to choose a level of funding, between $6,000 and $12,000. In return, we will take between 10–20% of revenue from the content they make from the program. For SuperHi, it’s in our interest to help make successful content as co-owners with the creators. Through this new model, we’re aligning incentives from all sides. It’s a win for creators, a win for viewers, and a win for SuperHi if we all collaborate to make great content.
What about all the current SuperHi members? Do they get to see this content?
RL: Yes! Through SuperHi Plus, we’re allowing creators to publish their content on the SuperHi platform, which all of our members will have access to. This also means we’ll be opening up the revenue we make on annual memberships. We are splitting it with creators in a transparent way, allowing them to gain instant access to a large creative community, eager to learn new skills.
Then, how do you make sure the revenue is split in a transparent way?
RL: We’re keeping the membership split simple – the minutes of your content watched as a percentage of everyone’s minutes watched is what percentage of the pot you receive every month.
If I’m a creator, will SuperHi Plus look like SuperHi-branded content?
RL: No, it won’t. The look and feel of the content is up to the creator, and we can help them with developing a brand style and tone of voice too. In fact, we’ve been rebuilding a lot of our technical infrastructure specifically to be less tied to SuperHi as a company. Our philosophy is to build an ecosystem of tools that can outlive SuperHi and be interoperable. We’re committed to building the best creator-focused tools on the internet, even if it means those tools outlive SuperHi.
“Our philosophy is to structure our tech so that it can outlive SuperHi and be interoperable”
How does that work though? How do you even make technology that’s not tied to a company?
RL: Lots of things are not tied to a particular company! For example, take a JPG file. That isn’t tied to a particular company but you can use tools like Photoshop or Figma to export and import JPGs without being specifically tied to Adobe. Similarly, I can listen to MP3s on any program that supports them.
We’re building out a standardized model for content that allows creators flexibility of the content that they own. If a creator wants to put their content on their own website and have a SuperHi member login to view that content, that will be possible. They won’t need to be tied to the SuperHi site to watch content.
Our goal here is to make the best tools that support a standardized format. So it that guarantees creators’ content would continue to exist, should I get hit by a bus tomorrow and the SuperHi site were to disappear.
I hear about decentralization a lot when people talk about ‘web3’ but isn’t that just for things like NFTs?
RL: Ha, yeh I mean let’s assume that someone really hates what NFTs are right now… like they hate the idea of crappy art being traded for ridiculous costs… there is some interesting technology that’s below the surface level which allows the owner of that crappy art to sell and buy it on any platform that supports NFTs. I can buy an NFT on Opensea and then sell it on Zora or Foundation because they all support the tech under the hood. We’re using the same technology to allow creators and viewers to have that similar control of the things that produce and consume.
It also means that it holds platforms to a higher ethical standard. If I find out that one of the platforms is doing something I disagree with, I’m not tied to it. I can go elsewhere very easily and the data is mine, not theirs.
We’re holding ourselves to similarly high ethical standards of allowing creators to use what tools they want, rather than being tied to the first platform they use. Plus, the community that a creator builds, remains their own and doesn’t belong to the platform. It’s a good thing for creators and viewers alike.
The bottom line
So what are the key take-aways? According to Rik and the experiences of the SuperHi team, one of the major struggles for creators in the (educational) content space is the all-or-nothing system that we find ourselves in. To create a win-win-win model, or collaborative model, two major things are needed:
- De-risking content creation by funding and guidance of content creators, while they still keep majority ownership over their content, community and revenue.
- Preventing lock-in to a platform, through the use of tools that are decentralised.
When it comes to holding ourselves to a higher ethical standpoint, Rik concludes the following:
“The goal is to build a truly creator-focused system that enables skill sharing. This is only possible if we make sure creators are being paid fairly and while de-risking their process. SuperHi Plus was designed by content creators who’ve been in the trenches and seen how hard it is to take on all the risk yourself.
We don’t want creators spending months (and even years) on content that isn’t sustainable for them financially or mentally.”
“Imagine where content creators could be with proper funding, access to high quality educational support, a ready-made audience and a team that wins when you do. We want to be the support team that I never had when starting SuperHi.”
Want to know more or join?
Would you like to join the SuperHi Plus program? Applications are now open to join our 12-week cohort based program. Get funding and support to launch your own educational content.
For press, schedule time with Rik below. We’ll make sure you’ll get the right answers to your questions.