Surat-based Shivani Kapila left her job at Google to pursue a full-time career around creating content. Quitting a stable job was certainly not an easy decision and took her a good six months to finally make the move. Kapila's first tryst with content creation was a small music campaign that fetched her about ₹5,000. Today, she creates content for short-video platform Josh besides running her own channel on YouTube. Kapila doesn't keep a count of the number of monthly videos she curates and publishes across platforms. "I don't live a normal life. I live a life in which every moment is a video moment for me. The level of satisfaction derived from making videos, interactions with fans and being present on social media is unparalleled. A nine to five job doesn't even come close," Kapila tells Fortune India. She earns way more than what her corporate job used to offer. When business is brisk, her monthly income can touch as much as ₹3-4 lakh.

India's knack for the digital has carved out a space for a budding local creator ecosystem. A rush of homegrown short-video platforms like Moj, Josh, Chingari has accommodated a growing league of creators. Global players YouTube Shorts and Instagram Reels have only added to the buzz and broadened the growth of the ecosystem, making it easy for anybody to upload video content with a simple tap on their smartphones. Consumption of YouTube and Instagram are a staple for the country's young population and the apps are available on almost every other smartphone. They often come pre-loaded with handsets. Thanks to a deluge of cheap smartphones and affordable internet connectivity, creating content today is as easy as ordering food online. A spate of creators like Kapila build video content around diverse topics ranging from food, lifestyle and fashion to motivational talk. "I like entertaining people," says Moj creator Mohak Narang who ends up making some 40 videos for the platform per month. Narang who has about 2.9 million followers on Moj is pursuing a graduation degree in Mass Communication. Chinese short-video app TikTok, however, should be given its due, having popularised the concept of short-video content in India and taking them far and wide to the hinterlands. Famous TikTok creators were influencers of sorts. The ban on the app in 2020 facilitated the entry of new players in the market, fuelling their growth. In sectoral parlance, creators are often referred to as influencers, at least some of them, given their reach in the community that can often have a bearing on how a particular section of their followers arrive at varied decisions like purchasing a product or say adopting a prevalent trend. That creator economy is booming in India is evident from Josh parent VerSe Innovation's $805 million fundraise led by Canada Pension Plan Investment Board last week in an otherwise subdued funding environment marked by cautious investor sentiment. Sure, the deal has been in the works for sometime but it does capture the vote of investor confidence in the creator economy. Analysts say that the space will continue to see traction. If certain data pointers are to be believed, the space is indeed making a dent. A recent report by Oxford Economics that studied YouTube's creator ecosystem gives some sense about the space. It said that YouTube's creator ecosystem generated considerable economic value, contributing ₹6,800 crore to the Indian GDP and supporting as many as 6,83,9001 full-time equivalent jobs in India in 2020.

"Today, anyone with an idea, an insight or inspiration can come to YouTube to tell their stories, reaching a global audience of 2 billion fans. With more than 40,000 channels with over 100,000 subscribers in India, seeing a 45% year on year growth, the creator economy in the country has the potential to emerge as a soft-power impacting economic growth, job creation, and even cultural influence," says Ajay Vidyasagar, Regional Director, APAC, YouTube Partnerships. Besides, short-form content is already incredibly popular. YouTube Shorts have now garnered over five trillion all-time views, adds Vidyasagar.

Monetisation avenues for creators

Any creator would typically upload and publish content across platforms like Moj or Josh, YouTube and Instagram to expand his visibility and reach. The ways to monetise content across different platforms often vary. On YouTube, creators can monetise their content via ads. For instance, for every ad view by users which gets played through the course of the video content uploaded by a creator, they earn a certain amount. This is often referred to as the cost per view (CPV) monetisation method, explains Aayush Tiwari, VP, talent management and music business, Monk Entertainment. "For every ad watch, there's a relative fee. At the end of the month, creators are paid the total amount monetised via ads for their videos," says Tiwari. Ads continue to be the main way that creators can earn money on YouTube. YouTube has also started incentivising innovative creators of Shorts through the launch of a $100 million Shorts Fund that will be distributed through 2021-22. The idea is to enable eligible creators to claim a payment from the fund each month.

On short video platforms like Moj and Josh, creators usually create exclusive videos per month and get paid for their deliverables at the end of the month. The platforms usually set targets that are to be met every month; the number of videos to be delivered by a creator on a monthly basis can touch up to 40. The range of content varies—a creator typically creates content around subjects or topics followed by his or her followers. "I make exclusive videos for Moj that I don't put on other platforms," says Narang.

The other way of earning money is through brand collaborations. This is an emerging business model and holds immense scope given that brands across segments are increasingly tapping into creators and influencers to market their products. A product marketing campaign has higher chances of translating into sales if it is endorsed by an influencer who often holds sway over his section of followers. In sectoral parlance, this model is termed as influencer led commerce. Almost all platforms are making space for brand collaborations as it adds to the monetisation channels of their creator base. In this case, the creator gets paid via brands. On Instagram, brand collaboration is the sole monetisation avenue. Creators, at least the established ones, are directly approached via brands for collaborations. "The DM (messaging) feature on Instagram helps brands approach us," says Kapila.

Mumbai-based independent creator Leander Dias who has some 2,500 followers on Instagram and describes himself as a micro influencer has done a lot of brand campaigns on Instagram. Dias has worked with big brands like Tinder, Budweiser and small startups alike. "Brands typically pay you on the basis of per reel or video. During peak season, my income can go up to considerable thousands per month," says Dias. For Tapsi Tandon who gained a foothold in the space in mid-2020 after signing up as a verified Amazon influencer says she ends up earning up to a lakh when business is brisk. Tandon currently works with multiple platforms including Chingari. "A creator's earnings often depend on his or her reach. Ex TikTok creators earn a lot, up to lakhs," says Tandon.

Monk Entertainment's Tiwari says that macro creators (those with huge following) can earn up to ₹5-6 lakhs a month if they fare well across platforms while micro creators have the potential to rake in anywhere between ₹50,000 to a lakh provided they are active across platforms.

The booming creator economy is being supported by a network of creator management agencies. They onboard creators and equip them with varied resources which helps them scale their presence across content platforms. They often play an instrumental role in fetching brand collaborations for affiliated creators. Monk Entertainment is one such agency and manages about 80 creators. "After the TikTok ban, agencies also pitched their creators to the new platforms. There are around seven to eight such big agencies," says Tiwari.

For agencies, the primary source of income is commissions. Models can vary but the prevalent one is where agencies charge a certain percentage of commission on a creator's total income. "We charge a particular commission on the brand deals. We don't take a share of creators' YouTube income as we believe that it is totally their credit," says Tiwari.

The untold story

Not everything about the influencer/creator economy is blitz and glamour. It has its share of struggles as well. For instance, Dias says that there is a constant pressure to produce content. "Creators need to be consistent and be visible. If you have a low day, you cannot disconnect," says Dias.

Kolkata-based independent creator Anindita Roy who creates content around body positivity and plus size fashion says that when it comes to plus size creators, there is almost always a discrimination at play. "With plus size people mostly, most of the brands want to do barter collaborations wherein they are paid in kind. Brands often send them a dress against their deliverables. I don't do barters. I have the kind of reach that a brand wants and I collaborate with brands only if they pay me," says Roy who goes by the stage name The Plus Girl. The industry is tough and one needs to stay updated in order to be able to curate relevant content. Also, given that the creator economy largely caters to the young population, creators stand the risk of getting redundant once they attain a certain age, says Roy.

Tandon does not just rely on content creation for a living. At any point of time, she makes sure that she has a varied kind of work on her plate. She is engaged in celebrity management, marketing, public relations and also tries anchoring at times. "You should not just stick to one business. It is not easy to survive in a city like Mumbai," says Tandon.

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