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While technology and product innovation is pouring into the creator economy, companies are also shuffling, assembling, and packaging existing building blocks into “new” value propositions.
“There are two ways you can make money. You can bundle or you can unbundle.”
- Jim Barksdale
In this post, let’s dive into bundling and unbundling in the creator economy from the perspective of:
1. Creators: Team up, spread out
As a reminder: creators want money, fame, and love.
In the positive sum game that is the creator economy, working together is key, so it’s no surprise that successful creators lean into collaboration. Creators are opting into explicit opportunities to work together via creator / content houses. By living together, they enable a network of creativity that unlocks more co-creating, mutual teaching, cross-promotion, and growth. In other words, they’re supercharging inputs to success.
Successful content houses have also become valuable intellectual properties. Sway House’s deal with Magic Spoon shows how a creator collective can define a new category of brand deals between a group of creators and a brand. This trend is gaining momentum in team-level merchandising and reality TV.
In addition to teaming up on creation, creators are also packaging and selling their individual work together to increase collective appeal for audiences. Every.to exemplifies how creators bundle their work, and offer curated, high-quality, adjacent value with better consumer economics.
By doing so, they increase the value of a subscription, and rise above a threshold of perceived ROI to convert more sales. Perhaps more importantly, they also reduce the content production burden on each individual creator in the collective:
In a 10 creator collective, if 1 creator misses their weekly publishing cadence in a given week, there’s a small value loss for customers. If a solo creator misses their weekly publishing goal, there’s 100% value loss for customers.
Creators are also spreading out their businesses into disparate places to avoid concentrated platform risk. Creators are keenly aware that when they build their brand on a platform, they play by the platform’s rules, which could change suddenly and without warning.
This could manifest as a harmless UI refresh or new feature, but it can be also come as an unannounced algorithm change that tanks your content, or an opaque act of policy enforcement that wipes out years of hard work.
For this reason, as creators achieve more success, they branch out from their primary platform, and spread their bets to diversify and grow their business.
They cut different versions of content to distribute on several platforms
They separate out the places for growing audience vs. nurturing community
They refuse lucrative platform contracts because of exclusivity requirements
They put link-in-bio to direct their audiences on one platform to another
They create separate lines of business (e.g. merchandize) beyond content
2. Consumers: Savings, selection, simplicity
Consumers seek to maximize entertainment & information within spending limits.
Two bundling formats commonly available to consumers are 1) bulk orders, 2) family plans, 3) set purchases. Both hold the premise of trading volume for unit economics — “the more you buy, the more you save”.
Family plan: AT&T family lines, Netflix subscriptions with four seats
Saving 💰 is self explanatory, but it’s worth calling out that when it comes to perceived value, personal preference is an important factor. Improvements in simplicity and selection may be worth $20 to some people and $0 to others.
By offering a diverse selection of goods and services, platforms can offer something that appeals to any consumer. YouTube would not be the same if there were only 10 creators talking about personal finance. The broad consumer appeal of YouTube is thanks to the wide spectrum of creators covering a range of topics.
However, there is a point of diminishing returns beyond which more selection degrades user experience.
When new users start following 100 interesting accounts on Twitter, this positively impacts their product experience. But when they’re following 9900 accounts, they’re already unable to engage meaningfully with that social graph; following 100 more accounts in this scenario degrades their product experience by adding noise.
In Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz argues that eliminating consumer choices can greatly reduce anxiety for consumers. At YouTube, Facebook, and Twitch, there are various instances where reducing optionality for certain creators and consumers results in greater engagement.
As consumers, we are always looking for the best deal in every facet of life. Content is no exception. We prefer convenience and ease, which impact on our decision making.
This has been the case since the dawn of modern age. When movie theaters were introduced as the only distribution platform for motion picture entertainment, people went to the theater with wonder and excitement. However, after televisions brought on-demand motion picture into the comfort of people’s homes, towns with movie theaters reported an 80% decrease in movie theater revenue.
Today, the simplicity of on-demand entertainment at our fingertips has led to a dramatic shift in our consumption habits. Bundling eliminates our need to go to different places, learn different UIs, and remember multiple passwords. If done right, bundling streamlines how consumers solve for various adjacent needs, and creates ease and convenience that undeniably improve consumer experience.
On the flip side — jamming too many functions into one place results in complexity. Complexity overwhelms consumers with mental and cognitive load, which can cause people to divest from platforms in frustration and eventual apathy. Bundling too many contexts into a product creates overload, and risks context collapse.
When an application only does 1-2 things very well, it presents a different type of simplicity — a streamlined experience for one single single use case. This is why polished single-purpose apps that unbundled multi-purpose sites have thrived in recent decades (more on that in the Companies section).
The pendulum is always swinging back and forth between unbundling and bundling. When it swings too far in one direction, the market will respond to correct the trend.
3. Companies: Blurring lines and mental models
An ecosystem formed around creator needs. Popular consumer software in the western world emerged by delivering simple, elegant solutions focused on one or two customer needs. Content distribution platforms gave them a path to earn fame; community platforms gave them a way to earn love; and monetization platforms gave them a chance to earn money.
This approach gave consumers a clear mental model and strong conceptual understanding of what each app or site is for.
Go to YouTube to watch user generated videos
Go to Google to search and research
Go to Instagram to see beautiful, polished photos
Go to Facebook to stay in touch with friends and family
Go to Discord to chat with friends and communities
Go to Twitch to watch gaming live streams
Go to Amazon to shop for everyday goods
However, distribution platforms now feel the heat of competition, and are fighting for relevance. A few platforms have answered with: “do more stuff”.
Twitter is making moves on helping creators make money. (distribution —> $)
Snap is throwing a million dollars a day at creators to acquire content while they attempt to figure out a long term creator revenue model. (distribution —> $)
TikTok is building a platform owned marketplace between creators and brands. (distribution —> $)
Facebook is doing whatever competitors do. 😜 (distribution —> everything)
Various product updates from these companies seek to expand the core value they provide to consumers. And the eastern world shines a spotlight on how this would look at the extremes.
Go to WeChat for everything
In many ways, bundling is a key strategy for incumbents. These platforms aim to provide increasingly broad utility for users, and “all-in-one” is the signature move to simplify workflows and centralize different solutions to meet various user needs.
On the flip side, unbundling is the only viable playbook for upstarts. Startups are underdogs by any account, and their only chance for success is to prioritize the 1-2 things that matter, and be uniquely great in those dimensions. If a product is great, it doesn’t need to be good. For example, Twitch had no chance to beat YouTube in the video-on-demand world, so they found a special wedge into the video ecosystem by focusing on a niche that YouTube paid no attention to: gaming live streams.
Another approach companies take is bundling value while unbundling existing systems. The happens when there is a fundamental change in how people and companies can perform key workflows because of technological advancements.
Amazon bundled solutions for end-to-end merchant needs (storefront, payments, fulfillment, shipping, and customer support), and in doing so, they unbundled constraining legacy systems (brick and mortar shops for retail distribution, costly shipping deals that must be negotiated with UPS, costly in-house customer support teams), which unlocked value and saved operating expenses for sellers.
Like the seasons, bundling and unbundling will endure as a cyclical phenomenon for the rest of our lives.
Creators, consumers, and companies would do well to recognize or create bundling and unbundling opportunities that deliver value to the rest of the ecosystem and produce a better financial outcome for themselves.
There’s already ample value creation in the creator space today, but with the right bundling and unbundling, fragmented value will be organized to further accelerate the growth of the overall creator ecosystem.
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