In tech, we're constantly framing early stage companies around the search for product-market fit. But entering a time where individual creators are viewed as businesses of their own, I've been thinking about the reverse: "BusinessModel-Content Fit."
We're all familiar with the quote "First we shape our tools, thereafter they shape us," often misattributed to Marshall McLuhan. It's true that with work of any kind, the tools available to us influence the work we create. It follows that in times where nearly every interaction is financialized to some degree, this effect is less about tools and more about business models.
I noted this in the announcement of the $ESSAY crowdfund last month:
When the only tool around for getting paid to write is a newsletter publisher, it's no wonder we see more and more newsletters, and less of everything else.
Clearly stated: The business models available to creators determine what content they create.
Today, there are two main business models that have reached ubiquity: Advertising and paid subscriptions.
Advertising-based monetization has been the predominant model for awhile, and the incentives are clear. More views means more dollars, and the inevitable result of years under this model is that creators monetizing via ads are optimizing for clickbait at the cost of thoughtful, high-quality content.
Today, Substack presents another option: paid subscriptions. Though the model has been around for awhile, Substack has made it much easier to operate a paid subscription newsletter, opening up the model to a much larger group of people.
However, this business model comes with constraints around the content that's published under it, and the publishing frequency of that content. When paying a monthly subscription, readers expect to read something new at least once per week. This cadence then affects what's possible for writers to create, and how much time they can spend creating it. For writing that takes months of in-depth research, for example, a weekly cadence just isn't possible.
Knowing this, you'd think that only some writers would end up writing newsletters, and others would pursue different models. Unfortunately, the variety of business models available to creators is still quite limited, so instead we see the opposite: writers of all kinds changing the type of work they do in order to fit into the only business model available for getting paid to write.
There's no problem with paid subscriptions. In fact, they're great for tons of different things. But if we want to experience a variety of different writing, art, and media, we need business models that are well-suited to many more kinds of work. This is what BusinessModel-Content Fit is.
When there's BusinessModel-Content Fit, writers (and creators of all kind) can go about the work they'd already be doing while still getting paid for their work. This is a good thing.
The $ESSAY crowdfund was an experiment with one new model, focused on slightly longer-form essays, but there are many more experiments being run, and many of them will surely become great options for people creating different kinds of work. Among them:
- Writing sponsored by a VC / Company: When a writer's thesis is already aligned with, and therefore attracts companies relevant to that investor, or customers related to that company. This is similar to a brand deal, but without any explicit advertisement.
- Selling work as an NFT: When the work represents a collectible piece of history.
- Crowdfunding public work: When work needs a certain amount of monetization to be produced, but the creator wants it to be free for anyone to access.
- Bounties: For when an audience has strong opinions about what they're interested in. Works the same as a crowdfund, but an audience pre-funds a project for a creator to then work on.
- Pay to comment: For when a creator's time is limited, but the audience wants to engage.
- Pay to join live audio discussion: When there's demand to be part of a smaller experience, potentially including engagement with a creator or writer.
- Pay to access content early: When content represents alpha, or has limited shelf life, and the audience cares about seeing that content on time.
We're still in the early days of this kind of experimentation, but I'm sure that in a few years' time, many more models will have been popularized, and creators of all kinds will have the opportunity to get paid without the need to adapt their work to fit a suboptimal model. That's what BusinessModel-Content Fit is all about.