The creator economy trap: why building on someone else's platform is a dead end

The creator economy is a dead end for most creators.


The creator economy is built on third party foundations. When we talk about the "creator economy" we're talking about writers, podcasters, artists who build careers on TikTok, Instagram, Patreon, Stitcher, YouTube - pick the platform, but it's always someone else's platform.

Creators pour their time, energy, and resources into building a presence on these platforms, but they are ultimately at the mercy of the platform's algorithms, policies, and business decisions. The success of a creator is intrinsically tied to the whims of the platform, and this dependence is a double-edged sword.

Relying on someone else's platform means that creators are subject to the ever-changing algorithms that dictate visibility and reach. The algorithms are designed to prioritize content that keeps users engaged and on the platform, rather than necessarily rewarding quality or creativity. Meaning that creators are constantly chasing the algorithm, trying to crack the code and optimize their content for maximum visibility, to the detriment of their message, their identity and their purpose. It's an exhausting and often futile endeavor, as the algorithms can change at any moment, leaving creators scrambling to adapt.

Building on someone else's platform means that creators are beholden to the platform's terms of service and content policies. These policies can be opaque, inconsistently enforced, and subject to change without notice. Frequently, those changes punish women, punish sex workers, and punish free speech. Creators can find themselves demonetized, shadowbanned, or even outright banned for violating policies that are often vague and open to interpretation. The result is a constant state of uncertainty and fear, as creators walk on eggshells to avoid running afoul of the platform's rules.

But perhaps the most insidious aspect of the creator economy is the ceiling it places on what creators can achieve. When you build on someone else's platform, you are ultimately limited by the tools, features, and monetization options that the platform provides. You are at the mercy of the platform's decisions about how creators can make money, whether through ad revenue shares, sponsorships, or other means. And if the platform decides to change its monetization policies or introduce new features that compete with your offerings, there's little you can do about it.

The creator economy may seem like a tempting path to success for aspiring creators. We lift up success stories as though they're case studies, and we spread this idea that a million dollar career is one viral piece of content away.

But the creator economy is, to be frank, a dead end, a gilded cage that places a ceiling on what you can achieve.

What's the alternative?

Is there an alternative?

I like to talk about the DIY economy. The indie economy.

In the indie economy, creators build their own platforms, whether that's a website, an app, or a subscription service. They have complete control over their content, their audience, and their monetization strategies. They are not beholden to anyone else's algorithms or policies, and they have the freedom to experiment and innovate without fear of reprisal.

Building your own platform is undoubtedly harder than relying on someone else's. It requires a greater investment of time, money, and effort. But the rewards are also greater. When you own your platform, you own your audience and your revenue streams. You have the ability to build a sustainable, long-term business that is not at the mercy of someone else's decisions.

Building your own platform is not a guarantee of success. It demands hard work, creativity, and a deep understanding of your audience and your niche, perhaps moreso than the creator economy. More than any other path. But it offers true independence and control over your creative destiny.

In the indie economy, creators approach third-party platforms in a fundamentally different way. Instead of building their entire business on someone else's land, they use these platforms as distribution tools, as a way to reach new audiences and drive traffic back to their own platform.

Let's break this down. If content is your product, then you want that product to live on your own platform. Whether it's a website, an app, or a subscription service, you want to have full control over how your content is presented, monetized, and distributed. You don't want to be at the mercy of someone else's algorithm or content policies.

But that doesn't mean you ignore third-party platforms altogether. Far from it. In the indie economy, you use platforms like Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter strategically. You post teasers, snippets, and behind-the-scenes content that gives your audience a taste of what you offer, but always with the goal of driving them back to your own platform.

Think of it like a restaurant. If you're a chef, you don't build your entire business on DoorDash or UberEats. Those are great tools for reaching new customers and generating some extra revenue, but your main focus is getting people to come to your restaurant, to experience your food and atmosphere directly. That's where you have the most control, the most ability to create a unique experience and build a loyal customer base.

The same is true for creators. Your website, your email list, your own platform - that's your restaurant. That's where you want your most loyal fans to engage with your content, to buy your products or services, to become a part of your community.

Third-party platforms, in this analogy, are like food delivery apps. They're a way to reach new people, to give them a taste of what you offer and entice them to come check out your main platform. But you don't build your entire business on DoorDash, because it puts you at the mercy of their fees, their policies, and their shitty, shitty algorithms.

Making the jump from the creator economy to the indie economy isn't a walk in the park. It's a gritty, hands-on process that will have you stepping out of your comfort zone and learning a whole new set of skills. But I genuinely believe - if you're serious about building a career that you control, a career that can stand on its own, it's a critical strategic move that you need to make for yourself.

So, how do you make the switch?

1. Build your own damn platform.

I'm not talking about some half-assed Linktree or a neglected WordPress dot com blog. I'm talking about a legitimate, fully-functioning platform that showcases your work, your voice, and your brand. This is your home base, your HQ, the place where your ride-or-die fans will come to engage with you directly.

Yes, it might seem intimidating at first. But start small. Get a basic website up and running. Start a newsletter. The key is to start cultivating that direct relationship with your audience, outside of the noise and clutter of social media.

2. Treat social media like the tool it is.

Look, I'm not saying you should ghost your Instagram followers or delete your TikTok account - even if I did exactly that. These platforms are still invaluable for reaching new audiences and engaging with your community. But it's time to start treating them like the tools they are, not the foundation of your career.

Use social media strategically. Post teasers, behind-the-scenes snippets, engaging questions that drive your followers back to your own platform for the full monty. Make social media work for you, not the other way around.

3. Build your technical skills.

If you want to truly thrive in the indie economy, you need to get comfortable with getting your hands dirty. I'm talking about the ones and zeros, the technical skills and knowledge that will allow you to build and control your own platform. Because here's the hard truth: if you're relying on someone else to build and manage your website, your email list, your payment processing, you're not really independent. You're just renting space in someone else's kingdom.

To be truly indie, you need to be the king or queen of your own technological castle. That means learning how to design, how to code, how to analyse data, how to manage databases and servers. It means getting intimately familiar with the tools and protocols that power your business.

Will it be easy? Fuck no. Will it be worth it? Abso-fucking-lutely. Because when you have the skills to build and control your own platform, you have the ultimate form of creative and financial freedom. You're not beholden to anyone else's whims or updates or "terms of service." You're the master of your own domain, in every sense of the word. Don't be afraid to dive into the technical side of things. Embrace the learning curve. Revel in the challenges. Because the more you know, the more power you have. And in the indie economy, knowledge isn't power - it's independence.

None of this is easy. Transitioning to the indie economy means rolling up your sleeves, getting your hands dirty, and learning on the fly. But it's also an incredible opportunity to build something real, something sustainable, something that's truly yours.

In the indie economy, you're not another cog in the machine. You're a business owner, a creative entrepreneur, and force to be reckoned with. It's a path that takes guts, grit, and technical knowledge that won't come overnight. But for those willing to put in the work, the rewards are stability and ownership in an attention economy that is increasingly fucked up, unpredictable, divided and wildly inconsistent.

@Westenberg logo
Subscribe to @Westenberg and never miss a post.