All over the world, new trends where content creators increasingly focus on building audiences of their own can be observed. In what Li Jin refers to as the passion economy, platforms are emerging all over the world to allow creators monetize their content: Substsack for writers, Only fans for adult entertainment, Teachable allowing independent teaching with the latest being ChatPay(YC S20) which allows anyone earn from WhatsApp and Telegram groups. All while this conversation continues another on subscription fatigue is cropping up, while this unbundling of content creation may be good for the creator, how long until there are too many such to allow for meaningful incomes? In Kenya and as in probably most of Africa, this possibility looks more real. How then are creators in these markets adapted to face such?
The core of the passion economy is the individual and their ability to earn money without reference to an agency. Say a writer devoid of the New York Times or a Kenyan comedian without the hallowed stage of the Churchill Show or a prominent television network. Content creators both obscure or of old media fame are increasingly focused on creating audiences they are in control; Nathan Tankus is an economics authority via Substack but so is Jalango, a Kenyan radio craftsman of old, pushing his weight towards a talk show on YouTube.
In Kenya, however, we are not seeing the emergence of new platforms to aid this agenda. Majority of creators are increasingly drawn to Instagram and YouTube with Twitter and Tiktok as feeder platforms, understandably so given that Kenyans love video. As a matter of thought, across Africa, similar trends might draw along the lines of platforms that already have market prevalence.
The advantage of the newly emerging platforms is that they offer a clear path to money for the creatives mostly through subscriptions. Only fans, for example, allows you to zoom into content and pay, maybe only as easily as you would in a red light district. Subscriptions, are however, difficult in Africa. In a continent where majority people are addicted to pirated content it’s not easy to make them pay for a newsletter. Even though, working examples exist in Iroko, Viusasa and Netflix they offer variety from a number of sources. They are able to sell smaller more expensive per capita packages and in certain instances leverage partnerships with telcos (an example is Viusasa Maria data pass which in partnership with Safaricom allows users to buy data to watch a specific show), to add value. The new creative direction however involves unbundling with many of them taking own paths. In Kenyan comedy for example, for a long time a single show ruled the airwaves; first it was Redyukulass, then Red Korna with the latest top show being the Churchill Show and at any given time tens of comedians depended on them for visibility. A majority of the comedians off TV are struggling to put up Instagram and YouTube fronts while increasingly challenged by a crop of made online celebrities away from the limitations of TV productions. How then are these online productions monetizing their online positions?
Ad based passion economy
A majority of these individuals earn money from advertisement and product promotion either of their own making or from revenue sharing with the platforms. That’s a possibility for what makes YouTube a go to channel by most of the creators. On the platform as long the creator can get to a number of views, they can get ads and easily monetize their content. On Instagram, product endorsements are more prevalent with creators looking into meshing any such into their art. Noteworthy is that to navigate the deals they are forming organizations around themselves, most prominently Big Tyme Entertainment by Eric Omondi and Njugush Creatives by comedian Njugush. Gossip Instagrammer (perhaps taking a cue from Gossip sites) Edgar Obare has however taken the monetization agenda to new heights outright soliciting for adverts on his Instagram stories
The ability to entertain audiences also allows these creators to access traditional opportunities like event emceeing or radio gigs. In a way, the platforms have democratized these chances previously limited to very few people. Radio stations are existentially under pressure from social media and thus the social media gurus provide solid ground on which they can derive content while it provides a steady revenue source for the creators.
The closest local content creators are to subscriptions are donation requests. Some creators have provided mobile money links for which content lovers can send donations. Not sustainable but it could provide a sandbox for the ability of the market to subscribe to premium content.
Conclusively, this essay explores the current and does not dismiss the possibility of a subscriber based passion economy in the future. Matter of fact, a number of creators on the continent are already selling subscriptions: Joey Akan with Afrobeats Intelligence on Substack for example claims to have 25000 subscribers, some paying while Jason Njoku, founder of Iroko runs three niche subscription based publications. I cannot determine the audience demographic, so has little ability to commentate on them but what can be observed is that subscriptions may be a limited method of monetizing unbundled entertainment content in the Kenyan market.
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