Creator Economy

Instagram announces subscriptions, starting with select creators

Help, I can't keep up with all these Instagram updates.

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It’s hard to keep up with all of Instagram’s changes these days — the past three months have seen the introduction of three feeds, payments for creators who make Reels, swipe-up links for all, and more. On Wednesday, Instagram’s head Adam Mosseri took to Instagram and Twitter to announce yet another update to the decade-old social media app: subscriptions.

In a vertically-shot video, Mosseri explained that creators have new tools to monetize access for super-fans.

“Creators do what they do to make a living,” he explained in the video, which was made to seem like a quick, casual vlog. “It’s important that that is predictable and subscriptions are one of the best ways to have a predictable income that’s not attached to how much reach you get on a given post which is inevitably gonna go up and down over time.”

The subscription feature is not yet in wide release to all of Instagram’s billion users. Instead, it’s in a test period with just ten creators, all based in the U.S.: (@alanchikinchow, @sedona._, @alizakelly, @kelseylynncook, @elliottnorris, @jordanchiles, @jackjerry, @bunnymichael, @donalleniii, and @lonnieiiv).

There are three benefits to subscribing to a creator: exclusive live videos, exclusive Instagram Stories (marked by a purple ring), and a purple icon to denote subscriber status in comments and messages. The era of creators charging for access to ‘close friends’ is coming to a close and a more frictionless built-in feature taking its place.

Money, money, money — In the video update, Mosseri didn’t mention the difference between “follower” and “subscriber,” which is a monthly fee. According to a press release, the price is set by creators. One user, named Aliza Kelly, announced personalized astrology content for $9.99 per month while comedian and chef Elliot Norris is charging $4.99 per month.

The money collected from subscribers will go entirely to creators (not to Facebook), at least for now. Just like paid subscriptions on Facebook, which were announced in 2020, Meta will not collect any fees from creator subscriptions until 2023. In the growing world of gatekept, subscription-based content, platforms tend to scrape a non-trivial percentage off the top— Patreon charges 5-12 percent of subscription fees and Substack takes 10 percent.

Sprawling creator economy — Perhaps the most surprising part of the announcement is that Instagram will allow creators to export their subscriber list to other platforms. “We also believe that creators should be able to own their relationship with their subscribers,” said Mosseri.

Tech companies, desperate for content and reluctant to hire full-time creators, have spent more than a decade experimenting with ways to lure people to make content. And while online creators a decade ago often focused on blogs or Youtube channels, today’s class of digital creators spread themselves over multiple platforms and revenue streams — there’s TikTok, Instagram, newsletter, Youtube videos, streaming, and the list goes on. Online fame spreads from platform to platform, which can bring about more streams of revenue for those who want to make a living off of social media.

By allowing users to export subscribers, Instagram acknowledges that success in the creator economy often requires activity on a slew of different platforms.

But the tools for monetization — and the $1 billion that Meta promised to give to creators — may come as too little too late as TikTok surpasses Instagram as the most popular app among teens and as Instagram recovers from a tsunami of bad PR about its negative effects on teen girls.