A Dive into Creator Platforms: TikTok vs Vine, Substack vs Medium
What worked, and what didn't for Vine and Medium?
Previously, I wrote about why many are looking at the Creator Economy right now. The fact is that there’s so much in this space to dissect and think about, that a comparison of creator platforms may deserve its own post!
Specifically, I’m interested in looking at two types of creator platforms:
• TikTok vs Vine (as short-form video content platforms), and
• Substack vs Medium (as a publishing platform for writers).
TikTok vs Vine
Vine and its historical success
Vine has had its heydays of massive user growth and product market fit. It was founded in 2012 by Dom Hofmann, Rus Yusupov, and Colin Kroll, and got acquired by Twitter even before its app was launched.
What did TikTok get right that Vine didn’t?
How many truly original ideas are there in Silicon Valley? Very few. Most have been tried umpteenth times in the past. Much of finding product-market fit in tech is context and timing. And people always underestimate the market side of product-market fit. When something fails, people tend to blame the product, but we should blame the market more often. The pull of the market is usually as important, if not more so, than the push from a product.
Vine is considered a predecessor to TikTok by many. The fundamental similarity is in short video content format. At its peak, Vine had 200 million MAUs, creating super stars like Shawn Mendes, Logan and Jake Paul who then brought over their following to other platforms. Twitter had the opportunity to 10x Vine when they bought them over. But there are reasons as to where TikTok succeeded whereas Vine did not.
From my perspective, it was mainly due to Tiktok’s focus on ensuring the success of its creators.
Reducing friction to create content
TikTok focused a lot on ensuring that content creators can easily create as much content as possible. Also, TikTok released new video filters on a weekly basis, enabling content creators with fresh tools to showcase their creativity. They also implemented easy entry points to create videos during the browsing experience, thus lowering barriers to entry for content creation.
For people who have never created a TikTok video before, it may seem daunting to even start. However, features like the Duet and Stitch functions made it easy for people to start “copying”, and creating their own content. As with the saying: Monkey see, Monkey do. A lot of us look to what other people are doing before we consider doing the same. In most cases, ideas are copied and not originally produced.
Helping content creators monetise sustainably
Vine also lacked the tools to help its content creators monetise sustainably — Viners earned through brand partnerships and merch, but these are monetisation ways not unique to Vine. Vine creators could earn through these ways even when they are on other platforms like YouTube or Instagram.
A disdain for monetization
Vine executives and co founders were supposedly against monetization and did not take money from many brands. This led to many marketers leaving the platform, which left little monetization opportunities for Vine creators who were not earning enough from the platform.
While I’m not sure what was the rationale behind the opposition for monetization, I feel companies have a responsibility to be sustainable in the long run if it wants to continue delivering value to its customers. Afterall, it is a proof of product value when customers are willingly paying for the value they extract out of the service you provide.
TikTok announced plans to grow their Creator Fund to more than $2 billion over the next 3 years globally, with products like Creator Marketplace to help their creators make more money. While its international plans are still pretty nascent, helping creators to make more money remains one of their top priorities.
Equal opportunity to succeed - success not owned by top creators on TikTok
It was much more difficult to get famous on Vine because the experience was mostly dominated by content from the biggest content creators on the platform. Smaller creators had much difficulty in trying to break out, where their content got less visibility than the popular creators.
As compared to Vine, TikTok’s algorithm placed emphasis on the video content itself, rather than the content creator. This meant there was a higher chance of a video getting viral if the content is great. Everyone had an equal opportunity to have their content seen, and get noticed by viewers.
Not keeping up with competition
Vine had always stuck to its 6 seconds, even as their users requested to be able to upload longer duration videos. Other social media apps like SnapChat and Instagram released longer duration videos, and Vine’s creators moved away. This resulted in creator churn.
What could potentially hold TikTok back?
One of the challenges TikTok has to solve (besides helping content creators make more money) is to avoid being perceived as just “an entertainment platform”. Over time, people may eventually get fatigue from “wasting too much time” on the platform. That’s one of the reasons cited by some of my friends who are not willing to try out TikTok.
We do see a shift in terms of the types of content though, for the better. While TikTok started out as a lip syncing and dancing app since its musical.ly days, there are tons of educational content on the platform right now, ranging from dental advice to human anatomy and wildlife preservation.
There are efforts from TikTok to shift towards educational content, through experimenting with a ‘Learn’ tab on their primary tab in certain countries.
Source: Lena Koppova
Substack vs Medium
What’s the difference between Medium and Substack as publishing platforms?
If we talk about Professional User Generated Content (PUGC), products like Medium and Substack give writers the platform to publish and distribute their writing, ranging from breaking down the latest behaviours of Gen Z, to better understanding the Chinese tech ecosystem.
However, I noticed that writers are viewing Substack more as a platform to monetise from rather than Medium. And this piqued my curiosity in trying to understand the differences between these two publishing platforms, and why writers are now flocking to Substack instead of staying on Medium.
Substack makes money when its writers make money. It is through a subscription based model, where writers are free to set a monthly subscription amount for their readers for premium content. Substack then takes a 10 percent cut of it.
Medium makes money by charging customers a subscription fee in order to read more than the basic articles.
Based on the information I could find:
The very top writers who make up less than 1 percent of writers on Medium can make about $5,000-$30,000 a month.
Top writers on Substack, however, can earn up to $500,000 per year.
Just based on the cream of the crop, the top writers on Substack can earn 28 percent more annually than top writers on Medium. And Substack has been around since 2017 while Medium has been around since 2012.
Based on the business model alone, Substack seems to help most of its writers make more money than Medium does. So it’s no surprise if writers flock more to Substack to make a sustainable income.
(For now), Substack is merely a platform that enables writers to write, providing them with the tools, but not the distribution. What this means is that once a writer has established Substack as their writing platform, they would have to do the distribution themselves, through other channels like Twitter or LinkedIn in order to gain visibility. Substack features writers every now and then on their Homepage or through emails, but they are not personalised. Medium, however, has implemented some form of discovery on their Home page, and they also recommend articles to you based on what you’ve read.
Medium sends a daily email digest of reads that I might like based on my reading history.
When I was a much more engaged user of Medium, I used to go to medium.com Homepage to browse recommended articles. For Substack, I trawl Twitter instead for substacks that are recommended by people I follow.
I’m not sure how the lack of personalisation gives Substack an edge over Medium at this point in time. The lack of distribution through personalisation could however, encourage the writers themselves to put in more effort in distributing their own content on other platforms. This helps Substack gain word of mouth, and at the same time, gets the writer to be more invested in the product.
(*Substack as a product is also making changes in the journalism and media industry, but I don’t know enough about the industry to form a view yet.)
Who will help creators make the most money?
Or rather, who can help creators make a sustainable living doing what they enjoy?
Do creators necessarily need to be earning millions, or we are primed by the success cases we see to believe that the most successful creators seem to be the richest? What if we could enable majority of people creating quality content to have this as a full-time job first? Would a concept like Universal Creative Income actually be feasible?
This post is merely a look into 4 platforms out of the hundreds available out there supporting creators to publish content in various types of mediums. In the end, creators will flock to wherever that enables them to be most successful.