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Audiences no longer care about platforms. The content creator is ‘king.’

Sweet Paul, Cheddar and Axios are proof that media consumers will change their behavior and go where a creator has produced interesting content.

Paul “Sweet Paul” Lowe is one of the trendsetters helping new media flourish with his quarterly Sweet Paul digital magazine.
Sweet Paul

There’s been a long-running debate about which is king when it comes to media success — content or distribution? Does the secret sauce come from the quality of the content or from the reach of the distribution channel? The debate has become a moot point, as it is now clear that media consumers are more obsessed with the content offered by well-known creators — sometimes regardless of the quality — rather than the platform. Today, more than ever before, the creator is “king.” We follow a creator’s unique view, vision and personal brand — on whichever platform they choose to use.

Why the creator is king

Like him or not, if President Donald Trump decided to use an email newsletter instead of his usual tweets, we’d have no choice but to subscribe if we wanted to be informed of his comments and rants. The same goes for Kim Kardashian West — she has built one of the strongest personal brands across nearly all communications platforms. She is a multimedia star with a TV show, and presence on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter. She owns multiple businesses, conducts interviews with publications, and more. If she decides one day to create a Netflix Original Special, her fans will almost certainly migrate from E! to Netflix.

Neither Trump nor Kardashian West are producing traditional content. They’re tailoring their communications — typically sensational comments or images — to a specific audience and their fans to garner a constant stream of mainstream attention.

For example, Kardashian West’s popularity rose with her reality TV show, her exposure on the cover of Playboy and then expanded to social media, where her fans could get a dose of her fashion choices, lifestyle and other edgy photographs. The distribution models she chose were somewhat irrelevant, as people followed her regardless of the platform where she posted her content, thoughts and pictures. The distribution of her followers — 28 million on Facebook, 50 million on Twitter and 91.7 million on Instagram — also points to the importance of image versus text content, at least in Kardashian’s case.

Other examples include noteworthy journalists who have previously built strong brands and reputations, like financial journalist Dan Primack, who is now at Axios. His Fortune newsletter, The Term Sheet, was widely read and respected. In his move to Axios, a new media startup, his followers now read his new Pro Rata newsletter, following Primack as a “creator” with expertise, reputation and personal brand. In fact, the day he switched jobs in October, sympathetic websites were already posting links to his new newsletter.

Creative content drives the technology role

People will change their behavior and go where a creator has produced interesting content. Netflix’s “House of Cards” series is proof positive of this at work — if you create amazing work, people will leave traditional networks. An initial review on Rotten Tomatoes nailed the trend: “Bolstered by strong performances — especially from Kevin Spacey — and surehanded direction, ‘House of Cards’ ... may redefine how television is produced.” Hulu, HBO Now and Amazon all followed suit and stole Golden Globe wins this year. In fact, 70 percent of this year’s nominations alone came from original content networks.

Interestingly, Snap’s Spectacles are winning over people’s hearts as a creation device, while Google Glass, with its purpose and use as a consumption device, lost mainstream appeal. With 150 million users already loyal to Snap, Mediakix forecasts sales of 11 million units by 2020 if they get just a 1 percent adoption rate this year.

As the new forms of media succeed, credit must be given to the trending content creators. For instance, new-media business brand Cheddar has grown from a standing start to 150,000 live viewers daily. It has quickly transformed into a full-on daily broadcast content creation business on the New York Stock Exchange. Cheddar has done a brilliant job of marrying the most traditional business systems with today’s viewers by bypassing cable and sharing its daily broadcasts through Facebook, Twitter and Roku. Ironically, as its content includes the CEO of CBS or discussions about Snap, it essentially raises itself one step above the media channels it is upending.

Individual trendsetters also inspire new media to flourish. Take Paul “Sweet Paul” Lowe as an example. A New York food and props stylist, he has become the much-sought-after creative genius behind the quarterly Sweet Paul Magazine, which easily morphed into a digital presence on Issuu, with more than 14 million impressions to date and ambitious plans to extend its brand into live events. On social media, its 56,000 Twitter followers, 70,000 on Instagram and 200,000 on Facebook point to the importance of the written word in driving social engagement for the guru of the “sweet things in life.”

We’ve entered a new media world where traditional models don’t always work. Traditional rules of how content is created or shared have been upended — instead we can follow our favored, most credible creators of choice, regardless of where they choose to distribute that content. Whether it be via a tweet, newsletter, Facebook Live or feature story format, one fact remains: The creator is king, and we will go where the creator communicates.

Joe Hyrkin is the CEO of Issuu, a modern media company, and curator of a creativity platform that allows content creators and publishers to create professional-level digital publications in areas of passion — going deep into verticals, from fashion to food to shopping to travel and much more. Reach him @yankeejoe.

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