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Are TikTok shops a scam? How big is YouTube really? Plus the weird history of livestream shopping.

Welcome to Creator 3×3!

Here are 3 Creator facts from the past, 3 notes on the present, and 3 thoughts about the future of the content economy...

3 FACTS FROM THE PAST

I.

TikTok Shop is taking over.

Or… at least it’s trying to.

But why?

For a lot reasons really, but they all basically boil down to ByteDance thinks they’ll make more money with media driven product sales than with a pure advertising model.

We’ll dive into what that means for Creators later in this post, but for now I want to explore the American media sorta-juggernaut that pioneered this business model.

Introducing QVC 👀

Founded in 1986, QVC still delivers "Quality Value Convenience" to over 350 million households worldwide and is on pace to drive about $10B in revenue this year (that’s about two Snapchats worth of revenue).

You might know it better as that channel your grandma used to watch and buy stuff from sometimes.

QVC (more or less) started this whole media driven shopping, was perfectly positioned to ride the growth of Cable TV subscribers through the 90’s/00’s, and operated in a niche that was mostly overlooked by modern tech companies

(Physical products? Gross. That’s not zero marginal cost!).

The main exception, of course, being Amazon.

And this is the vibe.

But now tech companies want in on these sales.

Let’s figure out why.

(Source)

​II.

Welcome back to 2016!

I was a bit distracted by my deployment to Afghanistan, but the rest of the world was wondering how the Trump presidency would change things...

lol

Except for China - they were too busy buying things on the internet.

Mogujie, and much more importantly Alibaba, launched livestream shopping in 2016.

The rest of the big Chinese platforms got the memo over the next 3 years and by the time COVID hit about 388 million people (or 40% China’s internet users) used livestream ecommerce to shop.

COVID, of course, hypercharged online purchases and livestream shopping drove $62B in gross merchandise sales throughout 2020. 

That’s like 10 Snapchats worth of revenue!

Livestream shopping activity has slightly declined since then (similar to a lot of other parts of e-commerce post-COVID), but US Tech companies have been side-eyeing that sweet, sweet livestream money ever since.

III.

I just lied to you.

Not all Big Tech companies have been drooling over livestream shopping since 2020.

Amazon has been trying to get that livestream bag since…

2016 actually!

Launched as an “Amazon runs the Livestreams” effort to push their white labeled Amazon Fashion brands, they shuttered the initial program in favor of a “support Amazon Storefronts so they can do the Livestreams” approach that they’ve changed and improved upon over the past few years.

It’s called Amazon Live and it feels… pretty similar to TikTok Live to be honest (and every other live shopping mobile app experience).

The main difference is that Amazon doesn’t have an incredibly engaging content platform to attach it to which makes it really hard to understand how people actually find these livestreams - but apparently some people do!

this is wild to me.

(Source)

3 NOTES ON THE PRESENT

I.

This pretty much sums up the discourse on TikTok Shop right now.

Also this.

And this.

Opinions are split.

You can’t get on TikTok without getting assaulted by Creators shilling products with (maybe perhaps probably dubious) wild claims, pretty aggressive (40%!!) deal coupons, and people reflexively moaning about the change to their feed.

There’s also some likely very smart people making an absolute killing on their TikTok shop sales.

It’s silly to ignore that latter, but also reckless to ignore the former.

My takeaway: If you have something useful for your audience that you were already planning on selling to them, it’s worth your time to figure out how to get a TikTok shop going - if for no other reason than TikTok is probably going to eventually nerf or disable any links to external shops.

If you weren’t planning on selling something in the near term, I recommend reflecting on if a “scrambled together in a weekend” product plan is the right thing to put in front of your audience.

It could be!

But it might hurt your long term audience trust more than it helps your near term cash flow.

(Source)

II.

How big is YouTube?

Pretty big - about 13.3 billion videos big according to TubeStats.

That’s up almost 50% from 9 billion videos last year!

Why should you care?

Because that growth rate seems to be increasing over time.

Sometimes it can feel like you missed an opportunity with social + performance media if you didn’t start a YouTube channel in 2010.

But when you look at the data, there’s a lot of evidence that we’re just getting started.

(Source)

III.

TikTok is pretty big too.

TikTok In The Mix - the first concert of probably many future “live global experiences” - snagged 9.6M live viewers and another 24M subsequent viewers in follow up broadcasts.

That makes this it’s biggest ever live event (so far).

That’s big.

It’s not Cricket Finals or League of Legends big, but it’s still big.

And it’s different.

The vast majority of successful “live” content formats have historically been sports related. A live performance snagging these kinds of numbers gives every Creator a license to experiment with new, synchronous content formats.

Combine these new format experiments with everything we’ve talked about already with content app shopping experiences and you start to get a pretty interesting picture of what we might look forward to in 2024.

(Source)

3 THOUGHTS FOR THE FUTURE

I.

The reality of TikTok Shop in 2024 is that we don’t know what’s going to happen.

Amazon clearly hasn’t figured it out after 7+ years of effort.

Things are different now post-COVID, post-Twitter, and maybe post-Social??

This could just be a subsidy driven blip on the radar before we revert back to our ad-supported algo-driven feeds.

Or it could be a permanent change in how people think about their relationship with buying stuff through their phone.

Personally, I think two things big things about TikTok Shop.

  1. All major media platforms have a vested interest in keeping you perpetually engaged by implying that the world is ending.

  2. Change is never simple and clean.

I’m excited that Creators have permission to experiment with new ways to bring value to their audiences 

And I’m concerned that bad actors will use this permission to sell crappy or dangerous things that will make it harder for good actors to sell stuff in the future.

So it goes.

(Source)

​II.

In the midst of another US centric frenzy, we tend to forget that the rest of the world is also big.

Out of the top 10 most viewed videos on YouTube in the past week, only 2 are from an English speaking channel (yes of course it’s MrBeast and skibidi toilet 69 why do you ask?).

The rest come from Indian, Thai, and Pakistani Creators.

Creators (and more importantly audiences) are global and that only becomes more true in 2024.

(Source)

III.

Remember that you don't have to chase a gold rush.

Sometimes it’s the right option - it’s certainly much easier to ride a wave than it is to create one.

But it’s definitely not the only option.

You might make a ridiculous bag on something like TikTok shop or whatever the next quick money trend is (there will always be another one), but if you are playing an infinite game…

It might not be worth it to (maybe) burn your credibility.

Creators have a unique advantage online.

You understand your audience. You know their pain. You get them.

That puts you in an incredible spot to match, discover, and even design a product perfect for them.

That's how you eventually find Creator-Product Fit.

The internet is still undefeated.

It’s undefeated for content.

It’s undefeated for people who want to make a living from their creativity.

It’s also undefeated for making people feel terrible for not doing so in the “right” or “fastest” way.

Things are still very early in the land of content and chaos and remember that your most powerful advantage is persistence. 🫡

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See you next week,

p.s. if you’ve ever wondered about the future of AI supported content creation and haven’t heard Glorb’s ridiculously catchy Spongebob raps yet then check this banger out…

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