Why TikTok stars are criticizing its creator fund

·Senior Editor
·4 min read
Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images

Being part of TikTok’s creator fund is apparently a lot less lucrative than it may seem, even for some of the app’s biggest stars. Over the last few days, some high-profile TikTokkers have taken the unusual step of publicizing how much — or in this case, how little — they are making from the fund.

TikTok is still relatively early in its monetization features for creators. Instead of a revenue sharing arrangement like YouTube’s Partner Program, TikTok pays its top stars out of a creator fund. Launched in 2020, the fund started out with $200 million, and TikTok said last year it was increasing the fund to $1 billion over the next three years in the U.S. But the company hasn’t provided details on how much it has distributed or how much participants can expect to earn.

But according to one prominent streamer, most creators are earning very little. Last week, Hank Green, who has more than 6 million followers on TikTok, shared a YouTube video titled “So… TikTok sucks.” In the 24-minute video, he details his experience in TikTok’s creator fund, and estimates that he currently makes about 2.5 cents per 1,000 views on the platform — a fraction of what he earns on YouTube and about half of what he had previously earned on TikTok.

The problem, as he explains it, is that TikTok offers a steadily growing number of creators a portion of a “static pool of money,” that isn’t tied to TikTok’s revenue or its skyrocketing popularity. The result is that each creator makes less and less, even as TikTok becomes more successful. “Because of the way that TikTok shares a lot of audience among a lot of creators, that ends up being less than a dollar a day for most of the people in the creator fund,” he said.

Green, whose participation in the creator fund was previously touted by TikTok in a corporate blog post, said that creator funds aren’t bad on their own, but that TikTok’s current arrangement is preventing creators from being able to adequately support themselves.

His comments prompted others to share their frustrations with TikTok. Safwan AhmedMia, who goes by SuperSaf on TikTok, shared Green’s video along with a screenshot of his TikTok earnings: £112.04 (about $151). “This is how much I've made from the TikTok Creator Fund since April 2021 with over 25 million views in that time,” he wrote.

Then, Jimmy Donaldson, the streamer known as Mr. Beast, shared his TikTok earnings. According to the screenshot, he’s earned just under $15,000 from the app, with daily earnings between $18 and $32 in January. As The Information points out, that works out to less than $10,000 a year from TikTok, despite his estimate that he’s gotten “over a billion views” on the app. That number is particularly low considering Donaldson is YouTube’s top earner, and made $54 million on the platform in 2021.

It's not clear how much Green, AhmedMia and Donaldson's experience reflects that of other creators in the the fund. But TikTok hasn’t offered an alternative explanation about why its creators are making so little. “The Creator Fund is one of many ways that creators can make money on TikTok,” a TikTok spokesperson said in a statement, pointing to the company’s creator marketplace, which helps match creators with potential sponsors. “We continue to listen to and seek feedback from our creator community and evolve our features to improve the experience for those in the program.”

It's true that the creator fund isn't the only way TikTok stars make money from the app. The app has a tipping feature, though it's not available to everyone yet. Creators also regularly partner with brands and those deals can be worth millions for the app's most influential users. But inking a deal with a major brand requires time and effort, and that option may not be available to lesser known creators. And since TikTok doesn't have a revenue sharing feature, the fund is right now the only way creators can be paid directly by the company.

Elsewhere, the app is testing other monetization features for creators. It's experimenting with subscription features, which would allow creators to effectively move some of their content behind a paywall. The features appears to be in an early stage, and the company hasn’t said when, or even if, the feature may be available more widely.

Are you in TikTok's creator fund or have a tip to share about how it distributes funds? Email me at karissa.bell [at] engadget.com.