Corbett Barr
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10 Trends for Creators to Watch in 2021

It’s the time of year for round-up posts, but, a) 2020 was a dumpster fire I’d rather forget about, and b) I’m largely starting over online, so I’m in the mood to look forward, not backward.

Here are 10 trends for creators I’m watching in 2021:

1. Videobooks

As out attention spans get shorter and shorter, longer-form content can be harder to fit into our days. I read pitifully few books in 2020, no doubt due to being glued to the news every day.

Audiobooks can be a great time-saver, but they still take 8+ hours to listen to, and some people don’t digest audio as well as other formats.

Enter videobooks. A new company called LIT Videobooks has the antidote for our short attention spans. They partner with bestselling authors and Emmy award-winning production talent to bring business books to life in under 2 hours. Watch the trailer and introduction from their first videobook Contagious by Jonah Berger to see the final result.

2. Paid Newsletters

It’s always amazing to me when something that has been around quietly for years finally takes hold and becomes aThing that everyone is talking about. Podcasting had it’s breakout year recently, accelerated by popular mainstream shows like Serial and S-Town, the $100 Million Spotify Deal for Joe Rogan, and the explosion of podcast tools and technology.

Now Paid Newsletters are about to experience their time in the spotlight, thanks due to Substack, which finally made it easy to charge for email newsletters. Convertkit just announced they’re getting in the game too, which should help make paid newsletters very popular in 2021.

3. Utility-first CSS

Bear with me while I get geeky for a minute. If you’re not familiar, CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) is the language used to style websites. It controls the layout, colors and how all elements are to be displayed on screen.

CSS is traditionally written in two parts: first by naming the element you want to style, then by adding the CSS style language in a completely separate section or separate file. Keeping things separate is time consuming because of the need to find where the CSS for each element is defined, and constantly flip back and forth between the two.

“Utility” classes are classes that can be added directly to the element, without needing to write new CSS for each element. Adam Wathan wasn’t the first to consider the use of utility classes, but with TailwindCSS, he was perhaps the first to write such a comprehensive suite of utility classes that can completely change the way you use CSS.

TailwindCSS (and it’s component system TailwindUI) have been a joy to work with this year, and are clearly the future of CSS in my mind.

4. Jamstack

Sooner or later, everything old is new again. Jamstack is a “new” way of building websites that has more in common with old static websites than it does with modern dynamic site builders like WordPress or SquareSpace.

Jamstack sites can be incredibly fast because everything is pre-rendered instead of pulled from a database. Jamstack has become incredibly popular recently with developers and people who like to tinker with code, but it hasn’t been as accessible to regular creators without coding skills.

Companies like Netlify, Gatsby Cloud and now Cloudflare are working to make Jamstack more widely usable, which will lead to more creators trying out this new/old way of building websites next year. There is debate about whether Jamstack is really an improvement over database-backed content management systems like WordPress, which makes this trend even more interesting to follow in 2021.

5. Subscription Email Services

Creators are a group who are used to paying for digital services. My monthly software-as-a-service bills have run as high as $2,500 a month as I pay for tools like podcast hosting, email marketing, video hosting, web hosting, accounting software, and productivity tools to keep my businesses running.

One category I haven’t typically paid for? Email. I don’t mean email marketing, I just mean regular old email service. Gmail has served my needs for over a decade now, but it’s “free” because it’s ad-supported.

Free ad-supported email works fine for casual users, but independent entrepreneurs and creatives who rely on email to get work done might be willing to pay for a service that makes email more efficient and effective.

That’s the bet Jason Fried, DHH and the folks behind Basecamp are making with their new HEY email service. Tens of thousands of people already agree, spending $99 per year for a @hey.com email address that promises to dig you out from under your email avalanche with a completely fresh approach.

Tina Roth Eisenberg from Swiss Miss fame loves the HEY experience so much she changed her Twitter profile name to her email address (tina@hey.com). That says something.

Will HEY take over in 2021? Will other subscription-based email services crop up? I’m definitely curious to see where this goes.

6. Digital Reboots

For the past few years, I’ve started to feel more and more beholden to my digital past. The projects I committed to years ago were dictating my present and keeping me from feeling like I could make room for what’s next.

So, publicly I announced that I’m starting over.

It’s hard to keep it in perspective, but the things that consume most of our days now are only a decade or two old. Podcasts, social media, blogging, YouTube, they’re all so new.

It’s not natural for every thought or scribble you’ve produced to exist publicly for everyone to see for all time. I don’t think we’ve come to terms with that yet, nor do we know how it is affecting all of us.

Other people I follow and friends from the Internet have either considered a digital reboot, or have already done it. Paul Jarvis is an extreme example, as he deleted everything so he can focus on Fathom Analytics.

Chris Guillebeau tweeted recently: “I’m seriously thinking about starting over with a bunch of stuff for 2021. My blog, my podcast, my next book … literally archiving everything and starting it all over from a blank slate.”

Will this become a trend in 2021? Starting over for me has felt invigorating and freeing, so I hope it will.

7. VC Alternatives for Bootstrappers

Venture capital isn’t a fit for 99%+ of businesses, but that doesn’t mean bootstrapping is always the right choice, either. If your business isn’t aiming for hypergrowth/unicorn status you might still have a need for capital.

That’s where a new crop of VC-alternatives come in. As Rob Walling of TinySeed says ”To most venture capitalists, $10m in annual revenue is an abject failure. To us, it’s a great business.”

TinySeed isn’t alone.

Sahil Lavingia from Gumroad knows first-hand that traditional venture capital isn’t always the right fit, having “failed” after raising $10M. His new angel fund is investing with a much more hands-on approach. If I were raising money today but wasn’t quite ready for venture capital, I would love to have Sahil as an investor.

Indie.vc aims to be the last investment our founders need to take (something they call Permissionless Entrepreneurship). They look for post-revenue tech, or tech-enabled “real businesses”, built by founders who value preserving optionality and ownership.

8. Tiny Investment Portfolios

At a different point in the financing lifecycle of a business, small company founders who are looking for a way to sell their businesses are starting to have more options.

Tiny Capital started by Andrew Wilkinson has been buying, starting and investing in internet businesses and has built an impressive portfolio including some companies you may have heard of like Dribbble, Meteor, Buffer, Waking Up with Sam Harris and many more.

Syed Balkhi has also amassed a portfolio of great internet businesses, including WPBeginner, OptinMonster, WPForms and more.

The businesses these two invest in aren’t candidates for VC or the public markets, but they are stable, growing, and many are throwing off a ton of cash. Will these tiny investment portfolios become a bigger trend? We’ll see.

9. Apple Silicon

I spend way too much time reading about hardware and gadgets. This year saw the launch of something that is likely to mark a major turning point in the history of computing.

In case you missed it, Apple announced earlier this year that they would be ditching Intel CPUs in favor of using their own chips for all Apple computers, including laptops and desktops.

Last month they released three of the initial computers built on Apple Silicon (the M1 chip), and the reviews are calling these new machines gamechanging.

Why does this matter for creators? Most of us spend hour upon hour on our computers every day. When performance and battery life both take a major leap, it means we can get more done in less time, while being less tethered to our desk. I replaced my wife’s aging 2015 MacBook with a new M1-based MacBook Air and I can confirm that the new laptop is incredibly fast, and the battery lasts all day, sometimes into the second day.

And this is just the beginning. Apple will be releasing new chips for desktops (think iMac and Mac Pro) and higher-end versions for the MacBook Pro. Apple Silicon has been making greater leaps in performance and power consumption every year vs. Intel processors, so it appears the gap between them will widen over the coming years.

2021 will be an exciting year for Apple hardware, and a great time for creators to consider upgrading.

10. The Creator Economy

Last in this list, but most important in my mind, is growth of the overall creator economy. Earning a living as a full-time independent creator has finally gone mainstream.

I was a little early calling this in 2009 when I wrote New Economy Superstar, but the signs were already there. It has just taken time for technology to catch up and culture to embrace it.

Platforms that make it easier and easier for creators to reach an audience and get paid are exploding. Patreon, Substack, Twitch, YouTube, OnlyFans, Etsy, and on and on, startups are catering to creators because creators rule the world. It’s no wonder kids would rather be a YouTube star or vlogger than a lawyer.

The next few years are going to see explosive growth in the creator economy. This is a trend all of us who call ourselves creators should benefit from.

What trends are you following in 2021 and beyond? Come tell me on Twitter.

Published December, 2020

About the author

Hi, I’m Corbett Barr. I write about the creator economy 🧑‍🎨 digital minimalism 🧘 and tech for social good 🙌.

I’ve been self employed online since 2005, earning a living from blogging, podcasting, online courses, memberships, SaaS and more. I’ve bootstrapped, freelanced, consulted and raised venture capital.

Recently, I started over to refocus on writing, and to reevaluate my digital self.

I’m a big fan of digital media and techology, but I believe we should all be using it more mindfully and that technology itself should be a force for social good.

I write a monthly-ish newsletter for people who make things on the Internet. I hope you’ll subscribe:

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