Bilibili content creators see income plummet

In 2022, Bilibili shared 9 billion yuan with content creators. But for creators at the end of their tether, it doesn’t feel like a fair share.

Photo by Cai Xingzhuo

Photo by Cai Xingzhuo

By SHE Xiaochen


On March 31, a very popular video game creator uploaded a video to Bilibili, the Chinese video streaming site. Unlike previous uploads which consisted mostly of game highlights, this was a 90-second farewell to his 3.8 million followers.

There are 1,300 content creators with more than 1 million followers on Bilibili. On the same day, another content creator also waved goodbye to his 2 million followers, with a similar message. Then an influencer with more than 3 million followers said bye-bye to Bilibili too.

Creativity exhausted

Three creatives jumping ship together may seem insignificant, but it was enough to strike a chord that resonates among the disgruntled content-creator community. Almost no one – none of the creators at least – is making much money. Most never have, and the few who ever did are finding it harder and harder to make any money at all from videos, let alone earn a living.

Making very good videos makes little money. Creativity does not come without costs to the creators - financial, physical and emotional. The goodbye-cruel-world clips all carried the same basic message: Content creators are exhausted.

In 2018, Bilibili rolled out an incentive scheme that the creators earn money based on the quality and popularity of each video. More likes, more clicks, more money. The scheme was a great success, for the creators, but last year, big changes to the system took away almost half of their income.

Nothing to sell

In its 2022 financial report, Bilibili said it spent 9.1 billion yuan (US$1.3 billion) on revenue-sharing with content creators. But the receivers of the bounty - the creators themselves, - feel that hard done by. It’s a share, but it’s not a fair share.

One disaffected animator told Jiemian News that a couple of years ago, she would make as much as 30 yuan for every 10,000 clicks of a video. Now it’s a 5-yuan maximum.

This small amount from Bilibili was only ever a small fraction of the uploaders’ income, akin to the dividend paid on shares. The real money came from advertisements. A huge part of the content creators’ income all but vanished last year when China's Internet advertising revenue decreased.

Platforms like Bilibili were particularly affected due to their difficulty in achieving direct transaction conversions. Bilibili doesn’t actually sell very much. The income comes from advertisers promoting goods.

Making ends meet

Against this trend, however, Bilibili’s advertising income grew 12 percent last year. This sounds like good news, but has to be compared with 2021 when the same income rose by 145 percent. But last year, the smart money was flooding into other platforms like Douyin and Xiaohongshu.

For Bilibili, this is a serious problem. Despite the ceaseless increase in its user base, the site is losing more and more money. Last year, its net loss worsened 10 percent to 7.5 billion yuan.

CHEN Rui, founder and CEO of Bilibili, has set a singularly uninspiring goal for the company this year. The ambition for 2023 is to lower costs and raise efficiency, to make ends meet.

Lowering costs and raising efficiency are the current euphemisms for lay-offs and redundancies. Bilibili has already allowed roughly 30 percent of its staff to seek better opportunities elsewhere. Customer service has been hardest hit and the creators are precisely the customers who are no longer being served.

Turning things around

In 2021, Bilibili introduced vertical videos to fit upright screens. Far from inspiring a wave of innovation, the new format was shunned by creators, unable to see beyond the aspect ratio of established moving image forms.

But the audience apparently loves these shorter and less sophisticated videos.

These videos are now the main stock-and-trade of TikTok and its many clones. In a way, this shifted the creative balance away from creators who claimed to know what customers wanted, and gave more power to the consumers. Views of vertical videos on the site almost trebled last year.