Bárbara de la Rosa is living her best life. The 41-year-old life coach from the Mexican state of Nuevo León has over 170,000 followers on Instagram, where she regularly posts motivational videos, inspirational quotes, and snippets of her personal milestones. The most popular posts on de la Rosa’s Instagram feed have around 7,500 likes.

Across the country, in Mexico City, social media star Sebastián Tapia Marruffo has over 870,000 followers on TikTok — nearly six times more than de la Rosa’s Instagram account. Tapia Marruffo posts clips of himself reading out cringe-worthy reggaeton lyrics or comments written by random Instagram users. His videos sometimes surpass the 2 million view mark on the Chinese short-form video app.

Going by the logic of the follower-obsessed culture of our time, Tapia Marruffo should be earning far more than de la Rosa. But that’s far from the truth.

Tapia Marruffo doesn’t make a penny save for the odd paid campaign, which his manager told Rest of World comes once in a blue moon. Meanwhile, de la Rosa earned 9 million Mexican pesos in 2020, about $430,000, by selling personal development courses on her online coaching school, called Entrenando al Corazón. She charges about 1,883 pesos, almost $90, for a six-class program. 

De la Rosa focuses on being not an influencer but a content creator. The distinction is that the latter is “someone who makes money from selling their own content instead of worrying about the size of their followers and getting paid to advertise a product [like influencers do],” said Alex Ramírez, co-founder and CEO of MisFans, a startup that helps streamers monetize.

That’s de la Rosa’s secret to success. Despite having a decent following on Instagram — in addition to Facebook, where she posts occasionally, and YouTube, where her channel has fewer than 14,000 subscribers — she doesn’t sell her courses through social media platforms.

“If I’d just monetized on Facebook, I’d be earning about 100,000 pesos ($4,690) yearly,” de la Rosa told Rest of World. “I initially reached my audience there, but it’s not a good place to run a business. God help anyone making their living from just Facebook.”

De la Rosa has managed to navigate the monetization challenge mainly by running her business entirely through a company that helps content creators sell their products. She is an example of a growing breed of Latin American content creators who are teaming up with content monetization companies.

Latin America has recently seen a boom in these sorts of content monetization companies. Mexico City–based MisFans, which focuses on gamers, e-sports enthusiasts, and other streamers, is one of them. De la Rosa uses one of the oldest, called Hotmart. 

Though it is based in the Netherlands, Hotmart was founded by Brazilians João Pedro Resende and Mateus Bicalho in 2011. Its slate of tools includes guides to best practices for closing online sales, digital marketing, a persuasive copy-writing technique, and personalized paid or organic traffic strategies for each creator. 

Hotmart caters mostly to Latin Americans. Most of its creators are Brazilian, yet about 54% of those who buy the content offered on it are from Mexico, said Enrique Segura, senior manager for new businesses in Latin America at Hotmart. “We’ve seen 70% growth in Mexico since 2020. It has a lot of creators with great potential to change their businesses.”

Mexico suffers from an acute case of a problem that ails Latin America as a whole: low incomes and mistrust among consumers have creators struggling to monetize their content on traditional social media platforms, despite having the world’s highest average daily online media consumption: 10 hours and 40 minutes

Leandro Chiaria, who co-founded Wombo Academy, an Argentine esports training platform where popular gamers can get paid for training other gamers, reckons that Latin America has an estimated 10 million digital creators. That includes gamers, writers, artists, and bloggers, among other types of creative professionals. “Only about 10% of them are monetizing,” he told Rest of World.

“Twitch recently decided to lower the standard monthly subscription fee from $5 to $2 because kids in Latin America can’t really afford more.”

The first problem, according to Segura, is that “a creator may have content on YouTube, but they don’t have any knowledge about how to sell or how to bring in the money.”

This is, in part, due to the fact that, as Ramírez from MisFans believes, global platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitch, Patreon, OnlyFans, andSubstack “don’t give [the region’s creators] the tools to monetize from day one,” he said. This makes it hard for creators to fully trust these foreign platforms. 

Trust issues come from a deep-seated regional suspicion of online payments. “There is a lot of distrust [in Latin America] when using a credit card online,” said Ramírez. “Fans should trust the platform to put their money on it, but that’s the platform’s job, not something a creator should work on.” 

That was the problem for Jaime Arturo Durán, a streamer who goes by JimRsNg on Twitch. From his home in the Mexican state of Veracruz, he streams almost 10 hours a day to make a living off the subscriptions and tips he gets from the 72,000 people on his channel. It means long days and exhausting nights. But, to Durán, “the most complicated thing about monetizing on Twitch is having people trust the platform to start paying,” he told Rest of World

Even when consumers eventually do start paying, low incomes locally limit how much they’re willing to cough up. Mexico and Chile, two of the largest markets for streamers in Latin America, rank 41.81 and 42.50 on Numbeo’s  Purchasing Power Index. That’s well below countries in the Asia Pacific region, like India (54.30) or South Korea (85.21).

“Twitch recently decided to lower the standard monthly subscription fee from $5 to $2 because kids in Latin America can’t really afford more,” says Wombo’s Chiaria.

All of these roadblocks to monetization in Latin America have sown the seeds for creators to take up companies, like Hotmart, MisFans, and Wombo, on their offer to diversify away from traditional social media platforms. As it has been operating for a decade, Hotmart calculates that it is now working with over 30 million creators, affiliates, and consumers. 

MisFans and Wombo were both created during the pandemic. Ramírez, who is 22, and Chiaria, 28, are catering to creators underserved by newer platforms — Twitch, TikTok, OnlyFans, and Discord. To them, small is lucrative: Wombo currently works with 15 creators, with a total of almost 300 subscribers. MisFans works with over 240 creators “with a waitlist of 150,” says Ramírez.

Durán has recently become a creator at Wombo. There, he can earn up to $700 each month for sharing gaming advice in a single two- or four-hour session per week — far less demanding than his Twitch streaming schedule. The one-on-one sessions are a friendlier approach to get fans paying.

“I joined Wombo to share my knowledge with other gamers and help them become as good as I am,” he says. “And in that process, I’m able to put food on my table.”