Live streaming is now the best-paying job for fresh Chinese graduates amid a shifting economy

ByteDance, TikTok, fastest-growing use of the internet, Alibaba Group Holding, celebrities rake in cash, as a new occupation, cracked down on citizen journalists

For anyone fresh out of college in China, the best way to make money in 2021 is by becoming a content creator, according to online classifieds platform 58.com, in a sign that chasing online celebrity instead of traditional corporate gigs is paying off for the country’s youth.

Newly minted live-streamers and other independent online content creators, referred to as “self-media” in Chinese, have been able to earn an average monthly salary of 14,682 yuan (US$2,280) this year, according to a survey that includes recent graduates of vocational training and universities at all levels, with 64 per cent of respondents being undergraduates.

The second-highest paying occupation for new graduates this year is in design, with an average monthly salary of 9,933 yuan. It is closely followed by research and development and technology, which pay an average of 9,867 yuan and 9,845 yuan, respectively

Overall, the average monthly salary for fresh graduates this year is 8,720 yuan, up from 7,839 yuan last year and 6,423 yuan in 2019, according to the survey. Jobs related to information technology and the internet were the most popular in all three years.

Live streaming was already thriving in China before Covid-19, but when the pandemic forced millions of people to do their shopping at home, live-streaming e-commerce boomed.

Live-streaming channels on popular social networks like ByteDance’s Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, became a popular way for consumers to experience a product before buying. By October, it was the fastest-growing use of the internet in China.

The fact that live-streaming e-commerce accounted for 1 per cent of gross merchandise (GMV) value for Kuaishou, Douyin’s domestic short-video rival, was a selling point when the company went public earlier this year. It also made up 60 per cent of GMV for Taobao Live, the industry’s biggest platform run by e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding, owner of the South China Morning Post.

Live-streamers can make money in various ways, including endorsing products and accepting tips from viewers. For some, hawking wares online has turned them into online celebrities. Others just see it as an easy way to make quick cash.

The ease of setting up shop has helped some celebrities rake in cash when their star power has dried up elsewhere. The news cycle may also determine who shows up.

Earlier this week, news went viral that live-streaming celebrity Sun Yining had rejected advances from Wang Sicong, the celebrity son of Wang Jianlin, the billionaire founder of Dalian Wanda Group. Screenshots of abusive texts allegedly from Wang were posted online. In a later 150-minute live-streaming session, Sun reportedly pulled in 700,000 yuan in tips from her viewers.

Without a high-profile controversy to attract viewers, though, the big bucks do not come easy. Most of the 130 million live-streaming accounts in China last year only made between 3,000 and 5,000 yuan per month, according to a report from the China Association of Performing Arts.

In May last year, China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security officially recognised live-streaming sellers as a new occupation under the category of “internet marketing specialists”. However, the industry, including self-media generally, is facing increasing scrutiny as Beijing tightens its grip on online content and the digital economy.

A new set of rules for live streaming, published in April by China’s internet watchdog and six other regulatory bodies, banned a range of behaviours that include peddling fake products, falsifying viewership numbers and engaging in gambling or fraud. It called on platforms to establish a blacklist system to enforce the regulations.

Self-media workers were already operating under intense censorship when the Cyberspace Administration of China cracked down on citizen journalists in February, which came about in part because of their role in reporting on conditions in Wuhan last year in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak.

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