StoryFire is a technology startup that is fast becoming one of the hottest platforms since the launch of YouTube. Dedicated to both writing and—more recently—video content, StoryFire gives users far more freedom to create entertaining media than YouTube does considering the recent changes to policies. Like YouTube, StoryFire offers payment to its users, specifically via in-app currency known as “Blaze” which is collected based on the amount of content one watches and/or paid for (500 Blaze equals $1).
StoryFire was launched in April 2017 as a result of a partnership between media experts Jesse Ridgway and Brian Spitz. Whereas Brian has roots in Hollywood and has worked with A-list corporations such as Disney, SONY and FOX, Jesse gained fame on the YouTube platform where he posted more than 700 videos under the username McJuggerNuggets. There he gained over four million subscribers and 2 billion views largely due to the “Psycho Series” which was a scripted documentary-style series about a dysfunctional family of angry individuals. Jesse and Brian met in 2017 when a documentary about the series—which was purchased by Verizon and went on to win a Streamy award—was being produced by Studio71 which hired Brian to direct the documentary. Over time, “Psycho Series” earned 10 million views per month. However, due to YouTube’s changes to add revenues, Jesse was not making much money off his channel since over 500 Psycho Series videos were deemed inappropriate and thereby unfriendly to advertisers. Ridiculously, the videos were deemed “violent” because they featured acts of “aggression” on inanimate objects.
It is due to these very over-the-top limitations, restrictions, demonetizations, and without-warning deletions, that Jesse grew incredibly frustrated with YouTube and decided to abandon the platform in January of 2020 after approximately 14 years as a content creator. The writing had been on the wall for a while; StoryFire has already been established and was gaining momentum so making it his full-time platform was a natural move for Jesse. As YouTube has become increasingly strict, punitive, and distant from creators—including banning content and ads on videos that are child-friendly—more and more content creators are seeking new platforms. StoryFire is a natural fit.
Perhaps the most compelling thing about StoryFire is their internal monetization economy which is driven by a currency Brian and Jesse created called Blaze. This in-house currency enables users to either buy Blaze (800 units costs 99 cents) or earn it by watching advertisements that air before content (essentially, by watching videos and reading stories you can earn Blaze for free). Content creators earn money through as revenue but at a much fairer rate (70% to creator and 30% to platform) than YouTube (which takes a full 45% of a creator’s ad revenue). Anyone who creates stories or videos on StoryFire can also opt to make their content free or require users to “pay” Blaze for access (again, Blaze is accumulated by watching videos so paying Blaze is different from paying actual money). Many writers typically use Blaze like a paywall; releasing the first chapter of a story for free and then charging 10 Blaze units for access to every additional chapter. Yet although Blaze is strictly an in-house currency system, it translates into real money. 800 Blaze is worth 99 cents (broken down, 100 Blaze equals 20 cents in USD).
Interestingly, StoryFire did not start out as a video platform. Instead, it started as a writing platform which was directly inspired by comment section on YouTube where Jesses’ fans would frequently discuss through show and its possible plot twists. The creativity and passion of the fans inspired Jesse and Brian to create an online space where stories could be created collaboratively and authentically without worrying about algorithms, trends, and clickbait. Yet the site quickly expanded from text narratives to include video capability…for a select few. Every month, over 20,000 of the sites’ 1 million creators apply to be approved to make videos. Between 20 and 40 succeed. StoryFire also added a social media component to their system where tweets can be reposted and fans of the tweeter can be tipped in Blaze.
Perhaps the most enticing things about StoryFire is that demonetization does not exist on the platform. Brian and Jesse believe in freedom of expression and lend that to their users with dignity. However, StoryFire has a rigorous approval system that every single video on its platform must pass through before going live. Although open to much edgier content then YouTube, anything overtly violent, hateful, or sexual will be removed in the unlikely event that it gets past the approval process.
Although the desire to post in StoryFire has increased exponentially as YouTube tightens its reigns on channels, Brian and Jesse do not consider themselves to be rivals of any other platform.
“We are not an alternative for YouTube but we are a supplementary entertainment option and a place to build stories together,” Brian Spitz explained via a recent exclusive interview. “If YouTube is HBO then we are AMC. We carefully curate what gets put on our platform so anyone we approve we trust not to cross certain content lines. That trust is why we can give them more freedom than YouTube.”
While most of the original StoryFire content was narrative-driven, more traditional video topics such as DIY tutorials, gaming channels, and lifestyle vlogs are emerging as conditions on YouTube become increasingly difficult for content creators to deal with. As YouTube becomes especially harsh on kid-friendly channels, StoryFire is expecting to see a surge in child-geared content.
“When we designed this platform, we wanted to give the creators a stake in it and make them know that we value them and see them not as employees but partners,” Jesse Ridgway explained. “On YouTube if something goes wrong there is no way to contact them. With StoryFire if you need to talk to someone to work out a content issue you can get help quickly and easily. We respect them as creators and people.”
The respect is appreciated and it shows in numbers. In two years, StoryFire has amassed over 1 million creators and reach more than 100 million people, an astonishing following. Jesse Ridgway and Brian Spitz are currently planning to look for outside investors via Series A financing. Ideally, they would like to have the ability to award certain indie creators $10,000 to help them fund creative projects…and collaborate.
“We are very proud of what we have created and especially the Blaze Marketplace,” Brian stated in reference to the in-house system that is designed to allow creators pay each other through Blaze for services. For instance, a writer might pay an artist Blaze to illustrate their book or an animator might pay a musician Blaze to use their music in a video…all without needing to spend an actual penny.
“To date we have had more than 100 million transactions in the marketplace,” Jesse declared. “It’s so rewarding to see that sort of collaboration.”
Although the videos are becoming a commodity on StoryFire, the writing section is still going strong and is another prime example of creative colorations. In fact, some school children have even convinced their teachers to let them use it for creative writing projects.
“We have not officially partnered with any schools or educational institutions yet but we are open to the possibility,” Jesse proclaimed. “We want to make creating enjoyable again, not all about chasing trends or trying to avoid getting demonetized. There are so many ways that we can branch out and evolve but our core mission of respect and equity for creators will never change. We want to be the one-stop-shop for premium user-generated content.”
When asked about the future, Jesse Ridgway and Brian Spitz both noted a profound interest in blockchain technology, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence—technologies that are improving by leaps and bounds each day.
“We don’t want our creators to feel like slaves to the machine when they are the fuel in the machine” Jesse said. “In ten years, if we can be at the forefront of emerging technologies that serve creative endeavors then we have achieved something.”
“Download StoryFire and experience it yourself!” Brian added with a laugh. “By Creators, for Creators is pretty much our ethos. Jesse and I have the media experience covered, from traditional Hollywood to the digital world as creators and filmmakers. So, we very much pride ourselves on the fact creators are building this…we are not chasing a market, we are the market.”
You can check StoryFire out here.