Gabrielle Marquez, 18, has about 70 Squishmallows. She keeps the larger ones on her bed and the smaller ones on a bookshelf or tucked away in a toy hammock or bedroom chair. She said that the stuffed animals are especially popular with young people dealing with anxiety or depression. “If you’re feeling down it helps to have something to hug or go out and make yourself happy by buying a new one,” she said.

Ms. Marquez has enjoyed “being able to find a community of other people who share the same common interest and talk with them about Squishmallows during lockdown when there’s not that much else we can do. I use this hobby to connect with friends all over, I have friends in other states and Canada now.” Last Wednesday, her high school declared the day “Squishmallow Wednesday” during a virtual assembly.

“When I’m doing school I can look over at my bed and see a fun unicorn or dragon or octopus looking over at me,” said Isa Armstrong, a high school sophomore in Westchester, N.Y. “It just brings me happiness and that warm and fuzzy feeling.”

She and other fans said they liked the inclusivity reflected in the bios of the plush dolls. “They just released a couple Squishmallows that are gender-neutral and use they/them pronouns,” Ms. Armstrong, 16, said. “I feel like it’s normalizing it for children, and I love that.”

Ms. Wiles said she hopes to take her daughter out Squishmallow hunting again soon. “There’s something so innocent about it that I fully support it,” she said. “We’ve just spent an entire year where kids are just at home on their iPads, so just that there’s something that’s captivating them that’s so simple and pure, it’s kind of nice.”

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For Creators, Everything is for Sale

A rash of new start-ups are making it easier for digital creators to monetize every aspect of their life — down to what they eat, who they hang out with and who they respond to on TikTok.

Tens of millions of people around the globe consider themselves creators, and the creator economy represents the “fastest-growing type of small business,” according to a 2020 report by the venture capital firm SignalFire.

But as the market gets more and more competitive — and the platforms and their algorithms remain unreliable — creators are devising new, hyper-specific revenue streams.

One comes in the form of NewNew, a start-up in Los Angeles, that describes its product as creating a “human stock market.” On the app, fans pay to vote in polls to control some of a creator’s day-to-day decisions.

if you aren’t getting paid?)

Recently, a platform called PearPop has become popular for allowing fans to pay for interactions with their idols on social media. For $250, for instance, the TikTok star Griffin Johnson will comment on your video. If you don’t have $250 to spare, you can offer your best bid.

“Monetizing your social presence has traditionally only been accessible to those with a large following that can secure big brand deals,” said Cole Mason, the co-founder and chief executive of PearPop. “This is no longer the case. The idea for PearPop democratizes creator monetization by providing something that makes a lot of sense for creators with 10,000 followers and 10 million followers alike.”

Stir, is seeking to help creators split money for videos they make together.

“We think the future of creator monetization is collaboration,” said Joseph Albanese, the C.E.O. and a founder of Stir. “We let creators take any place they make money, whether it’s a YouTube video or Shopify store, and split the revenue with other creators.”

The crypto world has also proved enticing for creators looking to monetize interactions.

Rally.io, a crypto platform, allows creators to start their own digital currency in order to build independent economies with their fans. Fans can purchase the creator’s currency and use it to unlock exclusive or unreleased content.

The Clubhouse star Bomani X has begun offering his own $BOO Coin currency and the Twitch creator FanHOTS has introduced $FAN Coin; fans who hold the coin can use it to choose which character he will play in online games.

NFTs), which are pieces of digital art and media that live online. Though anyone can see an NFT on the internet — buyers do not get to “own” anything in a physical sense — they have become a fast-growing market. The pieces of digital media function as rare collectibles. The YouTube star Logan Paul recently sold $5 million worth of NFTs.

Elijah Daniel, 26, a creator in Los Angeles, is helping followers put a price on the creators. On Friday, he launched the Clout Market, which is a little bit like trading cards, but of influencers.

The Clout Market offers 10 million NFTs representing top creators including Trisha Paytas, James Charles, Bryce Hall, David Dobrik and Jeffree Star. The NFTs are designed to look like Pokemon cards with pixelated images of each creator. The cards carry parody names for legal purposes, Mr. Daniel said, so Tana Mongeau’s card reads “Tana Mongoose.”

The price for these items is determined by the creator’s relevance online. Mr. Daniel worked with a developer to create a dynamic pricing structure that adjusts prices in real time. (It pulls from social and analytics platforms data.) If a creator loses or gains followers or trends on Twitter, the price of the NFT Mr. Daniel created for them will go up or down.

Mr. Daniel said the goal of selling these NFTs is to let fans monetize the drama surrounding their favorite influencers. “A lot of fans will buy these for support,” he said, “haters will buy them to bet on people’s downfall.”

“Influencers and social media stars are making so much money off drama and scandals,” he said, “and most of them are fake. This is a way for the fans who follow along so heavily with everything to be able to invest in those scandals and make money too.”

He added: “If we have to go through another scandal, we all better be getting paid for it.”

“This is the first-wave of creators adopting new technologies to connect with an already engaged fan-base,” said Jeremiah Owyang, a creator adviser to Rally.io. “But instead of it being one-way and solely transactional,” he said, “the fans are as much part of the creation experience as the creator.”

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