I’ll admit it. I’ve always wanted to be a YouTube star.
I’m almost ashamed to say it, but it’s true. And why not? It seems like a glamorous life. Most of the successful women on YouTube live every little girl’s dream: they try on clothes and wear makeup for a living. That could be me! After all, part of the reason for their success is that these YouTubers are normal, average, plain. I’m all of those things! Why couldn’t I be successful too?
But, I wanted to delve deeper before making a drastic career change. What would the life of a YouTuber really be like?
1. Fame doesn’t always mean riches
Bummer. There goes my early retirement. The money content creators ‘make’ from Youtube goes through different stages. Profits are gradually hacked at. Let’s say the world miraculously finds my unsolicited views on fashion useful, and I clock up 100,000 views on one of my videos. Firstly, go me. I rock. But more importantly, it’s time to make my fortune. The profits made from ads is measured in ‘cost per thousand views’ (or CPM). The average CPM for 2013 was $US7.60. Let’s say I’m about average. For every 1000 views, I get $7.60. So I’m at $760, right?
Wrong. Unfortunately the CPM only counts the views of the ad. Only a percentage of viewers click or watch ad. Let’s assume 50% of my viewers do. After all, most of them just want to skip to the part where they see me. So I’m sitting at $380. That’s still ok. But… there is more. YouTube takes a 45% cut. Ouch.
So, my running tally is at $209. But, many YouTubers are part of multichannel networks, which also take a cut. So that figure is decimated further.
That success of a consistent 100,000 viewer-base is derived from years of cultivating an audience. The average ‘how-to or style’ video gets approximately 8,332. Many other genres get less.
In addition, the costs associated with making videos are growing. Viewers won’t want to watch grainy footage of me discussing the finer points of makeup application into my Macbook webcam. Prominent vloggers nowadays spend thousands on cameras, lighting paraphernalia, editing software and props. For some, the costs vastly outweigh the profits gained. Olga Kay, a gamer on YouTube, spends up to $700 a week on editing costs. While her revenue from ads are likely more than my $209 (she makes 20 videos a week), she admits she is not left with the thousands that vloggers are touted to make. Looks like the HECs repayment is going to have to wait, Olivia.
2. I’m going to have to sell myself. Less like a prostitute, more like a Kardashian. But, you know, still.
Very few people would want to follow me around a department store. But over 1.2 million people were willing to follow grav3yardgirl around Target. Don’t be fooled, as great as the bargains are, most viewers didn’t watch to see the fluorescent downlights or the Maybelline stand. They watched to see their favourite Bunny (that’s actually her name) flounder around, embarrassing herself with her protruding eccentricities, excessive tea drinking and weird obsession with travel-sized toiletries. Easy enough for her, but I prefer my toothbrushes human-sized.
But even if your eccentricities don’t protrude, you’ve got to stand out. Want to know how much content is uploaded to YouTube? It’s 300 hours. Every second. So, if you want to be a YouTube star, how can you differentiate videos? The answer seems to be by promoting yourself. From a market where all videos are homogenous (if you search ‘Fashion haul’, or click below, you’ll see this in action), YouTube has evolved into more monopolistic competition. This is where goods (videos) are similar, but not interchangeable. There are many different suppliers (YouTubers), and the costs to enter the market are small. Just like your hairdresser or my favourite restaurant, YouTubers have tried to differentiate product. How? By making themselves the original content.
This self-branding – a consensual intrusion into their lives; a peeping-tom style of viewing – can be exploited. Many YouTubers are more influential to teenagers than your traditional celebrity. Pewdiepie (the kid who started off recording his incessant video-game playing for fun) is more influential than Jennifer Lawrence. Shane Dawson ranks higher than Katy Perry. And chirpy little Bethany Mota is a more prominent figure than Leonardo DiCaprio. Why? Because they seem more trustworthy. Viewers know everything about them. They know (and apparently care) what they ate for breakfast; who their last boyfriend was; where they live. They are much more likely to trust these YouTubers because they are ‘like real people’.
So, what? Teenagers like other teenagers. Who cares?
Advertisers. (Aha, advertising, we meet again.) Ads are no longer merely put alongside videos. Now, advertising has infiltrated the vlogs themselves. Unlike television, where there is a more distinct difference between content and promotion, in the unregulated world of YouTube, the division is ambiguous.
Usually the Internet is heralded as the tool that comes the closest to giving perfect market information for consumers, because they can quickly and easily compare products. And in many respects, this is true. But, unsuspecting young teenage girls (the main audience of beauty videos), may not be able to understand the difference between a genuine review, and a video that earned the YouTuber $2,000. In the UK, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has now ruled – after five ‘cream-licking race’ videos were uploaded, all without mentioning they were funded by Oreo – that all sponsored videos must be declared so in the title.
Here resides a shaky equilibrium: a balance between being lucrative with sponsored videos and remaining popular by not ‘selling out’ with too much promotion. It’s a tough choice, especially when the traditional method for YouTube advertising is tough to profit from.
3. Realise the risk.
So let’s say I’ve dropped out of uni and hit the big time. 10 million people watched my latest video. But, there is a little niggling tickle, massaging the back of my brain. The future. This is a newly emerging industry. How stable is this profession? (And by niggling tickle, I mean my Mum, telling me to get a real job.)
Firstly, will those 10 million ‘fans’ be there for me in a year’s time? They may love me now. But, people can be fickle. With 300 hours of video being uploaded every single second, how can I remain significant?
Olga KayNew York Times. She is woken up each morning with the dreaded thought: “What can I do … that will keep me relevant for another year?” For many, this pressure is terrifying. Charlieissocoollike, for instance, with more than 2 million subscribers, has admitted to his fans that he is too scared to create.
While there is pressure in every job, at what point does the marginal cost of anxiety outweigh the profits made? As YouTube and YouTubers have grown, the devotion of many is coupled with ridicule, high expectations and tough judgement. To get more viewers on his frozen meal videos, FreezerBurn for years reviewed an increasing number of junk food varieties, rather than the healthy meals he preferred. He became so worked up in his last review on children’s meals, he quit YouTube mid-video:
Secondly, and perhaps more pertinently, how will Youtube survive in years to come? Holding advertisers’ funding constant (a classic economics quip), and assuming content grows at the rate it is currently, revenue will be more thinly spread. Youtube started out with the CPM benchmark at $25. Reasonable. In 2012 that fell to $2. The average in 2013, $7.60, was down $1.75 from the previous year. Youtube may become a desert plain of old videos and casual has-beens, with few able to create content to support themselves.
YouTube seems like a risky option. In five years’ time where will it be? Where will I be? Is the slim chance of success and the high risk of failure more valuable than a stable job for the future?
After careful assessment, I’ve realised the vlog life isn’t for me. So, I’ll pass the baton onto you. Will you take it? If you do, spread your wings. The chances are very slim. But maybe – just maybe – in a year’s time, you’ll be the latest online sensation.
And if you do, perhaps you could plug this article. Tell your 10 million subscribers how you proved me wrong.