Spooky season has passed. As we taper our binges of horror-themed Let’s Plays and gory makeup tutorials, we’d like to call your attention to a frightening trend that rudely lingers in our community: burnout.
It’s no secret that professional creators face serious economic and emotional challenges in our line of work. But recently, several high-profile articles have brought the destructive effects of creator burnout to the fore.
As important and useful as they are, algorithms on platforms like YouTube incentivize unhealthy work habits among creators. Creators are encouraged to post as much content as possible, as often as possible, to meet the system’s demand for watch time and engagement. Journalists Patricia Hernandez, Abby Ohlheizer, Eli Glasner, Chris Stokel-Walker, Megan Farokhmanesh, and Julia Alexander have extensively documented the grave toll these pressures can have on a creator’s wellbeing.
Some creators report 100-hour work weeks– completely unacceptable conditions by any other industry’s standards– and many others feel uncomfortable taking vacations for fear that their channel will lose momentum.
So far, YouTube has been unwilling to provide the ICG with data to substantiate their claim that 2-week upload breaks will not affect channel performance. We intend to push this issue in our ongoing conversations. That said, platforms are not the only culprit behind creator burnout.
Unfair contract practices remain ubiquitous in the creator space. Third-party brokers of brand integration deals often calculate creator payout based solely on a channel’s audience size and engagement rates, with no consideration for the actual time and labor poured into creative, production, post-production, publishing, and audience management. This is fundamentally unfair.
When a brand makes a TV commercial, does the production crew get paid per thousand views or conversions triggered by the ad? Of course not– they get paid for the hours of skilled work they dedicate to a project. Payment for creative labor should always be calculated separately from CPMs for impressions, clicks, and conversions.
We recommend ICG member Brad Colbow’s video on how to calculate freelance rates. Contracts should clearly define your hourly rate, the number of hours dedicated to a project, and the number of rounds of notes/revisions allowed to the client. Only after these basic elements are stipulated should CPMs for impressions, clicks, or acquisitions enter the picture.
Less time spent tracking down payment means more time spent making great content. We advise creators to ask for half-payment up front, or spread out in chunks for each step in the production process.
All of these economic conditions exacerbate other socio-emotional challenges creators face. Creators widely report difficulty maintaining a healthy private life while under the scrutiny of the public eye. Some say they’re tempted to derive their sense of self-worth to the quantified success of their content, leading to moments of crisis during slow weeks.
Worst of all, stalking, threats, and other serious forms of harassment are all too common– especially for women, queer folks, and people of color. Creators in the U.S. are especially aware of the threat of gun violence. Yet, platforms offer little support when credible threats arise.
Make no mistake: these problems endanger creators’ lives as well as their livelihoods. Occupational burnout has been linked to a heightened risk for coronary heart disease. Its symptoms are are not dissimilar from major depression. Is the best job in the world worth these consequences?
Here’s the bottom line…
Burnout happens when creators overworked and underpaid. It happens when their health, safety, and dignity are threatened by systemic factors. At the ICG, we believe that unethical platform design, labor exploitation, and the pressures of public life are all challenges that can and must be confronted by a united community of professional creators– and we need your help.
If you have dealt with any of these problems during your career, we want to hear your story. If you have colleagues in the space, we encourage you to let them know that the ICG is here to lend support and guidance in times of need.
As always, many thanks for your support– we’re glad to have you on our team.
Yours in Solidarity,
Anthony D’Angelo, Executive Director
& The ICG Board of Directors