When I was in elementary school, my classmates and I wanted to be all kinds of things when we grew up, but mostly teachers, athletes, firefighters, musicians, actors, and doctors (veterinarians especially). YouTube hadn’t existed yet. Today, 13 years after the platform was created, YouTuber, and social media personality in general, has joined this list of jobs, becoming the top desired career for many young people. A survey from travel company First Choice of 1,000 children, age 6 to 17, reported that more than a third of the children want a career in the online video industry, YouTube especially.
How did this happen?
YouTube is hugely popular, coming in second place for most-used search engine worldwide. According to Forbes, YouTube has a reach of over 1 billion views per day, and while the platform’s user base goes up, traditional television viewing time goes down. Popular content on YouTube includes gaming videos, tutorials, educational videos, sketch comedies, and lifestyle vlogs. In unscripted casual-style vlogs, some YouTubers are candid with viewers about their ability to become a full-time content creator, leaving past jobs behind. Social media influencers can make a living off of online advertising, and their viewers have become well aware of the fact.
YouTubers make money on their videos through Google AdSense, a program that matches advertisements to videos, targeting specific content and audiences. Many YouTubers refuse to discuss their pay, for the simple reason that it’s personal information. Because of this, and a lack of clarity surrounding YouTube’s monetization algorithm, there is large speculation around exactly how much money a YouTuber can really make. For most channels, it can take several years to start seeing a consistent income. Many users branch out on other platforms to make money, perhaps through sponsored Instagram posts, podcasts, or Patreon. For others, like the Paul brothers or David Dobrik, fast fame quickly results in buying million-dollar homes and new expensive cars. It turns out, however, kids aren’t really in it for the money.
What are they in it for?
According to an article from The Sun, money is the fourth factor in desiring a YouTube career, following creativity, fame, and an outlet for self-expression. On a platform like YouTube, you can post anything at all, so long as it follows the site’s Community Guidelines. Jenna Marbles makes videos titled ‘Bleaching My Eyebrows’ and ‘Treating My Dogs Like Babies For a Day’ and has over 18 million subscribers. I happen to be one of them. Other YouTube stars get hundreds of thousands of views by posting a mukbang, a video trend originating in South Korea where a host simply films themselves eating a meal. The possibilities are endless, and one of the most enticing parts of a successful career on YouTube is the deceiving perception of attainability. These internet celebrities, with millions of subscribers, did not need a degree, nor a 4.0 GPA, nor money in the bank, nor popularity at school to reach success on this particular platform. As long as you have a camera, you can get views. Right?
How do you gain a following?
YouTube analytics from 2016 reported that there were over 2000 users with at least 1 million subscribers. Analytics from 2017 reported that there were 75% more channels with over 1 million subscribers than in 2016. While an impressive trend, it’s important to note that channels who do not make serious earnings through Google AdSense remain the vast majority. Not to mention many of the accounts raking in millions of subscribers come from preexisting popularity on other media outlets: TheEllenShow, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel Live, BuzzFeedVideo, Universal Pictures, and Vevo accounts are just a few examples. For these reasons, the attainability of fame on YouTube can be deceiving. Anyone can be a YouTuber, but gaining a significant following, just like gaining fame in any field, depends a lot on a likable personality, good appearance, connections, and relevancy maintained by staying topical and consistent. On his podcast Views with Jason Nash, YouTuber David Dobrik often credits his own success on pure luck.
How can you earn a living?
Maybe it’s obvious that major success is not guaranteed. But what about maintaining a comfortable income while making videos that require creativity and self-expression? There are still some limitations. YouTube has received a lot of backlash in recent years from creators regarding their new monetization policies. Many large scale creators such as Philip DeFranco, h3h3Productions, RawBeautyKristi, James Charles, vlogbrothers, David Dobrik, along with many more smaller creators, have come forward about the demonetization of their videos, as well as their confusion about why it was happening.
Videos are listed as monetized or demonetized based on ad-friendliness through a mysterious computer algorithm, sometimes before the video is even finished uploading. This automated demonetization created so much of an uproar that it became known as the “Adpocalypse” among creators and loyal viewers. Creators who had been consistently earning a paycheck on YouTube suddenly lost more than half of their income during the spring of 2017. To combat demonetization, content creators must request a manual review, and sometimes don’t get monetized until they’ve already received hundreds of thousands of ad-less views. While it remains unclear what exactly results in demonetization, many creators have attempted to clean up their video titles and thumbnails, along with refraining from using explicit or sensitive language. In other words, some creators are having to choose between posting what they want to post, and posting what will give them advertisements and views.
This issue has improved for large creators since last spring, but new policies have been put in place since that have a huge impact on small creators. To make money through Google Adsense, a creator on YouTube must first be eligible for the Partner Program. Previously, channels needed a cumulative 10,000 views to become a partner and start earning ad revenue. In January of 2018, a new policy was released that requires a minimum of 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of watch time in the past 12 months to become eligible for monetization. In the company’s defense, their executives claim that this new policy change mostly affects creators who were previously making less than $100 per year.
So, is it dangerous for kids to aspire to become a YouTube sensation? To me, it’s no different than a child wanting to be an athlete, singer, or actor. Anybody can play football, or sing, or act, or film themselves and post it online. Doing any of these things for a living, however, requires hard work and talent. Additionally, while online careers are booming, online platforms are also constantly evolving, and the downfall of any social media platform could be sooner than expected. It’s important for young people to keep their options open and have fallback plans when setting career goals. That said, creating content, being expressive, and building an online following is generally not a bad idea.