Does Success on YouTube Mean a Life of Poverty?

Ten years ago if you posted a video of kittens playing, you may have gained a significant number of views. YouTube was still relatively new at that point and the perception towards it was very different. The perception has gradually changed and this is due in part to the kind of content now on YouTube and the success it has developed for many content creators. In his latest video, Casey Neistat discusses an article posted on Bloomberg describing how success on YouTube still means a life poverty. 

YouTube has very obviously changed in the last few years with content on the platform maturing significantly. Many content creators are now offering very high-quality videos; even vlogs from YouTubers are no longer just a step by step description of someone's day, they actually have a message and a story with fantastic production value. This may be making it difficult for many new users to join the platform and receive meaningful results because expectations are much higher. The article does outline many valid points and based on the evidence it may seem that drawing an income from YouTube is now more difficult than ever. YouTube's recent announcement around monetization has only made this more difficult. Does this mean that photographers and new content creators should avoid YouTube? Not at all and Neistat describes in his video why. 

As a photographer and YouTuber, I firmly believe that it's extremely important to have a dedicated channel for a number of reasons. The income factor should be considered, however, it should not be the deciding factor and if anything it should be a minor point. The potential from having a consistent and regular channel on YouTube is huge and the kind of doors it can open is incredible. Simply put, had I not started my channel a little over a year ago, I would not be writing for Fstoppers today. My aims and goals were not motivated by earning a living from making videos, I do that from my photography. I started my channel because I'm interested. 

Most valuable things are difficult to attain and require hard work and dedication. YouTube is no different and although the income potential is there, it's not the only reward. The many rewards may be somewhat abstract or difficult to pin down but that doesn't discount their respective value. Depending on the kind of content you create and the time and effort you put into each video can determine how successful you are. Consider Mango Street, for instance, a channel that in the last year managed to gain over 500,000 subscribers. Their latest video describes briefly how they managed this amazing feat. Another channel that's current size is a little more relatable is by Eric Floberg. The content and quality of his videos are helping him grow his channel quite quickly. 

Yes, it's a lot tougher now than it was on YouTube, but, it's worth it and if you're thinking about starting a channel, do it. 

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Karin Nelson's picture

I totally agree. If you're going Youtube, don't do it for the money. I started a Youtube channel a few months ago, and I have now 167 subscribers. Some of them are probably bots, too. Barely any view, barely any thumbs (neither up nor down). But for me, this whole Youtube thing has become a terrific creative outlet. I just keep churning out the videos, and I enjoy every minute of it. For me, that's really all that counts. Do I have dreams of this becoming big? You bet I do. I would lie if I didn't admit to that. But do I have plans to give up my daytime job for it? No. Of course not. That would be insane. It's a delicate balance to keep it going: don't spend enough time/money on it, it dies. Spend too much on it, your finances/life/family suffers. So, in this regard, it's like every other hobby. Am I going to give up if I never hit it big? Probably not. I enjoy listening to myself way too much. :)

Motti Bembaron's picture

Good for you, you just gained another sub. I will be watching :-)

And you use Godox! Thumbs up!

Mark Holtze's picture

Plus one from me as well, I'm always interested in what people find interesting enough to put so much effort and time into sharing it with others.

Lee Morris's picture

I always tell people; you can make $1000/1 million views and getting a million views is very hard. Casey obviously isn't having any trouble with that now but he is the exception. To make a decent living you're going to have to consistently put out viral videos.

Usman Dawood's picture

I agree to make a decent living it can be difficult from YouTube alone. Having said that there are few things that can be done.

For instance sponsorships and micro sponsors. A bunch of companies are interested in working with micro influencers and that can be a way to kick start things.

Also as you make more and more videos you will start to get a baseline number of regular views. Each video effectively doesn’t need to be viral because it’s simply adding to the daily number of views. Income potential gets better because of that.

Of course you are right it’s still difficult and does require a bunch of work especially if income is your main objective.

Motti Bembaron's picture

He is right of course. Do it because you want to share and create (or the other way around). Besides, as photographers we know that even great creation does not mean money, and yet, we still create and work very hard to make sure it's as good as we can make it.

I am starting my own channel and so far I produced 8 videos that are not worth the digital bits they were recorded on. Yet, I am still making them and hopefully soon I will produce the first one worth publishing.Then I will make the second and so on.

I am having great fun making them and enough for me.

Walid Azami's picture

I agree. I have my Youtube channel to inspire others in photography, and have them learn from my accomplishments and mistakes. Overall, it's helping me as a brand...when I work with new clients, when I meet for a workshop, or hire new crew they have likely seen a couple of the videos. They know where I stand on the process and it helps weed out those that disagree with how I do my work. I find that it also attracts those that subscribe to the same method of thinking.

Some channels want you to envy their lives (people leaning against their rented Bentleys to impress viewers) and others want you to do better. It's all about your intentions and that will shine the brightest. My photographs speak for my ability, but my youtube channel speak for who I am and what I stand for. Money from my channel will come from the jobs I book, not the ridiculous ad sense. I think it's important to think of ad sense as the change jar. It's cool, it'll add up and that's about it.

Mark Holtze's picture

I made videos as a kid, always hijacking my parents camera. VHS-C to 2002 after graduating film school i spent a bunch of money on an XL1 and New G4 tower with FCP. Uncomfortable as all hell having spend all my summer's earnings on gear, I hustled for jobs. Some I loved, others I didn't but they paid me, for my time and gear. Made 2 x that money back in 6 months and the rest is history. Ultimately I did it because I loved it, that's what pushed me.

I feel there is a bit of a disconnect in reality with younger audiences members who want to mimic their hero's youtube success. Part of the reason for that IMHO is that youtube looks easy. Just shoot your day and it will be interesting. Never mind the skill and time it requires and not to mention you need to be interesting and be doing interesting things in order for people to even bother.

Teaching is a good way to gain an audience, but most 15 year olds don't know enough about a subject to teach. (Not all there are some obviously who do quite well, but they're exceptions).

I built my career doing the same thing Gary V preaches before he was preaching it. I think many of us older folks have. If youtube is a business you will have to risk lots and work harder than you would at a day job and HOPE to get success. It's not guaranteed.

Anyway blah blah blah, I agree with the article and Casey here. Do it because you love it...I have a channel as well, but it's 100% a creative outlet for me. Share and teach things I'm knowledgeable of. It's fun. Conceive, create and publish ideas from start to finish is rewarding in itself...something i'm happy to invest my own time and energy into without any real reward.

Nice post!

Michael Comeau's picture

There is a big misconception that a YouTube channel is a business model. It's not. It's a platform.

The smart play is to use YouTube to drive attention to something you control, like a blog or email list.

You can spend years building a following on YouTube. But an algorithm change can knock you out overnight.

Just look at all these "viral" publishers that built up huge businesses on Facebook. The algo changed and now they're all getting wrecked.

The same thing will happen to YouTube soon, if it's not happening already.

Mark my words: you'll see big YouTubers complaining that their views and advertising checks are shrinking.

The platform never favors the content creator over the platform.

wesjones's picture

As an old codger I find it hard to understand how some of these young folks can make millions on YouTube.

Usman Dawood's picture

Mostly adverts and sponsors.

C K's picture

You can also just setup your own website and accomplish all the same things. The advantages are enormous - you control ALL the content, including the comments, readership, etc., there are no advertisements that will exploit your readership or views for their own ends (and revenue), there is no overlord threats from Youtube (Google) to "regulate" your videos or materials or opinions expressed, you do not give up ownership of the published content, and so on. Being in the drivers seat instead of a unwilling passenger to a faceless corporate entity has many benefits.

Usman Dawood's picture

How do you get your content out there and build an audience effectively? Also couldn’t the same be said about any social media platform.