YouTube Monetization Changes: What This Means For Small Creators

For those outside of YouTube’s creator culture: the company has issued a statement on the creator’s blog detailing requirement changes to become a YouTube partner.  In other words it’s now a lot harder to earn money from ads on your videos.

In less than a year YouTube has switched from anyone can earn money, to only those with 10,000 views can earn money, to the oncoming change where creators must have 4,000 total hours of watch time accumulated on their channel on top of a whopping 1,000 subscribers. And not a single channel is grandfathered in.

Needless to say this announcement came with a lot of backlash, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. And before I move any further in this article I want small YouTubers to know that on a personal level my heart goes out to you. A lot of my regular readers that have remained with me since I quit my own channel last October are, in fact, small YouTubers that are continuing a fight that I found myself unfit and not wanting to carry on. They’re good people who work hard at what they do, and I am a firm believer that every content creator deserves the opportunity to earn a living from their work.

So I want to make it very clear that the purpose of this post isn’t to rub salt in your wounds, because quite a few of the opinions I have on this go against the more popular “YouTube is vile” sentiment that’s taken over social media. In fact: I think the overall changes are actually a good thing.

My hope is that maybe I can help lay out the situation with a more level mindset, and present some questions to you that I had to ask myself when faced with the decision to quit or not. So with that said, let’s dig in.

Why is This Even Happening?

Now I don’t work for YouTube, and there could be any number of reasons for these monetization changes. However I think it’s safe to guess that YouTube’s sustainability and the want to prevent yet another Adpocalypse (what would it be now? The fourth?) from happening is the drive behind this particular change. The fact of the matter is YouTube bleeds money from Google: it’s not profitable. And the ad revenue available each quarter is finite.

Yet despite how limited revenue is on YouTube, more and more creators have been jumping in to dip their hands into the same pot. Hundreds, if not thousands, of new channels are created every day. 300 hours of videos are uploaded every minute, and you can bet most of those videos all had monetization turned on when it was possible. CPMs are incredibly low, and it’s getting to the point where depending on the content you make and your audience not even 1,000 views will earn you $1.00 USD.

Couple this with the massive backlash on inappropriate content popping up all over the platform and the threat of losing advertisers, and you see that YouTube has backed itself into a corner.

There’s a desperate need for actual humans, not bots, to review the content that’s asking for money (and therefore: representation) on the platform. Yet it’s physically impossible to keep up with that much content. So YouTube had a painful choice to make: leave things as they are to fester, or rip off the band aid and raise requirements for monetization. We saw what choice they went with on Tuesday.

This IS YouTube’s Fault. Not the Creators’.

Younger readers might not remember this, but YouTube didn’t always allow everybody and their mother to make money off of their channels. It used to be incredibly difficult to become a YouTube partner, and Multi-Channel Networks (MCNs) gained dominance and popularity because of that. Some channels, such as gaming channels, weren’t even allowed to be partnered unless they were in one. This in turns means that CPMs were better and it was easier for YouTube to have an idea of what kinds of channels were making money.

However YouTube got cocky. There’s no denying that despite successes of competitors like Twitch, YouTube continues to have a monopoly on video on demand (VOD) content. When YouTube opened the doors for everyone to become a YouTube partner and tooted the success stories of its top creators we saw the equivalent of a gold rush. In my opinion this was the company’s greatest mistake: it’s a very stupid business move to allow any average Joe of any age to post content and automatically be paid for it with minimal review.

To top things off YouTube had years to see this coming. They had years to think “You know, maybe this wasn’t a good idea,” and yet they became complacent and let things slide. YouTube could have also been more lenient with channels already on the platform, however knowing they’re not grandfathering in anyone gives me the impression that the platform is that far down in the hole. Jim Sterling talks about this particular perspective in detail:

 

So How is Any of This a GOOD Thing?

To be frank the entire ordeal reeks of unfairness, and I don’t blame the countless small creators foaming at the mouth over YouTube’s choice. However I’m going to be blunt: if YouTube didn’t start tightening the belt then the entire platform was going to sink. You may find that hard to believe, but I’m sure even Google has a revenue loss line they do not wish to cross. And if that point came then no one would be making money at all.

But YouTube has shown they don’t support small creators. They hate us!

To anyone that legitimately believes this, ask yourself: do you realize how many of you there are?

I say this as a small creator myself on a platform that’s experimenting with dipping into ads too (Wattpad). Once again: hundreds, if not thousands, of channels are created every day, most of those being brand new hopefuls. It’s physically impossible for YouTube to genuinely spend time on every creator on the platform. It’s impossible for them to promote these countless hopefuls too because there’s too much content to sift through.

Yes: 1,000 subs is a very steep requirement, and the harshest of the new rules to be laid out. However limiting partnership to those with 1,000 subs significantly decreases the number of channels that need monitoring. By the time one hits 1,000 subscribers that YouTuber has proven they’re willing to go through the grind and are serious about their channel growth. Too many people quit before that milestone.

This will hopefully mean that YouTube can also roll out more incentives to promote channels roughly this size and give them a boost. Not to mention this will dissuade several impostor channels and spam accounts as it will no longer be so easy to steal potential ad revenue from legitimate creators.

If you want YouTube to rely less on algorithms and bots and reward hard working, dedicated YouTubers, then something has to give. And by the time you hit 1k subs you’ll have a fully fleshed out portfolio that YouTube can use to judge whether you’re a good fit for them or not.

But this could discourage the creation of new channels!

GOODSeriously, this is a good thing.

Look, I’m going to be blunt: if these changes were enough to discourage someone from pursuing a channel, then they had no business on the platform to begin with.

If you were wanting to make YouTube a career then you should know that most people under 1,000 subs can’t make a living wage anyway. There’s some very specific exceptions to this rule, but most people won’t even make $100 before reaching their first 1,000 subs.

Case in point: I reached roughly 280 subs within the ten months I ran my channel. How much did I make in that time? A whopping $11.99. I was doing my best to post a video four days a week, pouring easily 20-30 hours a week into the channel. Did that for ten months. Ten months of nearly a second full time job netted me $11.99 USD. And Google AdSense will not pay out until you make $100 USD. Essentially I didn’t earn a thing.

So frankly, you should be aiming for 1,000 subs anyway. On top of this, as Philip DeFranco illustrates in the video below (I have it so that if you click play it should start right at 4:38), ad revenue should never be a content creator’s main source of income.

 

And if you’re just a hobbyist that wants to share videos for fun, then these new changes shouldn’t matter to you. At all.

What Can Small Creators Do? What Should They Do?

First and foremost it’s important for creators of all sizes to come to terms with the state of their industry.

Video creators are currently in the same place that novelists and other book authors were twenty years ago. If you wanted to be an author before the advent of self publishing, then you had to go through a publishing house.

That meant writing complete books for no money, querying publishers and praying they picked you over hundreds of others in the slush pile, and then pay your own way to book signings, marketing your book, etc. until you proved yourself. Then you gave the publishing house the majority of your revenue despite doing the bulk of the leg work yourself.

Why did writers put up with this? Because traditional publishing houses had the financial ability and the networking to put your book out to a wider audience. At the time writers as individuals didn’t.

It’s the same for video creators now. Like it or not it is financially impossible to host your own videos on your own website: you have to use a platform, your version of a publishing house, such as YouTube to get your content out to an audience. And that means that you have to play by their rules, or risk being kicked.

Before you make any large decision regarding your YouTube channel(s), you should first ask yourself some questions.

1. The very first thing to ask yourself is this: why do you make videos?

There is sincerely no wrong answer to this question. If you’re a hobbyist that’s just into YouTube for fun then the rest of this post doesn’t apply to you, and neither do the changes YouTube has issued. You can use any platform that tickles your fancy and make any kind of content you want.

There’s also no shame in wanting to be a video content creator as a career. There really isn’t. It’s no different than someone wanting to be a writer or a musician, or an artist as their career. But if you want content creation to be your job then it’s vitally important to own up to that.

Why? Because your mind set is by far the most powerful tool a content creator can have.

A negative mind set where the creator stomps their feet and blames their obscurity and poverty on their audience or on the platform they choose to work with will just spin their tires and go nowhere. The same goes for the people that pretend content creation is just a hobby, but are secretly hoping it takes off and they get famous. People in the second camp use “it’s just a hobby” as an excuse to not put forth the research and effort required to make content creation a viable career, and would rather hope that the fame happens overnight out of sheer luck.

The people who succeed in content creation are the folks that own up to the fact they want this to be their career, and therefore are willing to do the research and the work. The people who are willing to learn the ins and outs of their platform as well as their craft. The people that are willing to adapt to their platform rather than dig their feet into the dirt and stand still.

That doesn’t mean you have to know you want this as a career immediately, but chances are if you’re angry at these changes then you fall into this camp.

2. Is this worth it as a career? Could you live without making videos?

I’ve touched on this in my analysis of the Teen Titans Go! 200th episode, but content creation is incredibly difficult. There are very few rules to follow, almost no guides to teach you how to make it a career, and an entire society will judge you for pursuing art as a means to make money.

This is why people say “you shouldn’t do it for the money.” Most people misunderstand this saying as artists shouldn’t hope to get paid for their work. That’s horse shit and everyone reading this knows it.

What this saying really means is that because it’s so hard to find a stable job or make a comfortable living pursuing content creation, you really have to love what you do. Love it so much that you won’t come to hate what you do because it’s your job. Love it so much that you would sincerely be saddened if you had to give it up.

This was the question that made me personally realize pursuing YouTube just wasn’t my thing. I thoroughly enjoyed making videos, and I loved getting to know everyone that watched them. I don’t regret the ten months I spent on YouTube at all.

But the fact of the matter is that running the channel made me physically sick. Multiple times I was bedridden from the stress. And to top it all off there were days where I wished I didn’t have to make videos. I looked forward to days I didn’t have to record OR edit.

How was that any better than a regular office job? Isn’t the entire point of content creation to be your own boss and not feel that way?

Meanwhile I was depressed that I didn’t have time to write. I was climbing out of a four to five year long depression where I didn’t write that much at all. It felt like there was a hole in my chest because of that. Writing is something that I’ve done for fun ever since I was old enough to hold a pencil. Sure I enjoy my days where I take a break, but I never dread writing something: be it a post for this blog or some kind of fictional work. In fact I get excited about it every time.

That was how I knew my own priorities were screwed up: yes I had fun making videos, but they weren’t my life blood. Writing was. I already went through the hell of having to give it up, and I don’t want to again. So I’m willing to go through the slog of making a name for myself in writing, because if I can make that my job then there’s nothing standing in my way from writing every day. Not even guilt.

Whereas I didn’t feel that way about making videos. And so I made the choice to quit YouTube.

So what about you? Is making videos your key to happiness? Would you be fine giving it up now, or would it be like you cut out a piece of yourself?

3. Will you stay on YouTube? Or Will You Move?

If you’ve decided that video creation is indeed your life blood and you want this to be your career, then you have to decide if YouTube is truly where your content (and you) will shine. There is no denying that out of all the video hosting services available that YouTube is king despite 2017 being one of its worst years.

However just because YouTube has the largest numbers that doesn’t mean it’s the best publisher for your content. Remember that the new requirements for ad revenue is 4,000 total hours of watch time accumulated from your videos and 1,000 subscribers. This is vital to your decision for many reasons:

  • Animation and music channels are taking a big hit again. It takes a long time to create even one three minute video, and you’re lucky to make one of those a week.
  • How-to channels can easily wrack up the watch time, but not so much the subscribers.
  • Gaming and vlogs however shouldn’t see much changing for them with these new requirements. In fact you could argue these are the sorts of channels YouTube is wanting to cater to.

And those are only just a few examples. In deciding whether or not you’ll stay on YouTube you have to take a good, hard look at the content you want to make, what your goals are, and what challenges you’ll face.

For example if you’re an animation channel but you still want to stay on YouTube, then just your completed animations might not be a viable strategy for you anymore. You might want to supplement the time between your animated shorts with speed drawing videos, how-to’s, behind the scenes of how you make your content, or even vlogs.

You don’t have to do these things, but they’re ideas to help you compete with YouTube’s algorithms. If you don’t want to do this, then you might have to treat your channel as a tool for your animation portfolio, and put more of your focus on your own website or another platform instead.

If you prefer streaming then you also have to consider platforms like Twitch and Beam. Now Twitch’s requirements to become an affiliate and earn revenue from subscribers is much lower than YouTube’s now. However people severely underestimate how hard it is to meet them. Twitch’s search algorithms are shit, and therefore getting the 50 people you need to see you, let alone follow you, are tough. And while Twitch is indeed looking into growing in the VOD department, it will be years before it catches up to YouTube. Twitch has its own dramas as well.

Despite that Twitch clearly beats YouTube in the streaming department, and with Amazon’s backing is growing considerably. There’s potential on the platform even for non-gamers.

And you can’t afford to wait for a shiny new competitor to rise out of the dust. It’s also important to understand that any video hosting platform is going to have ad revenue issues, so don’t think you’ll magically escape them. So pick one that exists now that fits your current needs best and get to work.

4. How Will You Supplement Your Income?

Once again: it’s stupid to rely only on ad revenue. Philip DeFranco’s video mentioned earlier goes through certain alternatives like Patreon and the new Brave browser. There’s also StreamLabs (you don’t have to stream to accept contributions through it), PayPal, and Ko-fi among many others.

You’re going to have to get over the idea of “begging people for money.” You’re not. Opening something like a Patreon is opening the door to allow people who enjoy what you do support you. If you don’t think your content is good enough for that, then your content wasn’t good enough for ad revenue either.

You also have to keep in mind about potential platform failure. YouTube isn’t going anywhere, but that doesn’t mean it’s immortal. There is always the possibility any of these platforms will die one day. And if your only source of income is through their ad revenue system, then you’ll die too.

Just look at what happened to vid.me, which many were applauding as the most creator-friendly new platform. A lot of people were left out in the cold after staking all of their content on it. Do you want that to be you?

Making content creation your career means you’re no longer just an entertainer, just a musician, or just a writer. You’re now you’re own boss, marketing team, accountant, etc. These are decisions you have to be willing to make and research the answers for if you want to survive.

Only Time Will Tell How This Goes.

Regardless if you decide to continue making videos on YouTube or not, there’s no predicting how these new restrictions will play out. Limiting who earns ad revenue is only one of YouTube’s concerns: they still have to address their poor communication with their creators, their obvious favoritism regarding certain larger creators, and copyright issues that plague the site as a whole.

But at the very least they finally did something. You might not agree with their choice. Maybe you’re still seething. Maybe even after reading this long ass article you still feel YouTube is cheating smaller creators. But even you have to admit doing something is better than letting the platform stagnate in the state that it’s in now.

I’m personally hopeful, and believe this is a needed first step to fixing several of YouTube’s problems.

However I’m not here just to spout my opinions, I do want to hear yours. How are you handling the news? Have you decided on what you’re going to do with your videos moving forward? Will you even keep making them? Why? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

And breathe, folks. You’re going to be okay. Some of the reactions I’ve seen to this topic from both sides of the fence have been outright ridiculous.

As always: thank you all so much for reading my mountain of text, and I shall see you next time. See you later ( ´ ▽ ` )ノ