Making a living on YouTube

What on earth are YouTube stars and how do you become one? We investigate a genuinely transnational 21st century phenomenon for E&M.

Ten years have passed since YouTube officially launched, and if you want to get rich or famous these days just pick up a camera and get posting on YouTube – that’s where the market for fame and fortune lies. It can be as simple as unboxing the latest gadgets, to filming makeup routines and recent purchases, to embarrassing yet captivating prank videos. Not only has YouTube been an outlet where individuals can post whatever content they desire, but it has ushered in a new species of celebrity with plenty of people establishing a career stemming from their posted videos – these people are known as YouTubers.

One British man uploaded a video of his two young children to YouTube and, 400 million views later, it has cashed in well over 100,000 pounds. The now famous “Charlie bit my finger – again!” clip was one of the first videos that sparked a global phenomenon of viral videos and opened the doors for the possibility to earn large revenue from YouTube. Earning revenue on YouTube seems simple and straightforward enough. Content creators can make money every time someone views videos or subscribes to their channel, and they can earn up to $5 for every 1000 views they get per video. Additional revenue is earned through Google’s Adsense program, which opens up YouTube accounts to advertisers, with the content creator getting a cut of the profits and promotions from companies. However, with the major influence of social media and technology the landscape of the industry changed.

Most YouTuber success stories are partly a result of treating YouTube accounts as a startup. Many notable European YouTubers have gone beyond “internet personality” and have branched out into creating a brand for themselves. Like a startup, they keep up with the technology often investing in cameras that allow for 4K resolutions, professional studio lighting, colouring, and meticulous editing. According to one survey, almost 40 percent of young Brits between the ages of 16 and 25 years old said they would prefer a career in YouTube rather than becoming a reality TV star or even a career in politics or law. The YouTube celebrity has gained a large amount of clout, especially in Europe, over the years because they are normal, everyday people interacting and inviting their fans and followers to observe and follow them throughout their everyday life.

North American YouTuber Michelle Phan started her channel in 2006 and now has more than 7.7 million subscribers, her own makeup line, a book, and the lifestyle network ICON. Similarly, Ian Hecox and Anthony Padilla – more popularly known as “Smosh” – uploaded their first video in 2005, now have more than 20 million subscribers, and released their first full-length feature film in July of 2015. Brits from across the pond have followed suite. Zoe Sugg comes to mind as she has gained immense success from her channel, Zoella. As of September 2, 2015 she has garnered almost 2-million subscribers to her main channel and receives over 6 million views a month. Not to mention her recently published book is now a worldwide bestseller. Alfie Dayes or the PointlessBlog persona online is now a professional vlogger – video blogger – who films his day-to-day activities has just recently released his first book. Brits are not the only Europeans who are creating careers online, but the community has fostered a growing number of non-British YouTube sensations like Swedish gamer Felix Kjellberg, who goes by the alias PewDiePie online. Felix earns roughly $7.4 million annually from his videos on YouTube, which feature himself reacting and playing video games Additionally, French YouTuber Norman from “Norman fait des videos” produces mainly French videos but still has a large international online following with one of his videos reaching 11 million views.

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Photo: BRICK 101 (Flickr); Licence:CC BY-NC 2.0

For most of us, finding a career that’s worthwhile and one that we’re passionate is a question we’ll face over the course of our life. However, it seems that YouTube is a perfect opportunity to find a balance that merits both a passionate and successful career. Globally young people looking to YouTube and straying away from the conventional careers such as law and medicine. Why? One of the many reasons is because there are fewer barriers to entry; anyone with an Internet connection and a camera can post a video online. Not everyone can do what they’re passionate about – but YouTube certainly provides a great platform for beginners.

It’s no surprise that youngsters are aspiring to be YouTube stars. Filming their daily musings and sharing them on YouTube has cannonballed from an innocent hobby to a multi-million dollar moneymaking machine. There are downsides, of course – online commenters are immensely critical and negative. But the benefits far outweigh the negatives. YouTubers are their own bosses, they learn to be versatile and how to connect with their audience. Filming takes hours and the editing process even more so, only to end up with just two videos a week. A quick note should also be made that at the beginning of their YouTube careers these YouTubers filmed and created videos while juggling school and work. But in the end if you love what you do the long hours is just small downside.  Becoming famous on YouTube also rewards itself with a well-connected community, not just with fans but also with fellow content creators.

Popular YouTubers have become household names with the likes of other celebrities like Harry Styles or David Beckham.  The Internet is one of the most powerful tools of spreading one’s message en mass and a successful YouTube channel is now the passport to an exclusive career path. The only caveat being that if you join the community, you have to have your camera, laptop and iPhone on you at all times – just leave your privacy at the door!

Who are some of your favourite YouTubers?

Teaser photo: jonsson (Flickr); Licence: CC BY 2.0 

  • Rowena Ysabel is a Master’s of Public Policy student currently living in Berlin. Before moving to Germany she earned a Bachelor’s Honours degree in Political Science at Queen’s University in Canada. She enjoys sunshine, the great outdoors, good beer and travelling.

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