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The sad economics of being famous on the internet (fusion.net)
229 points by prostoalex on Dec 15, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 154 comments



I don't mean to sound heartless, but can anyone explain how the economics of these new Internet-enabled distribution channels are "sad"? Don't get me wrong, I've found poverty and lack of economic opportunity to be very sad, for far longer than it's been fashionable to do so, but that's not really what the article's talking about.

> Every other week, Tonjes, 29, debates getting another job but wonders how she’d have the time to keep up her three channels on top of a 9-to-5.

Maybe keep up two channels? or one? Before the Internet, this story would have been a person stuck in a crappy job who doesn't get to indulge their passion for music _at all_, since they would get _zero_ dollars for it (barring the enormously low chance of getting a major-label record deal, an option which still technically exists). The low barriers to entry for YouTube/Instagram/etc are the other side of the coin for lower income per subscriber than traditional gated channels like getting signed at a record company.

TL;DR: Someone being unable to afford their groceries is what's actually sad, but this isn't an article about poverty and lack of a safety net. Low-barrier, low-gatekeeper distribution channels like YT or Instagram _mitigate_ this problem, not create it. Calling the economics of being Internet-famous sad is missing the point by a mile.


Of course we all remember the days when it was hard for an artist to get attention, or even make money independently, or even get a job at all.

My opinion on the intent of the post was to highlight the reality of an "internet famous" person. There is this notion floating around that if you get enough subscribers / fans you can make enough money to quit your job and sign autographs. While many people have gone on to do this, this is not the norm whatsoever. It takes hard work, a head for marketing, production experience, photography, videography...or just a really good idea and/or personality.

I definitely get what you are saying, its definitely more sad when you can't pay your bills.


> My opinion on the intent of the post was to highlight the reality of an "internet famous" person. There is this notion floating around that if you get enough subscribers / fans you can make enough money to quit your job and sign autographs. While many people have gone on to do this, this is not the norm whatsoever. It takes hard work, a head for marketing, production experience, photography, videography...or just a really good idea and/or personality.

Perhaps I'm underestimating the naivete of the average person, but I didn't realize that people thought this was a thing. Hell, the concept that Internet fame isn't necessarily lucrative is so well-understood that even freaking South Park got around to satirizing it almost 8 YEARS ago (and South Park doesn't have a tendency to satirize super-niche concepts).

Even if I'm wrong about that and it is somehow novel and interesting to write a long article about how subscriber counts don't turn into dollars, I still find the article's premise and insistent emphasis that the economics of these distribution channels are somehow sad to be completely wrongheaded.


It's totally a thing, especially among teens/twenties. Sometimes it even works, kind of. I know someone's teen daughter who makes non-trivial cash reposting art on her Instagram account.

Warhol said everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes. He never said anything about being able to pay the bills from it.

> I still find the article's premise and insistent emphasis that the economics of these distribution channels are somehow sad to be completely wrongheaded.

I don't. A huge chunk of social traffic and the ad spend it feeds to YouTube/FB/etc only exists because (mostly) younger and (often) more creatively inclined users have been sold on the idea of making money from a "personal brand."

AdBusters was satirising this fifteen years ago, and now it's turned into reality.

The reality is that you always make more money from being the farmer than from being the livestock. Perhaps the farms have an interest in not making that too obvious.

It's not the hopefuls who are wrongheaded - it's the tropes of the bullshit "social" economy they're growing up in.


> someone's teen daughter who makes non-trivial cash reposting art on her Instagram account.

But the jump from "non-trivial cash" for a teen to "living wage for an adult or family" is substantial.

If lots of people are willing and able to do what you do for nearly free, you shouldn't expect to make much from doing it.


> I don't. A huge chunk of social traffic and the ad spend it feeds to YouTube/FB/etc only exists because (mostly) younger and (often) more creatively inclined users have been sold on the idea of making money from a "personal brand."

So if I'm understanding correctly, your claim is not that these channels don't trivially provide a fulltime job, but that they're somehow heavily marketed as doing so to kids? I suppose I can buy that.

On the other hand, kids are precisely the ones who don't need a full-time job. A kid with an extremely successful YouTube channel has an awesome hobby, not a full time job. This is further reflected by the fact that almost every single person who had money issues in the article is in their mid 20s at least (The 18 year old who quit IG modelling did so because it was fake, which is pretty much the opposite problem of "this is not lucrative enough"). I don't think it's too much to expect from people in their mid 20s to be realistic about how much money they can make adding another photographer to the Instagram hordes.

Hell I've been traveling for a while and have been posting random pictures, and I've had several people tell me that I'm one of their favorite feeds. I am decidedly not particularly good at photography, and somehow my random "hey look at my pics" is providing an amount of utility to some users that's roughly the same as the "professional" IGers they follow that have branding deals and stuff. Any market where supply can be increased at all by an untalented guy deciding he should post photos of his trip on a whim is not going to be one where suppliers can trivially demand large amounts of money, and for good reason.

> The reality is that you always make more money from being the farmer than from being the livestock. Perhaps the farms have an interest in not making that too obvious.

Perhaps, but this is one of the cases (as opposed to the usual analogy to owning capital vs productive labor) where the relationship is substantially less exploitative. The job of the farmer is substantially more unique and useful than any given "livestock" (though a lot of this is due to network effects, which always suck a bit).


> The reality is that you always make more money from being the farmer than from being the livestock.

Well, yeah, livestock can't own property, and is chattel. A more relevant analogy would be "label" and "artist".


Most subscribers think the person they ar subscribing too has a lot of money. most consumers in this world have absolutely no idea about anything related to money. No dea how much things cost to make. No idea how little revenue thy generate. Anything that educates even a few consumers is a good thing.


AFAIK the market forces at play in a capitalist economy mean that in the end things cost as much as you think they cost.


He wrote "how much they cost to make". They're different things.


Not in advertising-supported or sponsored informational products.


> Perhaps I'm underestimating the naivete of the average person, but I didn't realize that people thought this was a thing.

Its a thing for much the same reason as pursuing sports for a reasonable possibility of raking in ludicrously large paychecks is: the successes are inherently highly visible in the media, the failures inherently almost completely invisible.

> Hell, the concept that Internet fame isn't necessarily lucrative is so well-understood that even freaking South Park got around to satirizing it almost 8 YEARS ago

8 years ago, there were a lot fewer highly-visible internet celebrities; many of the currently well-established social media services didn't exist or were fairly new; Facebook was only 3 years old.


> Of course we all remember the days when it was hard for an artist to get attention, or even make money independently, or even get a job at all.

Wait what? This has always been the case and always will be. Art has never been profitable. The starving artist is a trope at this point.


The sadness comes because of the downside of being famous. The upside of most famous celebrities is that they make vastly more money than everyone else. Thus for many people who want to be famous they can offset the downsides of getting fame with the upsides. On the Internet, celebrity does not make enough to offset the costs - leading to sadness and bitterness and jealously. I'd also categorise these type of Internet celebs as working long hours on their work, as opposed to the viral stars who probably go off and get a publicist and cash in on non-internet stuff.

I would recommend that if one wants to be famous and vastly rich not to do it via the Internet. The good old "you are working for them" is even more true here.


This is the first response to my comment that I've found compelling. My only disagreement would be the idea that if the tradeoff is really that bad, you could quit and your fame would dissipate pretty rapidly relative to other media. Also the idea that being famous is an unalloyed negative; there are many, many people for whom fame itself is a desired outcome. I can't imagine this population isn't overrepresented among performers (esp YT).


I see it in a similar way. These low barrier distribution channels provide an opportunity for people to live experiences beyond their financial capability. Performing on stage, walking the red carpet, etc. Sure, some strike it rich, but most don't. The same power law that exists throughout the entertainment industry.

And regarding the offset/highlighted comment about Van Gogh. If the author knew their art history (or at least had seen and paid attention to Mona Lisa Smile), he only sold one painting during his lifetime [0]. One might even go so far as to draw a parallel between his position with the art dealer Goupil & Cie and somebody today "shilling themselves out on audible.com".

[0] http://www.vangoghgallery.com/misc/faq.html


Everyone mentions Van Gogh every time this comes up because he's the one artist out the top thousand or million who couldn't sell during his lifetime. He was an extremely rare exception.


>because he's the one artist out the top thousand or million who couldn't sell during his lifetime. He was an extremely rare exception.

Actually he's the canonical example of how it was for the VAST majority of artists. Being rich, or having a rich patron, was very much an exception. There are tons of poets, painters, musicians, writers etc that never got any of that, including tons of later recognized ones.


Pretty much the opposite, in fact if there's a continuum it's between canonical professions of:

"accountant" -> all qualified practitioners have a steady income, little variation between accountants and

"rockstar" -> huge variation - winner takes all, a few practitioners get most of the fame and income, the majority get nothing.

No prizes for working out where "artist" and "celebrity" fit on that continuum.

The drivers is, how much does the business model scale?

Accountancy is still pretty much 1-to-1; but everyone on spotify/iTunes can in theory listen to the same hit band (within same musical tastes) so the 2nd-ranked band gets far less play than the 1st, despite being nearly as good. Scale down to the 100th who is also quite good but has to have a day job. If you know musicians you have met them.

Yes, portraiture was in Rembrandt's day a business model that did not scale, but van Gough was later - he wasn't a portraitist and photography was established by then.


Mozart struggled with poverty towards the end of his life.


He sold, just to his brother. He is a rare exception though.


>but can anyone explain how the economics of these new Internet-enabled distribution channels are "sad"?

The article mentions people who had to quit their day jobs because too many people recognized them.


Right, that point is a good one. The costs of fame are possibly out weighing its benefits for these people.

The thing is, they have a hobby that brings in a fair amount of money and the cost is fame. Given that they could stop at any moment and their fame would dissipate pretty rapidly, is it "sad" that these channels provide the opportunity to make this trade off? All these channels are providing is shifting the opportunity boundary so more people who are extremely passionate about their creations (and think it's worth the time and the fame) can indulge in it. Earlier, only those who had the luxury of chasing after major labels or distributors had this chance.


>they have a hobby that brings in a fair amount of money and the cost is fame.

According to the article, many of the 'famous' YouTube stars do not bring in a fair amount of money, so they must rely on day jobs that they cannot keep because of the fame.

Whether you find it 'sad' or not is not particularly relevant. The author is exposing the misconceptions about 'fame' in the YouTube world and exposing the irony of being too famous for day jobs but not paid enough to quit them.

It appears you don't empathize because you believe the opportunity they are given to pursue their passion outweighs the struggle of funding that passion. They disagree.


> According to the article, many of the 'famous' YouTube stars do not bring in a fair amount of money, so they must rely on day jobs that they cannot keep because of the fame.

A "fair amount of money" for creating music and videos doesn't mean "enough to not have to work". As an analogy, if I made crafts or something and sold them online and they weren't so successful that I could quit the working world, it wouldn't be inaccurate if I were to say "I make a fair amount of money on the side from my hobby". Note that I'm using the word "fair" in the sense you'd say something is "fairly big", not in the sense of justice (a much more complicated discussion).

> Whether you find it 'sad' or not is not particularly relevant.

Jesus christ dude, do you just click on random comments on the page without reading the thread they're part of? The parent comment of this thread is me disagreeing with the article title's characterization of the economics as "sad". There is quite literally nothing more relevant to this discussion.

> It appears you don't empathize because you believe the opportunity they are given to pursue their passion outweighs the struggle of funding that passion. They disagree.

This is 100% wrong, in more than one way (200% wrong?). First off, the comment you're responding to and quoting isn't talking about the financial cost of creating. If you bothered to actually read the thread, you'd see that we covered that in _the very first comment_, and no one is really in disagreement in this thread that the financial struggle of artists of all kinds is a bummer. We're talking about what costs in particular are unique to Internet-famous creators, (ie what makes it 'sad'), and the answer is the cost of fame.

Secondly, let's say I go along with your random change in subject and start talking about the financial costs of creating not being worth the opportunity for people who are currently creators. This is also completely wrong, pretty much by definition. The people who _aren't_ still YouTube (et al) creators are the ones that decided that the struggle of funding their passion is not worth it. The ones who are still doing it, by definition, have decided that the costs are worth it.

You've completely misunderstood the article, this entire comment thread, and the comment you're responding to, so I'll summarize part of it for you here:

I find it as sad as anyone (and more than many) that people have to get jobs and aren't free to pursue their passion if it doesn't happen to be lucrative[1]. This is a completely different discussion, and one that often comes up on HN. It usually involved discussion of post-scarcity economies, basic incomes, etc. That has precisely nothing to do with the "sad economics" of Internet fame in particular. Hence my original contention that the author is essentially complaining about the same problem (people have to get jobs instead of follow their passion), and to make the article more clickbaity, pointing at a solution that doesn't go far enough and pretend that it's causing the problem. Specifically, the fact that lower-gated revenue sharing for online creators doesn't allow them to live off their work is an incomplete improvement on the previous gatekeeper system where you had to get lucky and be connected and convince a record exec that your passion is worth it.

[1] this is particularly sad in the arts, where our current system isn't particularly good at valuing its positive externalities. Which isn't to say that I have a perfect solution for arts funding...


High expectations financially coupled with mediocre financial results ==> Sad We tend to associate someone being 'famous' with being rich, which is rarely the case.


> I've found poverty and lack of economic opportunity to be very sad, for far longer than it's been fashionable to do so

You are pretty old then, I guess?


Haha, fair enough: I can see how my pithy phrasing of that part of my comment could be interpreted to mean that I saw myself as the only one who cared about poverty and how the world was cruel and nobody else understood </angsty teenager>.

What I actually meant by "fashionable" was that, in the couple decades preceding the financial crisis, it was far, far from the mainstream to be concerned about or even acknowledge some of the structural economic issues that had been growing since the 80s or so in the US (for example, dropping social mobility, which is more or less agreed to be a bad thing pretty much across the political spectrum). There were obviously plenty of people who cared in the same period, but that's not really what "fashionable" means.

So no, I'm not particularly old, but caring about those issues in particular for a couple of decades gives me something like a 15-year head-start on the epoch we're currently in, when suddenly even the most ignorant and apathetic person in the country can quote factoids from a Robert Reich book or whatever.

At any rate, it was a throwaway remark to point out that I'm not just pretending to care about the deeper issues underlying how "sad" Internet economics are because I think it's the "in" thing to do (I know plenty of people who are like this for any social issue that's currently in vogue).


So, I'm probably not a whole lot older than you, I was born around the time Reagan was first elected. but I do consider myself a fan of history. my perception is that the time between somewhere around '80 and the 2008 crash was a rightward[1] cycle of the pendulum of public opinion, at least on economic issues,[2] and that before that, when my parents were youngsters, there was a lot more support for a safety net and for wealth redistribution in general.

My feeling is that the 2008 crash and the lopsided[3] recovery from same has... given rise to the sorts of economic feelings that were popular in the '70s and before. Sanders isn't particularly radical by '70s standards, but compared to anyone who had a shot during my lifetime? he is extremely radical.

[1]I like using "left" and "right" because their meanings are less complicated than "liberal" and "conservative" (essentially, on which side of the Legislative Assembly would you sit?)

[2]- of course, we're talking about economics only, to the extent that you can talk about economics without talking about social issues. I have a much harder time supporting the claim of a leftwards social push during the same time.

[3]by lopsided, I mean that some areas, and some people have done pretty okay. I certainly can't complain about my position. For that matter, compared to 2001? 2008 wasn't a crash for me and the people I hang out with at all. But, I am given to understand that others aren't so lucky.


I'm of similar age and understand the rightward cycle. Growing up we didn't have much, but I remember working in a grocery store and watching people who drive nice cars buy steaks with food stamps and beer and cigarettes with cash. My family was eligible for food stamps, and my parents fought about it often. My mom wanted my dad to go get them and he refused and instead took another side job.

I think experiences like that shape people, and over time becomes part of their core. I'm more libertarian while many of my friends who grew up well to very well off are extremely liberal. They never experienced pulling themselves out of nearly nothing so they have a hard time imagining it is possible. I did it, so I think it is infinitely possible. Of course the reality is somewhere in the middle.


He must be, I would peg the start date of "finding poverty and lack of economic opportunity to be very sad" at some time around the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.

Maybe earlier, I don't know, since similar sentiments were apparently expressed in the Roman province of Judea, circa 30AD.


You're evidently unfamiliar with the meaning of the word "fashionable". Looking up the definition may help in understanding my post.


Apparently he's not the only one. Care to enlighten us by explaining what the word means?


Fair enough. "Fashionable" in the sense that it's used here means that it's fairly predominant in the discourse of the mainstream. Contrast the conversation about poverty and economic opportunity in 2006 to the conversation post-crisis. You and your friends individually may have considered social mobility, income inequality etc to be a significant issue, but it's pretty much objectively true that the discourse in the country at large did not. It didn't make the news, pundits didn't care, the population at large had a dual-earner-with-credit-cards-financed delusion that their quality of life was improving. In 2015? Try finding a group of people who considers them informed who doesn't have something to say about the topic. Eight years ago the word "socialist" was unambiguously a slur that Obama had to defend against, and now there's a candidate with a non trivial degree of support who identifies himself using the same word... And it's hardly a scandal at all.

Further, it should be obvious from the context that I'm speaking about the local temporal context (last 40 years), as opposed to claiming that human society has never gone through periods where economic opportunity was prioritized more highly than today. Part of why my response was so dismissive is because bringing up the fact that people cared about poverty in Roman times means she's either uninterested in understanding my point or too stupid to do so.


> It didn't make the news, pundits didn't care, the population at large had a dual-earner-with-credit-cards-financed delusion that their quality of life was improving.

Did they? I seem to recall most sentiment measures being stubbornly bad for most of the period between the 2001 recession and the Great Recession, despite periods of fairly positive results in top-line measures. (E.g., consumer confidence in the "expansion" period between the 2001 recession and the Great Recession never reached the level it was June of the March-November 2001 recession, and was often far below its levels from during the 2001 recession. [0])

Sure, the media presentation (what news and pundits were talking about) was generally positive up until the collapse and Great Recession, but I don't think that it necessarily reflected the "population at large".

[0] http://www.econstats.com/r/usind__m5.htm


Thanks for the explanation. You highlight important points (in particular, I didn't notice how fast sentiments toward political labels change). Even the TL;DR of that comment posted instead of dismissive response would be great...

... except:

> means she's either uninterested in understanding my point or too stupid to do so.

Please apply the principle of charity. People here aren't generally dumb (hell, most people aren't generally dumb); HN is frequented by people for whom English is not the native language, and then sometimes people post comments when they're tired, or feeling sick. Just because someone misses your point doesn't mean they're stupid.


Concern about inequality has indeed come to the fore recently in American political thought, and global - see Thomas Piketty.

Though I'm not sure how much this is really affecting the USA - witness Trump stand up and boast "I'm really rich" - which implies "I have far more money than you, we are unequal" and be rewarded for it. I'm also not sure how deep it runs - it seems that a simple security scare would shake it off and the usual tough posturing will again be a more effective political tool - see the recent Vegas Republican debate.

But if there's an inexact use of the English language, "inequality" only came into it later - "social mobility, income inequality" is not exactly the same thing as "poverty" as originally responded to, is it?


"the country"? Please don't assume that the USA is one of the countries that I have lived in - it isn't. Thanks for your deep summary of recent developments in American society, though having seen bits of the Republican debates I hope you're right but suspect that for a whole lot of people you're not. Watch them call Sanders a "socialist" all day long if and when he has a nomination and there's a Republican who does too.

You also can do better than "must be too stupid" if someone don't share this "obvious" parochial context. Or makes allusions to ancient events that you don't get.


What are you saying - that fashion began in 1995?


Old beats dead :) Until it doesn't, anyway ;)


Considering there are quite a few pentagenerians on HN, that wouldn't be so rare.


Well said!


"""Van Gogh didn’t have to shill for Audible.com to pissed-off fans of his art."""

Pretty sure many artist of that day had to paint wives/daughters of rich folks that they'd rather not have painted to get by. And most artists that sell for millions today were pretty poor unless they had a random rich person and were their "pet artist".

I'll sound pretty heartless but the post sounds entitled. There is no grantee of riches just because you're "famous". Actually turning that fame into money is a skill and not something that happens automatically. If you think it's unfair and you deserve more because you have so many fans...charge them directly and not through indirect means like adds, branding or product placement and see how many stick around.

"""The most Allison and I have made combined on one deal is $6,000, and 30 percent of that went to our multichannel network"""

And despite that they started a company to make it a full time gig?

I also don't buy the implied sentiment that telling the truth about being more or less busto despite all the followers is seen as whining. Sure by some but you don't want those as followers. Transparency is usually valued very much in communities.


From Wikipedia:

He moved in November 1885 to Antwerp and rented a small room above a paint dealer's shop in the Rue des Images (Lange Beeldekensstraat).[69] He had little money and ate poorly, preferring to spend the money Theo sent on painting materials and models. Bread, coffee, and tobacco were his staple intake. In February 1886, he wrote to Theo saying that he could only remember eating six hot meals since May of the previous year. His teeth became loose and painful.[70] While in Antwerp, he applied himself to the study of color theory and spent time in museums, particularly studying the work of Peter Paul Rubens, gaining encouragement to broaden his palette to carmine, cobalt, and emerald green. He bought Japanese Ukiyo-e woodcuts in the docklands, and incorporated their style into the background of some of his paintings.[71] While in Antwerp, Van Gogh began to drink absinthe heavily.[72] He was treated by Dr. Amadeus Cavenaile, whose practice was near the docklands,[note 9] possibly for syphilis;[note 10] the treatment of alum irrigation and sitz baths was jotted down by Van Gogh in one of his notebooks.[73] Despite his rejection of academic teaching, he took the higher-level admission exams at the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, and, in January 1886, matriculated in painting and drawing. For most of February, he was ill and run down by overwork, a poor diet, and excessive smoking.

Once Van Gogh broke through and gained some success, he shot himself after two years.

Yes, it's tough to make it on YouTube, but comparing yourself to famous painters isn't going to win any sympathy.


I thought this was a bizarre choice as well. The starving artist characterization is so common it's a trope at this point. But it really shows ignorance on the author's part to then select Van Gogh, who was particularly devoted to only his art and had a hardscrabble life even amongst the starving artist set.


Van Gogh shot himself because he was mentally ill, probably from bipolar disorder. The same thing that killed him (in a depressive phase) was likely responsible for his creativity (in a hypomanic phase).


> Bread, coffee, and tobacco were his staple intake

That would explain why he saw the world as swirly as he painted it later


I didn't detect entitlement in the article. It seemed to me that she was just describing the cold economics of being a vlogger.

Thousands of people see you on social media and many of them mistakenly assume you're making a decent living. They're so ignorant.

What's more, it's those opinionated viewers with their snarky comments about selling out who are entitled. They expect free, adless entertainment by selfless, sharing Internet personalities.

I'm grateful to this vlogger for having the courage to speak out on a painful and embarrassing topic. It's given me a lot to think about.


What a negative comment, to a detailed an insightful article! Just because she mentions Van Gogh, you pick on it, ignoring her later qualifiers.

Rather, this long post should be seen as a critique of the limitations of channels like YouTube. Such platforms are supposed to cater to long tail and empower them, but clearly they fall short.

Rather than criticizing the long tail artists for feeling entitled, it can also be seen as, that YouTube like platforms could solve this problem in a better way. Perhaps something like reddit tipping using bitcoin (I know this sounds a bit futuristic).

Clearly Ad based model are lacking and not paying enough.

Summary: If artists in the earlier centuries suffered and lived in misery, it does not mean that the current lot should also live the same way. Not in the age of Internet and cyber currencies.

edit: minor correction


The difference that the article is trying to highlight is the contrast between fame and economic security. Van Gogh wasn't famous while he was alive, so it's a straw-man argument. The modern Internet Star, however, is quite known.


Well, Mozart and lots of other artists were famous, and still either poor or at the mercy of rich patrons.


You are saying Mozart was poor?


"I also don't buy the implied sentiment that telling the truth about being more or less busto despite all the followers is seen as whining. Sure by some but you don't want those as followers. Transparency is usually valued very much in communities."

Rather ironic, considering the rest of the comment.


Agreed, I should make it clear that I do appreciate that the post itself was made. I don't think it's whining. I just think the view of "many followers" = "should at least make ends meet" is a bit optimistic.

But then again I have the same view that I criticize when it comes to OpenSSL not getting enough money (how can this possibly be it's so valuable for so many people) so maybe I just don't get youtubing for a living. It's the same argument...mmmm...food for thought :)


It's interesting that you brought up OpenSSL. I think open-source software and YouTubers both share the exact same age-old problem of monetization - how do we ensure content creators get compensated for a service whose value lies in its innovation, and whose marginal cost is essentially 0?

This problem used to be solved with patents and copyrights, but that tends to screw over the majority content consumers in favour of the minority content creators. The ad- and donation-supported model is a step in the right direction. I particularly like the Kickstarter-backed model that certain open-source projects (see Django Rest Framework) use, but I'm not sure if that's a viable long-term solution.


>how do we ensure content creators get compensated for a service whose value lies in its innovation, and whose marginal cost is essentially 0?

I think the first step is to break the current distribution models for content. Essentially content creators relinquish their rights over their content which includes the ability to monetize the content. The social networks make billions on content created by their users...my answer, the content creators who have established followers, start hosting/publishing their content on their own websites and only use the social networks to redirect traffic to their own websites they control and they can monetize.


>I'll sound pretty heartless but the post sounds entitled. There is no grantee of riches just because you're "famous".

I don't recognize any of these people. I think calling them famous is a stretch. Having impressive youtube numbers, well, isn't that impressive outside of youtube. I see millions of views on crap like cat videos or terrible comedy or whatever. If someone is getting regular high numbers that means he or she is competitive with a cat yawning video or someone doing tasteless race comedy (two things recently forwarded to me). I think these people need to realize that things are much more competitive outside their little worlds and they simply aren't talented enough to make it outside of their little echo chambers.

Also, a pet peeve of mine is the phrase "internet famous." These people are best sub-sub-genre famous or whatever. There is no singular internet culture. Its a lot of different cultures connected by tcp/ip.

There's something about entertainment that's just awful. The unbelievable egos involved, the entitlement, the lack of criticism, the fanboys/girls telling them they're awesome, etc. I imagine this all leads to some pretty sour attitudes like the one quoted. From a financial perspective 70k followers isn't a lot. Its not going to pay out. Even if each of those people gave you a dollar, which they wont - hell they're probably running ad block, its a measly $70k. For "real" famous people that's a rounding error.


The author's demographic audience is likely 12-15 year-old kids. This is why she cannot find any patreons. They don't even have a credit card to make a donation.


I'm with you! First off, authenticity is king in today's world. Second? This article screams entitlement. Well said!


Pretty sure many artist of that day had to paint wives/daughters of rich folks that they'd rather not have painted to get by. And most artists that sell for millions today were pretty poor unless they had a random rich person and were their "pet artist".

Probably why people picture Jesus as a European white guy.


That's normal. In 2009, there were five million bands on Myspace. Some of which didn't suck. Maybe five hundred of them broke even.

If you've spent any time in LA, you've met actress/model/waitress types. Walk-on parts in a few movies, some commercial work, no real money.

Authors have the same problem. A decade ago, there were people who thought blogging was a career. That's so dead. The Huffington Post is now an Aol content farm, with content-farm type rates.

Fame leading to riches was an artifact of expensive distribution. That's so over.


I wouldn't say fame leading to riches is over. It just follows an extreme long tail curve where less than 10% of the ones who get fame get all the good money, and the other 90% get scraps. Come to think of it, that's just how most businesses are.


Could you model it as a logical fallacy?

All super rich people are famous. Trump, Bush family, Walton family, etc. Rich, therefore you're famous.

In logical fallacy land, all famous people are therefore rich.

And youtube people are psuedo-famous (lets be realistic, 99% to 99.9% of the population don't care about them) therefore they must be rich.

Via the miracle of hollywood accounting, I distinctly remember William Shatner (or was it Leonard Nimoy) temporarily living in a van down by the river in the 70s in between trek and later revenue sources. In the hollywood PR era they were all rich even when they were not, in the YT era it can't be covered up anymore.


The super-rich definitely are not all famous. Plenty of insanely rich executives out there you wouldn't recognize and never make headlines. They may be well-known in their fields, but purposefully keep themselves out of the public eye.


Wow. That's one of the most eye-opening articles I've read. I admit to having no idea how difficult it is, at least for some social media stars, to get by on e-fame.

The take-aways for me are:

1. If you become famous on social media, understand that it might not make you enough money to survive, paradoxically with more fame leading to possibly less income.

2. If you must make videos, vlogs, blogs, or whatever else online, do something that you want to do for its own sake. Make something that in itself is valuable. Don't make a song because you think it'll make you money or a branded informative video because you think it'll net you an audience and therefore income. Create something great for the sake of the greatness. That way, you can't really lose either way. Because, it seems, either way, you're going to lose.


You've nailed it right there... "do something that you want to do for its own sake".

There are multiple problems solved - you don't come across as fake or forced, the content you're covering seems natural, because you are generally interested in it. The flow of content comes easily because you're actively engaged in the community, so you're almost creating new content accidentally, as a by product of your self-interest.

I watch my daughters and their engagement with youtubers, twitchers etc, what seems crazy to me, in terms of what I would watch on you tube, they happily consume - watching people unwrap items they've ordered online, new fads, hours of gaming sessions. I mean really? I'd rather play the games myself!

It does lend a lot of weight to the idea that the next generation of celebrities are online based only... The downside is they can't monetize their fame! Or at least, don't know how to yet.

I make that whole "next gen celebs online only" comment like it hasn't happened yet, knowing that it is well on the way again from observing my 13/12/11 yr old daughters and their use of youtube/minecraft/instagram (did you notice the lack of Facebook? Yeah...)


I tried to watch youtuber and twitch play games, but mostly I just don't care.

Sometime, I get really into it. The vast majority, I just ignore their channel.

I suspect it may not all be a generation gap. Some people just find watching other people play games interesting. Others don't.


"It depends". I'm fond of Spoiler Warning, which I've been watching for a while, because it's a bunch of 30-somethings (like me) doing interesting game criticism in addition to the other things Let's Plays usually do. They're actually one of the earlier iterations of the idea. I also don't get the appeal of watching someone simply play the game and just generally react, when I could be playing it (or something else) myself. I've only sampled those streams every so often just to check the game itself out (i.e., briefly just sampled about 3 minutes of Angry Joe's Fallout 4 stream, just to see completely unvarnished, real footage).

On the topic of 30-somethings, while you may hear a lot more about the youth, I gotta say there's a lot of "30 somethings" in the general "Internet video" space, doing various interesting works. I noticed once I started getting into Patreon that without particularly meaning to be hipster, an awful lot of my entertainment time is spent on grain-fed, organically-raised artisanal Internet video now. It just sorta... happened.


Also, some games are extremely visual and creative, like minecraft, others are more cinematic / on rails and those games in YT form tend to be excruciatingly boring.


I can't stand to watch other people play games. I'm with you.


There seems to be sex divide coming in future social media.

And I can't blame them. Girls need some girl time, boys need some boy time.


> Create something great for the sake of the greatness.

I strongly recommend ViHart's discussion[1] of Edmund Snow Carpenter's[2] "They Became What The Beheld". It is very easy to focus on the medium, when you should be focusing on the message.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bm-Jjvqu3U4

[2] Marshall McLuhan may have written the initial version of that book.


I see Patreon got a single dismissive handwave, but, err, why? I mean, yes, I saw their putative reason, but it makes no sense to me. Why don't they sign up for it, tell their fans the truth they just told Fusion.net, and let the chips fall where they may? Worst case scenario is that it doesn't work.

Heck, lose half your fans, .5% of the remainder pays you a couple bucks a month... that probably would count as a huge win.

I have actually watched a couple of my Patreon recipients go from bending their art in various ways for money (nasty ads on the site, etc.) to just making the art. The piper must always be paid, but a wide, amorphous crowd of Patreon supporters individually paying in just a couple of bucks a month, all of whom have sampled your free wares and pretty much know exactly what they're getting is probably just about the best boss you could imagine. (Modulo perhaps having to deal with the occasional person who may stomp off loudly taking their money with them, but I haven't seen that yet, and that's where the "width" comes in; if one person stomps away with their 2$/month, well... whoop-de-do. and all of my patreon supportees that are keeping up their end of the deal are seeing slow-but-steady patron growth. Slow-but-steady growing subscription revenue starts to add up!)


I'm in a niche where people are interested for 3-8 months, then they go away and a new bunch emerges. It's based on a cyclical test – people stop paying attention once they take the test.

Do you think this would work for Patreon? I have a site where people are extremely appreciative of the volume of free work I have online. Probably some would sign up for a bit.

My only concern about testing it would be if the number was embarrassingly low in case I'm wrong about who would support it (sub $500). Though I suppose I could just close it if that happened.


Mmmm... I'm on the patron side, not the provider side, so I can't say I've got enough experience to know. It is a bit of a mismatch, but it might still be worth a try.

Might come down to whether you can make a good offer for Patreon-supporter bonuses. I assume you're already freely offering it, so you probably want to keep doing that. (Or possibly need to; I've never read the Patreon agreement for producers.)

The other concern I'd have is that this sort of subscription service will tend to not have people cancel, then find out a year or more later that they were still subscribed and didn't realize it. I don't know if Patreon has policies or procedures for when that happens, if the patron feels like they've been "ripped off" because they forgot to cancel for a year. Most of what I'm patronizing doesn't have that issue.


>The other concern I'd have is that this sort of subscription service will tend to not have people cancel, then find out a year or more later that they were still subscribed and didn't realize it. I don't know if Patreon has policies or procedures for when that happens, if the patron feels like they've been "ripped off" because they forgot to cancel for a year. Most of what I'm patronizing doesn't have that issue.

Yeah, I wondered about that. I just sent Patreon a message to check.

I do already freely offer it, and would keep doing so. I could increase the speed of releasing new ones if I got enough patrons, and think of some bonuses to offer.

Edit: Patreon got back to me. They said it's fine. They pointed out there are ongoing email notifications when I do new stuff, and that patrons are pretty good about not forgetting they've paid money.

I'll at least try it.


I at least would be interested in how it goes, if you remember to drop me an email at some point, and HN might vote up a good writeup as well.


I'd highly suggest Flattr instead, though that needs a little more push unfortunately, but unlike Patreon, Flattr can support any source of creation ( including even blogs ).


How successful has Flattr been, compared to Patreon? There's at least dozens and possibly hundreds of people making an at-least-middle-class amount of money on the platform. (Hard to tell. I'd love to see some statistics myself.) Is Flattr that successful? I don't encounter it very often but perhaps I just don't move in the right circles.

It's hard for me to recommend something that doesn't seem to work over something that does, when we're talking cold hard cash and whether or not you get to make a living.

(Edit later: Ah, dangoor links to graphtreon, which has the data I was looking for. Using $50K/year in Patreon income as the cutoff for "middle class", trying to account for Patreon fees and the extra details of covering health care, it looks like we've got ~100 people or groups making at least one "middle-class lifestyle" amount of money on Patreon alone, quite a few more "starving artists" if they were only on Patreon, and a long list of people making good monthly supplement money to what must be another income.)


I know, and I'm not arguing with this. It's just the philosophy of Flattr is what should have emerged.

I think Flattr was there too early, before the need for it emerged.


"It's just the philosophy of Flattr is what should have emerged."

How so? Tone note: Honest question. I like Patreon and like what I understand of its philosophy just fine, but I'm happy to learn about competition and alternatives.


I did like Flattr, but you're right, I haven't even heard of them in years. Patreon is usable for blogs, or anything else as far as I know.


I liked Flattr, but it seemed like a number of people whose content I consumed (Web Cartoonists, Bloggers, etc.) just weren't on board with it. A couple months ago, I ended up getting rid of Flattr and transferring all of my contributions over to Patreon.


A big problem these people face is their inability to actually sell ad inventory. They have the viewership to get them rich. A million views at $10/CPM for video views is a good $10,000 at a 100% fill rate. If they produce just one of these videos per month, that can get them a nice salary. And they probably do several of these videos per week.

These people really need ad salesmen to turn their channels into real businesses. They're not going to have the time to sell ads themselves.

There are a lot of issues behind selling ads (just because you have a billion views, doesn't mean you're useful to advertisers), but going to a site like sellercrowd.com should get them some leads on salespeople and techniques.


> These people really need ad salesmen to turn their channels into real businesses.

That's what multi-channel networks[1] are all about. MCNs build a roster of marketable talent and (the best ones) work out things like ad sales, product placement, collaborations and appearances in other media. They take a cut and the YouTuber gets to focus on their craft (some MCNs even have shared high-end production facilities). Google has a cozy relationship with many MCNs because of the revenue they can drive and the way they keep content creators in the YouTube ecosystem.

This is a best-case scenario - there are of course numerous shadier networks.

[1]https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/2737059?hl=en


"just because you have a billion views, doesn't mean you're useful to advertisers"

Hard as it might be to believe I actually respect salespeople and no matter how good they are, they can't sell the unsalable. Its disrespectful to even ask them, in a golden-rule-ish way I wouldn't even ask them.

I believe non-monetizability is the core problem not salespeople. If I churned out IT training videos for people who can't read websites and FAQs, it would be infinitely easier for a professional talented salesperson to sell, rather than "A picture of me out to brunch in Los Feliz" from the article. Its highly likely the only people that could sell her eating brunch would be incredibly talented, and therefore precisely the least likely salespeople to be selling vlogger brunch videos.

The meta issue which is extremely hard to discuss culturally in the USA is the people complaining in the article are high school kids. They may be 20+ years old but they stopped social development around age 14 or so. At that age, success is defined solely as popularity among your similar age and development level peers, not money, never money. In fact adults who tell kids to focus on their future, by getting training or an education or just by working hard, are told they're boring or old or not letting them be a kid. Well, if you let a kid age out of middle/high school without growing up, you get "wah wah My friends like me, how dare the world not make me rich". This fits the old nerd trope where you come back into town with your freshly minted degree and very high paycheck and run into the coolest kids from high school, still there, pumpin gas and flippin burgers and cashiering at the grocery store, they were kids, they were the cool kids, we grew up and are now rich and cool, but they're still cool kids making change at the cash register for a living, presumably for the rest of their lives.

The, uh, low developmental age of the folks in the article shows in the video topics. They are perfectly appropriate for a 13 year old to impress other 13 year olds and make a happy little echo chamber of little kids. Thats more or less non-monetizable, exactly as what most 13 year old kids do outside YT videos, therefore unsurprisingly she's deep in poverty and being a little kid at heart she's not going to have the bootstraps to pull herself up with.

The pity of it is they're so darn close, so close to actually making it. I am not talking about being even more clickbaity or shoveling just one more advertisement. Take for example the self described lesbian stoner waitress in the first paragraph. You can't monetize her "how to win the breakup" video no matter how stylish the presentation or the personal magnetism of the presenter or how experienced the presenter is or how great her first impression is. But she could make at least small stacks of cash if she leveraged her real job, being a waitress. Women who've never waitressed before (still working on their liberal arts degree, etc) wonder how to do the job and what its like, she can release some fun training-ish vids. Everyone loves to laugh, do some problem customer videos. The secret inside story of being a waitress. Re-enact the worst (in a funny sense) pickup lines she's had to tolerate (or not tolerate, or maybe the lines that actually worked LOL). How to beat the waitress interview and get hired. Small talk for people who don't like small talk but want a job. Rather than daydreaming of getting millions, she might actually get hundreds or even thousands. It would certainly be an easier sell for a professional salesperson than "I am pretty, and I ate brunch today"


Brilliant! The idea of leveraging herself in training videos (that are usually boring) into something more marketable is simply genius... There is so much work and improvement needed in that space. You sir, nailed it.


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Video CPM is far higher than Banner ad CPM.

In any case, these people don't have ad salespeople, which is the missing ingredient for profit.


This is not true, at least not for AdSense.

I've found that display advertising, particularly on desktop, outperforms YouTube ads at about 2.5 to 1.


AdMob, interstitial (full screen) mobile ads, holy shit. Highest pay rates I have ever seen. The clash of clans style freemium games pay through the roof.


I think CGP Grey is an interesting counterpoint. I think he said that his YouTube channel is something like #700 in terms of subscribers, so he's not up at the top of the food chain.

And yet, he gets paid $13.5k per video:

http://graphtreon.com/top-patreon-creators

with "only" 5100 patrons. He's also on two successful podcasts that doubtless net him a few thousand more per month.

He's also gone out of his way to make sure that he's not visibly famous (he doesn't appear in his videos), which is an interesting contrast with the people in this article.

If I had to guess the biggest difference between CGP Grey and the people discussed in this article, I would guess that CGP Grey had a plan and optimized for things that can actually make a living for him. He talks a bit about this on the Cortex podcast.


To make money directly from your audience, your audience has to have money. The one parallel I saw in all of the article's examples is that they're all catering to young kids.

I bet someone could make a tidy fortune coming up with a monetization strategy for these artists. My guess is that targeting parents would do the trick.


There seems to be the implicit assumption in the post that if one is famous then one should be earning significant money somehow. This is a false assumption.

Moreover, perhaps if no one is paying for the content, then it's not worth paying for.


I think a reasonable, but also apparently false, assumption would be that if you invest significant amounts of time, energy and money into putting out a product consumed by hundreds of thousands of people, you should be able to make at least a living wage.


The problem with that assumption is that the consumption occurring is probably <10 minutes of killed time for the consumer. What would you pay to lose 10 minutes while waiting for your wife to get out of the changing room or your kid to get out of school or whatever?

You wouldn't pay a damn thing for that. Just because a product is widely consumed doesn't make it valuable any more than the time and money put into making it. I can spend thousands to create a 2 by 2 cube of steel and stick it in my front yard, the fact that investment was made doesn't mean its valuable.

Edit: Bad typo.


That's blatantly not true, people on the internet have become massive cheapskates due to the easy availability of everything. Since Napster, piracy has flourished and continues to do so, and most often the most-pirated products correspond strongly to what's most popular in the market.


I understand the sentiment that if you work hard you should get paid a proportional amount of money. But, well, welcome to real life. There are things in life that pays the bills and others that don't, no matter how hard you work at it, therefore, you have to decide how much time and resources you can afford to spend on it. It seems like for these people, they are making a trade off in terms of income and self-realization balance.

I feel a bit bad about this slightly cynical comment but, well, that's what I think. It would be absolutely amazing if we all could make a living from what we enjoy.

On another note, I might have missed it in the article but I didn't see the author talking about the target audience? Shouldn't it make a huge difference in terms of CPM and therefore revenue?

Because I'd imagine that advertisers are willing to pay totally different amounts of money if your average subscriber is in late 20s or 30s, from the USA, UK or Canada and with middle or higher level of income, compared to just a bunch of high schoolers who have little spending power?


That's not really how it works though. First "hard" work isn't really relevant at all. Effective work, that's huge. Second, (but perhaps a variation) quality matters a lot. Since the internet lets everyone talk to everyone (mostly) you get this power law effect. The best take the lion's share of the money. Everyone else struggles.

it's a tournament. the very best, or at least most popular, take home millions. Everyone else is bush league and take home pretty much nothing.


>>> That's not really how it works though. First "hard" work isn't really relevant at all. Effective work, that's huge.

Oh absolutely, no doubt about that. It's just that people (outside small circles like HN) don't talk about it and is definitely not romanticized as much as hard work.

You work 20-40 hours week, no overtime, and make decent living? Ha you got it easy, shut up now. But look at that struggling poor dude who works 80 hours/wk.

Narrative like this, implying that if you are struggling, etc, then you deserve something automatically is quite common in the mainstream. Maybe it's just a cynic inside me but I got this vibe from an article. But probably that's just me. I'd assume because a large share of population can be categorized as 'struggling' and relate to this narrative, making it popular and safe choice.


You have 100K "fans" and no money? That's crazy. Why not beg for donations? Be upfront about your financial situation, figure out how much you need per month (without side jobs), and announce that you've set up a donation ticker. If you don't make enough in any given month, apologize to fans and tell them that creating free content isn't sustainable for you.


Yeah, that's what I couldn't get. If they're not paying you, those 100,000 people aren't customers, they're just strangers. They do absolutely nothing for you.


This would probably be the best and only working approach for creators these days.

( Sidenote: flattr.com was supposed to be addressing this but from the consumer side. )


Fame is a marketing channel. The best money comes if it's a marketing channel for a service that you sell.

This has always been the case and is why movie stars become producers, why music stars start labels, and why sports stars start promotion companies and clothing lines.

In other words: fame is a means to an end, not an end.


Seemed to me a communication mismatch.

Youtubers try to act all perfect according to an image because they believe that what the viewers want. So they don't communicate their money trouble.

Viewers got this distorted notion that they're rich because of subscribers numbers due to said zero communication. And they acted spoiled when they do one of their sponsored videos.


50 cent supposedly recently had a similar problem. If you try to act rich people will think you are rich.

I am aware that his situation is still confusing as to the actual facts but I am speaking more in an analogy here confirming your sentiment.


I don't think they have money trouble at all, they are just saying "being famous sucks if there's no big money to offset the downsides". They want more money so that they don't have to work a normal job, take the subway, do their own shopping.

They want the rich and famous lifestyle. Being poor and famous and working hard at it is a drag.


Clearly they should start talking about money - if more you tubers and musicians and artists and what have you talked about what they are and aren't making, maybe it would start to put more of a dent in the self-entitled feelings that a lot of fans have.

The big problem with all of this though is that when artists wise up and stop trying to chase the dollars that aren't there, they stop producing as much creatively, and the fans don't realize what they are missing.

More than a few times I've wished that the millions of fans out there would suddenly wake up with a much more evolved sense of taste, willing to reject the art that is a waste of time, and willing to pay for the art that is actually worth their time.


No, people would just close the tab the moment they started talking about money.


Here's how you do it right: http://www.accursedfarms.com/rosss-fun-filled-beg-a-thon/ Ross got quite a lot of donations after that.


So, if you are producing for fans who will never pay you for your work, is it worth it? We're not talking about purely artistic endeavors here, and the people who can do their form of 'art' without worrying about money are few and far between.

Robert Crumb was paid for his work. Beethoven was paid for his work. Van Gogh wasn't paid for his work and it helped drive him to suicide.

So, is it better to have 10,000 fans who will pay you for your work, or 3,000,000 who won't pay you anything, ever?


Yeah, if that was the main theme, it'd drop subscribers.

But a lot of podcasts will just have a note at the end, "If you want to support me being able to do this full time, donate! Set up a recurring donation and I'll send you [some cheap swag]."

Then they can talk about meeting their goal, and how donations keep them free of influence from sponsors, and how it will improve the content if everyone gave just $1.

NPR even does that sort of thing.

There more and less classy ways to beg for money.


It's similar with websites. As a developer, I find it easy to build things people want. My websites get millions of pageviews every month. Yet, I make less then $200 per month from Adsense. No idea how high this could get with better monetization or what the path to betterm monetization would be.


If those websites have a focus try affiliate marketing to their niche. Adsense is like throwing spaghetti at the wall - some few will stick but most will fall off.


Could you link to one (or more) of these websites?


Millions of page views? Unless you're running a photo sharing site, it seems like this should be more than $200/month. Assuming you know adsense best practices about ad placement, ad sizing, text versus image, have you talked to a consultant about options? I'm not one, just thinking if I had millions of views, that would be the next step.


Yes, Millions of pageviews. According to Google Analytics. Adsense only shows about 500k pageviews a month though. Guess the rest uses adblockers. In terms of optimizations, I tried a few placements and settings. Nothing moved the needle much.


That seems incredibly low or Adsense has gotten pretty bad in 10 years.

Around 2005 I had a very generic ecommerce site on which I threw some Adsense as an experiment.

I was getting $200 in Adsense a month from 3,000-3,500 daily views x 30 so ~ 100,000 views a month.


Is it that strange? I don't have a clue who these people are. 70,000 followers on the Internet is not that notable, especially since no one knows if a follower is a person, a robot or a corporate SM account. Where is the story of the people with millions of followers that can't make money? Also, being famous isn't going to make you money unless there is business smarts involved. Working as a waitress, well she probably needs to do some networking. I remember meeting Dave Moffat, once famous, still has fans, working as a waiter. Really super nice guy, not smart, very unaware of business, and no clue how to monetize. If I had a million followers, what I would do...


How is this different than the traditional arts and entertainment fields? Most singers, song writers, painters, sculptors, writers, etc also struggle their whole life to make a living. Just because your art is digital and you can reach hundreds of thousands of people at the click of a button doesn't mean that you will become rich overnight. Sure we need new revenue models for content on the Internet--but my prediction is that they will lead to a lot fewer people watching content (much less paying for it). Not to mention that if your fan base is comprised of 13 year olds who need to ask their parents for a credit card every time, you can't make much money off of them.


Famous ones though? It doesn't take 100,000 fans for a musician to make a living.


100k subscribers isn't 100k fans. A fan, in the past, would be someone who shelled out $15 for your album and goes to your shows. A "fan" in this context is some guy who stopped by your youtube video, hit skip on your ad, clicked subscribe, watched a little and left and maybe checks out your next video or two.

The monetization per fan here is pretty stark. You would get a few bucks in pocket from the first example and next to nothing from the second.

Selling 500,000 records is decent cash. Getting 500,000 views of a jokey video that caters to kids or the easily distracted isn't.


I guess the article waffles between subscribers and views, because subscribers are worth a lot more when you're negotiating product placement money. So I guess the analogous question is: Say 100,000 people are interested enough to notice every time you put a song out. Is it plausible that collectively they decline pay you enough to make a living?


Here is the thing. These people produce something of interest to people at the price of 'free'. If their 'product' was worth anything then they could charge for it, but then of course nobody would pay and they wouldn't be 'famous'.

So you can't get rich if you have to give your 'product' away? Not really a big surprise is it?


If they don't ask straight out for money, they're not going to get it.

If you don't explain the situation to your subscribers, how are they going to be understanding?

So you put up this 'persona' on youtube. You said you 'struggled' but now you're not allowed to talk about your problem anymore.

So, if you end up doing sponsored videos to make a living and some subscribers decide not to subscribe any longer because you're 'selling out'. Well, I guess they're not really a subscriber like you thought would be.


>If their 'product' was worth anything then they could charge for it //

I don't think this necessarily follow. I've watched YouTube videos that were as entertaining as TV shows where in the latter's case onscreen & production workers are getting paid. It's not that the content isn't valuable it's that supply is vast and so the price is depressed to roughly "well I'll put up with a couple of add" (near zero).

Having worth and being saleable are not directly comparable measures. Air is of effectively infinite worth to humans but you can't usually sell it.


Except for the people who do get rich.

Besides which, a lot of times the difference between scraping by and becoming a millionaire can sometimes be a good business manager. Knowing what to do and how best to do it, and keep up with it, can make orders of magnitude difference in monetization. And that's true in any business, in any industry.


They all seem to think of their YouTube channel as the content, and the ads as their revenue channel.

But how about upselling?

They could see YouTube as free marketing, teaser content, for whatever they're actually selling. Depending on what they do, it could be a how-to book, a video tutorial on DVD, 1:1 coaching, etc.


I consider myself fortunate that I like my day job more than I like writing words. Otherwise I would feel much of the same depression.

When I go to conferences or tech meetups, people tell me how much this essay or that book changed their life, and it's wonderful, but the revenues from everything put together wouldn't have paid for a van or a spot by the river for the eleven years that I've been writing.

Being internet-obscure is a wonderful and rewarding hobby, if you can afford a hobby. But for me, the rewards are in the writing and in the feeling that I'm contributing a little bit to helping people enjoy programming.

Which is a lot like other hobbies, where part of the social thing is helping other people enter the hobby and enjoy it.


Pewdiepie's post-production skills are off the charts; coupled with content that people genuinely want to consume.

Internet increases the quantity of content, but quality of content drives compensation.


It's very simple: Lots of people want to be famous and want to heard/seen/recognized. It used to be that only a very select few would get into Show Business, Radio, Movies and make quite a bit of money (still today). Fast forward fifty years, the barrier to entry in the space was lowered: anyone can post videos that cost next to nothing to make. That makes for more competition in that 'wanna be famous' space, and guess what? Surprisingly not everyone is making truck loads of money...


I found this mostly amusing. When did fame automatically equal income (nevermind riches)?

This is a business. Doing anything for free and expecting to magically get paid = bad business.

This article highlights the silliness of it all by quoting things like subscriber and follower numbers as if that means anything. So what if you have 1M subscribers? The internet has democratized and made content distribution much easier, faster and cheaper. It hasn't somehow changed the economics behind selling content itself.

This is basic pricing research - do your consumers care enough to actually pay for what you have? If so, then how are you going to capture and convert that? Ads? Subscriptions? Donations? Figure it out and put the plan in place. There will always be some people to whom it's not worth it - just because they're vocal about it doesn't mean you need to go into depression. And you don't need to be homeless to continue your "art" either. Neither option is healthy and it's what sets apart those who can actually succeed at this.

Perhaps the funniest line in this whole article is this:

> Aspiring vloggers may want to think about getting business degrees, because that’s what being famous online is: It’s protecting your assets, budgeting, figuring out production costs, and rationing out money to employees—whether that’s yourself or a camera crew.

Yea right... except that a business degree would at least teach the basics of having an actual business model.


Honestly, at this point online influencers with midsize followings should treat their creative content and the fanbase they've been able to build up as a portfolio of their skills to get their foot in the door of more lucrative opportunities.

I'm not quite sure why they're working minimum wage jobs to make ends meet when they could for example be using their online experience consulting for businesses who would love to devise impactful, authentic ways to connect with the demographics of their fanbase.

I think a lot of these middle tier influencers would benefit from training on how to present their skills/experiences to businesses who are willing to pay. (Not viewers.)

I just read a story about how this girl Esmee Denters (she used to be signed with Justin Timberlake, then the label dropped her) was working part time at a yogurt shop. She could easily make much more for example coaching aspiring singers on to navigate the music industry, etc.

Basically, maybe your viewers won't pay for your content but you can use your content for the proof of expertise to start an auxiliary business that makes money.


You're right, they really could benefit from such training. I don't think these people know that it's a thing that businesses will pay them to consult, let alone which businesses those are or how to contact them.

I certainly don't know who I would reach out to, or how, if I had 100k instagram fans and wanted to do some consulting. How does one acquire this knowledge?


Fame for fame's sake is not going to get you food on the table unless you're very lucky (and even then it will always be hollow). Fame + some marketable skill will. It's the same thing with websites that are attracting lots of eyeballs but don't have a way to monetize them.

Those things are called 'hobbies'.


What's wrong with serving table and being "Youtube famous", as long as people recognizing you doesn't disturb the service ?

Should a channel with videos of roughly 250k views (with bad directing and average acting) allows its creator to live a rich or middle-class live ? I don't know, maybe but a TV show with these ratings in the US alone would get canceled quickly I guess.

I liked the candid honesty but the focus on subscribers numbers or Instragram likes felt delusional or disconnected from real life, (but I didn't know you could live of Instragram sponsored content so I'm clearly not an export in the field).

Also I think if you rely on the general public and especially the youths to live you should have a plan B because it's a fickle group, ask any celebrities of reality TV.


I think as others have mentioned that people have an expectation that these "Youtube celebrities" are doing well when in reality they aren't.

I think the explanations about their attempts to monetize but the problems with monetization are also discussed.

I didn't get the impression she was complaining about it as much as the expectation that they are doing incredibly well when they aren't.


I think it's not as much "people expect her to be doing incredibly well" but more "I expected to be doing incredibly well based on my youtube status". At least that's the vibe I get from her post.

It's like that "I have to succeed" line in the article. You have a fairly steady income and spend a lot of time doing something you love; you're already succeeding. You don't want to "succeed", you want to be rich. I'm sorry you feel that being a barista is beneath you, aren't you the special one.

edit: to be clear I don't mean you, I mean the person who said that :)


It took me a while to realize what the problem is.

For a long time, we've seen sponsored content as a bad, evil thing, that is driven by greed and capitalism. ( See corresponding Wayne's World moment https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KjB6r-HDDI0 )

This still stands for many situations but it seems like there are people out there only accepting and promoting things they: - believe in - have no issues with ( neither moral, nor technical ) - or even actually use them.

All these cases are, in my opinion, valid cases for accepting money and is pretty far from evil.

Image a world where all the commercials are done by people actually believing in the product - and not the money behind it.


I'm not sure you described any real problem.

More like the creators have no clue on how to run a business. No different than many starving artists who have no monetization talent or abilities.


before we shed a tear for these erstwhile celebrities let's indeed take a look at the economics. in statistical terms their curse (and I will argue, their blessing) is kurtosis. earnings by entertainers (such as in pro sport, film, TV, music) are not normally distributed but heavily skewed towards the left. the few at the top vastly overperform the rest. thus you have pewdiepie earning millions and the vast majority losing money. the same happens in film, for example: the lucky few thousand A-listers earn millions while the millions of other actors bus tables.

there are several reasons for this kurtosis: mostly having to do with vertical differentiation---the characteristic in which one product is clearly preferred over another. at the cinema, for example, each movie is priced identically and yet one is clearly preferred than the other. this leads to a few films becoming runaway successes and the rest barely breaking even. there is a positive feedback loop that magnifies the effect over time. you see this quite clearly in the youtube ecosystem as well. youtube videos are "priced" identically; and so obviously there is a clear preference for one over the other, as there is a clear preference of a performer over another.

risky careers are sexy. these performers may bemoan their situation but in fact it is precisely this kurtosis that gives them their fame. after all the opposite of a kurtocracy is a mediocracy[1], in which rather than the extraordinary dominating, the ordinary dominates. another fantastic label for such industries is "humdrum" industries[2]. nursing, teaching, bookkeeping, dentistry, engineering, accounting, retail are all mediocracies in which employees do not face extremes of success and failure. some of these fields are clearly available to youtubers should they find their current path untenable.

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_De_Vany [2]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_E._Caves


Andy Warhol never suggested that our 15 minutes of fame would be accompanied by fortune.


Seems like everyone here is getting hung up on the author rather than discussing the specifics of being famous AND poor.

That's got to be very strange feeling, one that Aaron Swartz most likely felt.


This issue isn't new. It was very prevalent in Web 1.0 world.

At the time, I opined something rather harsh:

If your business model relies on free [read: freemium] services, you have a hobby, not a business.

It remains true today.


There are some parallels with entrepreneurs:

- Seems more glamorous from the outside that it usually is.

- Most people never make a lot of money.

- Having a significant user base (just like Instagram followers) does not guarantee success.

- Going to get a "real job" feels like selling out.


An interesting read. One of the things publicists are good at doing is converting 'star power' into dollars. I wonder if there are any agents out there recruiting these folks.


If only there was a way to cash in our imaginary internet points.


reddit karma to BTC. reddit basically pays you for being a good actor on their sight and not trolling. This benefits reddit since people will want to come to the site to read the insightful comments.


Thing is, how many viewers would those people have, if their content would be, idk, 1€/$/£ per month? Thats the difference to e.g. Twitch personalities or people famous in gaming. Their crowd is a lot less volatile and rapid-shifting than the beauty/lifestyle-crowd. To stay, you have to have knowledge and/or skill in the game you play.(Or boobs, but that stuff is shunned hard by twitch). Maybe, it would be good if yt would provide the artist with something like the "Subscribe" functionality twitch provides, for allowing fans to provide a basic, monthly income.


The creator is servant to the distributor.

Doesn't matter whether you're talking about the creation of Scotch whisky, computer code, or video content.


The way art used to work, back when it was actually good, was that artists found rich patrons to sponsor their work.

This seems like a good system to me.


That gives the patron way too much control over your output.



This is the creative economy in a nutshell, it's just not highly lucrative except for a small number of edge cases, for the rest it's peanuts.

The danger embedded in this exception is that it's the generally mediated norm for the creative 'genius', the artist living the high life receiving reward for their exceptional talent. Skill + followers = reward. People in the top spots have earned their place.

Anyone who has participated in a creative profession long enough will have seen many brilliantly talented people fail, and critiques will follow as to why they missed out (obsessive personality, no marketability, poor communication, not in touch with reality, poor career trajectory, no exposure, etc). Creative people are pinned against each other, so these critiques flow from fellow producers too, and sadly when one person calls it a day, others will see opportunity left in their wake and attempt to fill the gap only to deal with similar patterns. Mostly failure is just part of the biz and no real indicator of talent.

Many will reach for the 'lottery' metaphor to justify creative economy, which I think at it's heart is true. Creative capital is amassed by a tiny minority in a global pool, and the 'pop' market intends to keep it this way - it's much easier to manage and account for a tiny list of select 'important' people, rally behind them and create an economy that benefits all parties (distributors and artists) than to embrace the entirety of creative output.

But again there are exceptions. And these are the ones maintaining 'creative integrity', who then become every other artists benchmark for succeeding against the odds. They help fertilize the pool, keep enthusiasm up and make people have faith that good work can succeed. Again another lottery, and these rare successes often become heavily fortified by the same industry, itself championing the outsider and benefiting from the perceived 'integrity'.

However, when you decide to give up on the supply chain completely and present yourself to an audience honestly things can actually come good. There are audiences that have given up on the supply chain too, and are sympathetic to artists presenting themselves with all their frailties. Once a connection is made, these people become real subscribers and will pay to keep this connection flowing and will even help advertise the artists they love (think t-shirts). There are many great examples of artists who have decided to control their supply chain, get intimate with an audience, and nurture the connection as directly as possible. They still work with mass culture but only as an interface to build audience.

How hard is it for these Vloggers to do the same, kick the supply-chain (freeloading hits) and direct their core audience to their own supply. Surely it's as simple as adding to their 'please like / subscribe to our channel' spiel with a 'and to see our other content visit our website direct'.

Maybe something will disrupt the 'pop' industry and create equity, but when mass piracy doesn't change much and pay services still only give majority revenue to top billers, it seems that 'pop' is more agile than most give lip service to.


This sounds like the economics of all entertainment industries.

It's a lottery system. The visible success stories are atypical.




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