Having a work schedule that allows flexible hours, no commute, and self-planning seemed at one point unattainable, but now, hundreds of thousands of content creators live these unconventional schedules by making a living on YouTube. When you think of YouTube, you might think of cat videos, viral trends, or maybe a handful of YouTubers you enjoy to watch, but YouTube has evolved from its early days of video sharing into a partner of Google housing creators whose main source of income flows from their view totals on YouTube videos.
With Google’s help, YouTube has become a worldwide source of entertainment while also being a creative medium. As of January 2018, YouTube ranks just below Facebook for the most popular social media source and base on its community outreach and high traffic rates, will surge to the top very soon. The platform is now competing with more mainstream media sources such as cable, cinema, and print news. And with the open partnership YouTube offers to creators, anyone can monetize their videos and allow ads to run before or throughout each video in order to gain revenue.
As a part-time YouTuber myself, I spend a few hours every day recording and editing videos to upload. Even though I produce videos on a smaller scale than other big content creators, I understand the ins and outs of a full-time YouTuber life as I watch and know YouTubers who pay the bills with YouTube money.
The number of YouTubers on the platform is increasing and has been for the past decade. Currently, an average of four YouTubers hit 1,000,000 Subscribers every single day, and therefore each year an average of almost 1,500 YouTubers possess a seven digit Subscriber count. With these numbers, thousands of people each year can make enough to possibly leave behind any day job they have and make videos full time. What appeals to content creators to make that switch? What goes into the decision to become a YouTuber? I interviewed gaming YouTuber Eric Van Wilderman, who has almost 300,000 subscribers, about his thought process when choosing to become a YouTuber and his current feelings about making his living online. Eric used to be an English teacher in South Korea before moving on with his YouTube channel. He became a full-time YouTuber somewhat out of necessity with his teaching resignation due to job relocation, but he had already been uploading just for fun for two years, and had a small but growing fanbase from which to grow.
“The channel quickly started growing, and I went from making about $200 a month, to a bit less than $1000 a month,” Eric mentions regarding his existing YouTube community. “It still wasn’t much to live off of, but me and my girlfriend decided to move to Canada and take a risk on growing the channel. I had only been working on the channel at night after work, and we thought that if I worked on it full time, I would be able to grow it even more than I had been while I was teaching.” Eric’s transition is one of hope, one of ambition, and one of wishful thinking as some may argue. He had the sapling of something which had potential to grow, and decided to pursue a career to try and grow that sapling into a tree, and one with many fruits at that. YouTube appealed to him because it was a lifeline, a glimmer of possibility.
“I’m glad that we took the risk on the channel because after a couple months I was able to double the amount of money I was making,” Eric continues. “It still wasn’t much, but since then, it’s been growing steadily, and now is easily able to sustain the both of us and we’re saving to buy a home.” YouTubers like Eric may reap rewards in the end, but there always is initial risk. For many, becoming a YouTuber poses great uncertainty. To drop a steady paycheck and a relatively fixed financial plan to one dependent on view totals month to month can be unsettling. Abandoning that stability is hard and frightening, but many see the potential in their small channels and just go for making it big by devoting more time to their craft and grinding out long days of recording and editing. YouTube tolerates and supports dedication like that.
A job void of bosses or coworkers and one promoting more creative freedom are benefits YouTubers experience. Sometimes though, the money-making aspect detracts from creativity and fun one has making videos. Life online can become a grueling task of putting out videos almost robotically to attract viewers and receive paychecks. “YouTube is a double edged sword. You’re able to express yourself creatively, but it has its limits if you want to pursue it as a full time job,” says Eric. “The longer you keep people on YouTube, the more YouTube likes you. What that means is that [more creative content] doesn’t get the attention it deserves. That’s not to say I don’t make other videos that are considered more on the creative side, but I don’t do them as frequently because they’re not the ones that pay the bills and they are more experimental.” Eric speaks of a rhythm many YouTubers find themselves in, finding what works and what does not. If one specific genre of video or one series garners serious attention, likes, comments, and views, but isn’t necessarily the most interesting or creative video type to make, full-time creators will often want to continue to output those high-attraction kinds of videos to accrue the most revenue. Creative expression on YouTube sometimes evolves into creative oppression, and video production can turn into a system of working on content solely for the purpose of monetary gain while still attempting to maintain a high level of effort and quality.
The constant pressure to upload and provide for a fanbase may also diminish the lifestyle of YouTubers. Not having a fixed schedule could mean working longer days or pulling all-nighters just to upload a new video or a series of videos. Suddenly, a more conventional job seems desirable. Eric talks about some things he misses from his teaching days, “My lifestyle on YouTube has [not been perfect.] There are definitely certain aspects of my previous career that I miss, like working with [kids], and also having co-workers to talk to during the day. Doing [YouTube] alone in my room can get lonely at times, and when I spend all day in my room, it feels a little claustrophobic. I often spend so much time inside, that going outside feels like a chore.” It appears that YouTube can robotize their content creators with hours spent in front of a camera or a computer screen. The luxury of a salary made online comes at a price, and YouTubers definitely sacrifice a lot of free time and social outings for time spent producing videos. A YouTuber essentially is an asset of Google, and so the demand for regular content is high to keep a steady living. Producing videos takes more time and effort than most think; time that could be spent on other endeavors. “I’ve been able to deal with all of [these difficulties] to some degree and my life has gotten better, especially in the last year or so,” Eric explains. “I started teaching part time (I don’t need the money, I just wanted to get out of my home haha), and I started to socialize with friends and exercise regularly.” Not all hope is lost for the wellbeing and physical health of YouTubers though, as Eric’s example leads. Making time for healthy choices is all in a day’s work.
As a YouTuber, life may present more freedom and a relaxed, controlled schedule, despite some sacrifices in certain situations of creativity, fun, and a more healthy, active life. Even though there are pros and cons, the platform is greatly appealing to those devoting their lives to making videos and attracting fans due to its large size and willingness to partner with hundreds of thousands of full-time creators. For YouTubers like Eric Van Wilderman, becoming a YouTuber started as a hobby and evolved into a career to follow out of necessity to pay the bills. Others may start young and grow up with their fan base growth, and still others may be a YouTube channel manager for a greater business or nonprofit. No matter the person, YouTube is becoming a platform on which a plethora of creators are able to base their life. Their income is based on views and clicks, dependent on other people’s attention and desire to watch. A YouTuber’s position can be very volatile in that sense, but it can bring great stability. Views are not just numbers, comments are not just supportive or hateful words on a screen. They are all people on the other end.
Chances are, if you know of a full-time YouTuber, they smile every time they see a supportive comment, reach a large amount of likes on a video, or hit a subscriber milestone. They smile because their work does not go unnoticed. They smile because real people love what they do and chip in to their monthly paychecks on the side. The connections YouTubers make with their fans is the greatest takeaway they can wish for. A viewer’s decision to subscribe, watch, like, and comment is a decision to support the creator. And in a job fueled by viewership, any form of support is a piece in the puzzle of making a living on the content-driven, growing video platform of YouTube.
Graphics: Luca Richman