Does ‘success on YouTube mean a life of poverty’?

In an article posted by Bloomberg, which I’ll link here, a seriously bleak picture has been painted for anyone with aspirations to start something for themselves on YouTube. The reason for this being a recently released statistic which states that the ‘most popular 3% of YouTubers‘ create 20% of the content on the platform, but get in excess of 85% of all YouTube views.

This was the finding of Mathias Bärtl in his 2018 academic article titled; ‘YouTube channels, uploads and views: A statistical analysis of the past 10 years‘. To clarify, Bärtl defines the top 3% as those in his random sample of 19,025 channels who had the highest sum of views (across 5,591,400 unique videos).

Taking the stats from the academic paper, the news site Bloomberg has made two key points;

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The overwhelming presence of successful YouTubers displayed all over people’s feeds is encouraging more and more people to try and make a career out of YouTube – but research such as Bärtl’s suggests that an ever-decreasingly low number of creators ever achieve ‘success’;

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The U.S. federal poverty line is an annual income of $12,140 (£8800), and so even if someone was able to create a channel which had 1 million views per month, they would technically be in a state of poverty (using the conversion rate of $1 for every 1,000 views).


In his video, Casey Neistat (a hero of mine) challenges this article by saying that if the quality of your content is above a certain standard (achieved by finding your own style, personality and posting regularly, amongst other things) and you bring something new to the table, then it’s absolutely possible to find ‘success’ on YouTube.

He uses the example of Peter McKinnon who’s channel has grown to 1.7M subscribers in 13 months. While Casey makes a valid argument, I would argue that this isn’t the point that people should focus on.

In fact, I would argue that in Casey’s point, an incredibly narrow view of ‘success’ is being applied even if we are focusing solely on monetary compensation (which Casey acknowledges straight away before making other great points).

To demonstrate why this is the case, while still keeping in with the theme of money, I’m going to use the same example of a ‘ninety-seven-percenter’ as Bloomberg did, the YouTuber Ashcar.

His channel is composed of videos from a 19 year old computer science student with a daily Vlog. He’s currently got 163 videos available on his channel with 190 subscribers.

Using these figures, we could safely assume that this channel hasn’t netted a large income for Asher just yet. However, think about the body of demonstratable experience he’s developed so far.

After 163 videos, I think it would be a fair conclusion that Asher has a pretty strong interest in video media and creativity. So if he decided to pursue a career in content creation outside of YouTube, after personally shooting and editing more than 1,000 hours of footage, he’s going to look infinitely more attractive to a potential employer than someone who’s simply graduated a course in media studies.

As a result, he’s in a far better position to obtain a higher-paying job straight out of University than a similar graduate who hadn’t built themselves such a sizeable portfolio of work on top of getting a degree.

Even if his existing content wasn’t quite in line with the style of a would-be employers’, if they asked him to demonstrate experience/competence using video editing software or working with complicated and expensive camera gear then he can demonstrate that he’s absolutely got that in spades. 

This is the same for any creative pursuit, especially where you don’t have any prior qualifications or experience. Doing things like this might not be directly responsible for netting you some capital, but they represent a method of creating your own opportunity for development which can lead to fulfilment or even financial opportunities in the future. 

Don’t wait for extraordinary opportunities. Seize common occasions and make them great. Weak people wait for opportunities, strong people make them.

– Orison Swett Marden

Like, say you have an interest in copy-writing, but your current job doesn’t enable you to develop this for whatever reason. Well then f*ck your employer – why should they get a say in what you want to become if what you’re already doing isn’t fulfilling for you?

Start a blog, research companies you love and send them your ideas for compelling copy for any new products they might have coming out, or reach out to small businesses around you and see if any of them would be open to featuring a blog post on their website written by a third party.

Know what I mean?

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My point, and the point of Inkbike in general, is that taking the initiative to start something on your own can have nothing but good outcomes – whether they be directly monetary, experience (which can later bring the money), self-fulfilment or just the opportunity to do some cool sh*t that you might never have done otherwise.

And most importantly, to be proud of what you’ve started because the very act of doing so, regardless of the outcome, is awesome.

What do you think though? I’d love to talk with you about your view on the matter – you can comment or feel free to chat to me on any of the below;

Twitter: @Inkbike
Facebook: @lnkbike
LinkedIn: Inkbike


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