For every professional musician, athlete, or chef, there are hundreds if not thousands of schmucks still playing empty bars on Tuesdays, limping out of the minors on torn ACLs, or flipping burgers at the farthest possible location from a Michelin star. While the barriers to entry might be lower for vlogging fame, new research suggests life as a YouTube star is no different.
YouTube is rife with success stories, some more deserving than others. And those lucky enough to soar into the rarified top three percent of channels manage to secure around 90 percent of the views on the platform. Not there yet? Too bad. And even if you made it, according to Mathias Bärtl, the Offenburg University professor behind the research, it’s likely your earnings just clear $16,000 a year—right in the bottom 12 percent of income for a single person in the US.
This isn’t all that surprising—to us, or to small creators, many of whom use YouTube as an additional income stream rather than their entire livelihood. It gets worse though. Those already soaking up the majority of views are often candidates for sponsorships, and although YouTube’s ad rates are not easily determined, we know top creators are given the option to join the platform’s “preferred advertising” plan—likely netting them more money per impression.
What’s not included in Bärtl’s research (and may not be entirely quantifiable) is how much of this imbalance is the result of YouTube putting its thumb on the scales to favor its biggest names through better placement in search and related videos modules, and through off-platform advertisements. From his analysis though, it’s clear the platform as a whole is coalescing around a select few channels, and is trending towards a more centralized stable of cash cows, many of whom have caused the platform enormous public embarrassment over the years.
Telling the internet about the minutia of your daily life professionally may have to wait until after Google’s inevitable anti-trust lawsuit.