YouTube's biggest earners
Forbes has published its first list of YouTube’s top earners. The top earner is not the sneezing panda or the "Charlie bit my finger" brothers, but rather it’s international web celeb PewDiePie.
That’s right, a guy who initially worked on a hotdog stand in order to fund his videos made $12 million in the last year alone.
And he is not alone – next up was comedy duo Smosh, who earned $8.5 million, along with several other performers, pranksters and even a woman who publishes make-up tutorials. They have all made millions and millions of dollars.
Sadly that doesn’t mean everyone can. There are well over a million producers signed up to the site’s revenue-sharing scheme, all competing for viewers. Some make no money at all, some make just enough to live on, and some make enough to live very well indeed. So how does it work? And how can you stand out from the crowd with your own YouTube channel?
Making money from YouTube: what do you need?
The basics are relatively simple.
You need a YouTube channel, which is your personal platform on the site. You can add keywords to your channel to highlight the areas of interest. You will also need to find a short, snappy or at least memorable username will help you market yourself.
What to put on your YouTube channel
Next up, you need content. Okay, that’s a little harder to teach; you need high quality, interesting, engaging, sharable content. Preferably, that will be content that is in demand like funny or moving videos which will 'go viral'.
Or you could create guides and tutorials that fill a niche like make-up lessons or video game walk-throughs – something which people may not share but will actively seek out.
Although some YouTubers have studios with lighting and cameras, there’s plenty of amateur content filmed with phones and tablets that has been enormously successful. While a certain level of technical ability will help your content look professional, no amount of professionality will make up for a lack of compelling subject matter.
The experts all agree that it’s important to publish regularly so that you build an audience that knows when to expect the next instalment. The more you practise, the better you will get at using editing software and working a camera.
Don’t forget to give each video a catchy description – it’s a hook to encourage people to watch it. You can also tag your videos with relevant keywords so that YouTube knows to offer them to people searching for content like yours.
And don't forget you will need to allow YouTube to place ads on your videos. This is the main way that you can make money from a YouTube channel. You can do this as the video uploads by clicking the 'monetisation' tab, and ticking the 'monetise with ads' box. You can go back and do this with videos that you have already uploaded too.
Remember, you can't monetise videos featuring copyrighted material.
Marketing your YouTube channel
So you need the technical ability, the creative flair and then you need to persevere and work hard. Reply to comments beneath your videos to create a sense of community and loyalty among your viewers.
Blog, Tweet and use Facebook to market your content and engage in discussions. Marketing your YouTube videos is just as important as making the content in the first place – there’s little point in making amazing videos if no one knows they exist.
You can even collaborate with other YouTubers to bring new viewers to your channel. Working with existing popular YouTubers builds your network and spreads your influence.
If you have monetised your videos and have built up a large number of views, then you can apply to become a YouTube Partner. Partners get access to more content creation tools and community support.
It's not easy to make money from YouTube
But even if you understand the theory, have the creative spark and work like a fury there’s still a certain amount of luck involved. The internet is full of talented, hardworking people, working 12-hour days and making just enough to live on.
Medraut Stowe, 23, lives in Canada and earns his living publishing videos to YouTube under the alias Mah-Dry-Bread.
He mostly covers computer games, posting videos of funny commentaries, walk-throughs and reviews of the big games of the day. He’s even made a video looking at how YouTubers get paid.
He has relied on YouTube for his main income for three years now, having struggled to find a job in Ontario’s challenging climate, and as he lives with a disability it’s convenient for him to work from home.
But does he earn enough to live? And how much?
“In short, YouTubers get paid by views,” he explains. “Every 1,000 views is worth roughly $1 USD at the moment, pretty much an all-time low. Part of the problem is that many viewers use software called AdBlock. You don't get paid for views from people with Adblock turned on.”
And how much does he earn as a dedicated, full-time YouTuber? He’s contractually not allowed to disclose the exact amount, but he agrees to give us an idea.
Medraut posts at least one video a day and has done so for four and a half years. His videos typically get 400 views on the day he posts them, netting him 40 cents a day from the new stuff. That’s about 26p.
“However, I have a backlog of just under 3,000 videos that still get viewed, with many of those being quite popular, so that adds up.” On top of that, Medraut accepts fan donations from people who understand that YouTubers are usually not making a killing and want to support the creators they admire.
“I actually make more money from fan donations than pay cheques and that's not terribly uncommon on YouTube… Not everyone donates every month and [the donation site] takes 10%, so it's more like $430 a month from donations.”
Knowing he makes less from YouTube than from donations, it’s clear that he earns under $860USD (£560) a month, in a city where a minimum wage job pays about $1,800 a month. That’s despite “having done a video a day for over four years, having 24,500 subscribers, and knowing the system inside out”.
“When people think of full time YouTubers, they think of PewDiePie. They think of an internet celebrity who makes a very healthy living. In reality, most of us would be better off working at McDonalds. If you have one million or more subscribers and run a very low budget show, you're probably quite well off. If you have less than one million and run a low budget show, you're probably eating just fine. If you have less than 300,000 subscribers, you're not earning as much as you easily could elsewhere, and if you have less than 100,000, you're probably rationing food like me.”
Not only that, but he has to cope with the inevitable onslaught of abuse that happens when anyone publishes regularly online. Yet he says it is easily worth it, if you love what you do.
Writing this article, we spoke to several YouTubers who make videos as a hobby, because they enjoy having a platform and because they like interacting with fans online. Even YouTubers like Medraut who rely on the income to keep doing what they love do not expect to make their fortune online.