97% of those trying to become YouTube stars won’t make enough money to survive, new research suggests
YouTube stardom can come at a heavy price.
Nearly 97% of people trying to make it big as a professional YouTuber won’t make enough money off advertising to surpass the U.S. poverty line, according to new research.
Getting into the top 3% of most-viewed YouTube channels, meaning you attract more than 1.4 million views per month, could make content creators $16,800 a year in advertising revenue, according to research by Mathias Bartl, a professor at Offenburg University of Applied Sciences in Offenburg, obtained by Bloomberg. That’s slightly above the U.S. federal poverty level of $12,140 for one person, and barely past the guideline for a two-person household of $16,460. Bärtl calculated the findings by using an income of $1 per 1,000 views, which is a fairly standard earnings rate; YouTubers typically make money through brand sponsorships, product placement in videos and ads.
Joey Gatto, 24, who has 192,058 subscribers on YouTube, started doing comedy sketches and quirky man-on-the-street interviews in 2011. Some of his best sketches include “What would you do for a dollar?” featuring him handing out his own money to strangers who do awkward things like, serenade people in public. One video skit garnered 1 million views, which earned Gatto his first check of $1,000 from YouTube. But the money is inconsistent, he says.
“It doesn’t matter how great your content is, you’re competing against other people who are just as good as you to stand out. It’s almost not possible unless you know someone,” Gatto tells Moneyish. “Not everyone can do it.”
The millennial attributes his fan following to luck after he won a competition to sign with a YouTube network that helped catapult his viewership numbers. Still, with as many as 100,000 views, Gatto says he’d only make around $100.
Gatto did YouTube full-time for three years and realized the most money is made with brand sponsorships on his YouTube channel, noting that he once earned around $5,000 for a 30-second product plug on his channel. On his best month, he made $10,000, but more frequently his videos would rake in only a few hundred. He decided to make videos less frequently because he wasn’t enjoying the hustle of working up to five hours a week per video.
“I would have been inclined to stick around a little longer, but you get to a point where if you want to pay this month’s rent you have to do a video about Justin Bieber. The driving force of me leaving was because of the lack of intellect that goes into it,” he says, of having to gear his content to trending SEO topics like celebrities.
“At the end of the day, you’re selling your soul to viral content that involves a public prank that’s super crazy to see how the public reacts,” says Gatto, who is now a full-time student at Columbia University studying data science.
Others, like New Jersey native Nick Buongiovanni, 25, took skills he used for promoting content on YouTube to transition into a full-time social media business. He started his YouTube channel MannnTV, which now has 229,719 subscribers, also doing comedy sketches, before he teamed up with a few other popular guys his age on YouTube for the channel SDK doing similar pranks, parodies and game show-type videos.
“We never made more than $1,000 a month. Some months we’d get $600 for four videos,” Buongiovanni says of his videos that got around 20,000 to 30,000 views each. “It can only be lucrative if you’re in the top 2% of creators.”
Last year, Buongiovanni decided to start his own local business doing social media for various companies near his hometown running their Facebook and Instagram pages.
The more people click on your ads, the more popular your channel becomes. The actual rates an advertiser pays per YouTube video varies, but it’s usually between $0.10 to $0.30 per view and averages out at $0.18 per view, according to Influencer Marketing Hub. And on average the YouTube channel can receive $18 per 1,000 ad views, which equates to around $3 to $5 per 1000 video views.
Producing interesting content for any social platform is an expensive investment, especially for Instagram influencers to build their following. When model and actress Jessica Markowski, 25, started her Instagram page in 2012, she paid $500 for a camera, spent around $200 a week on clothing, and would pay between $50 to $200 per shoot with a photographer while working two other jobs to afford it. She calls it an investment now that’s earned her 174,000 followers, but back then, the money she made wasn’t nearly enough to sustain her lifestyle.
“There are times when you make $100, $200 or $5,000 in a week, its very cyclical,” Markowski explains of getting brand endorsements. “It wasn’t until I got 100,000 followers that I started to make some money. When I was a year in, I’d go sometimes without making anything. For someone who wants to make this their full-time job, just because you got that one campaign that paid you $2,000, doesn’t mean you’ll always have work.”
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