Eight years ago, it was considered news that anyone could actually turn a profit and make a living as a YouTuber. And really, it was seriously impressive. Making a living off of the internet at that point was limited to retail outlets like Amazon. The idea that you could do something as fun (or at least fun-seeming) as churning out YouTube videos for a living was incredible. It opened up doors for entertainers, independent journalists, and activists across the world.
However, YouTube is a business. And business is rarely the ally of independent media.
In 2015, YouTube forced all content creators to sign under their YouTube Red contract or face takedowns. Google claimed the goal was consistency across platforms and to incentivize YouTube Red subscriptions. Part of this contract incentivized longer videos, paying content creators for time spent viewing as opposed to number of videos watched. For YouTube’s brightest stars like PewDiePie, this was no problem – videos were already typically at least fifteen minutes long, with simple content and minimal editing necessary. However, content creators that focused on smaller, more elaborately constructed videos, such as animators, musicians, and journalists, suffered greatly reduced income, forcing a change in format or a change in venue. With YouTube being the only major video hosting platform in the market, content creators outside of YouTube’s ideal format had a simple choice: adapt or die.
This past year, YouTube has taken another business-oriented step by only allowing monetization on sanitized videos. If content isn’t deemed ad-friendly – in other words, if the content isn’t deemed wholly inoffensive – YouTube would refuse to monetize it. Online political starlets The Young Turks suffered under this, as did countless other video makers making content of consequence. Those changes, alongside YouTube’s mass filtering of LGBT-related content, made it clear that YouTube was not the bastion of free speech and discourse that it was once made out to be.
One saving grace from the past couple of years is the emergence of crowdfunding – specifically, Patreon, which has allowed video makers to get around YouTube’s advertising restrictions by letting viewers pay directly. It’s by no means perfect – Patreons are only meaningful for those who consistently create content, as opposed to those who have a few or just one important video – but it’s something. And until competitors like Vid.me make it big, it’s all YouTubers who fall outside of YouTube’s ideal have.