Traditional media outlets will tell you that YouTube is the wild west: a new land of opportunity where fortune is waiting for anybody brave enough to stake a claim. The secret that they won’t tell you is that YouTube is actually just a business like any other.
The myth that anyone can be a YouTube star relies on people not knowing the difference between long-term success on the site and going viral. Anyone can go viral – you can put a costume on your dog, film it on your phone and maybe 10m people will watch it. But if you want to be a YouTuber, someone who makes videos for at least part of their living, then you should recognise that advertising makes the world go round.
Advertisers pay the bills on YouTube. You might be able to get some crowd funding going if you’ve got truly fantastic fans, or sell merchandise if you’re a brand genius like PewDiePie, but you’ll only become an official YouTube partner by allowing advertisements to be displayed over your videos.
Once you get really big you can do “brand deals” with companies who have products to sell. They’ll give you money in exchange for advertising their product. Obviously brands only want to do deals with high quality channels that are good to look at and reliably draw in the viewers.
So you’ll need start-up money to get a professional looking product. A good camera and microphone will cost you. You’re also going to need lighting and decent editing software too. Unlike most jobs, working on YouTube is something you have to pay to do for a long time before anybody will pay you back.
Then there are travel costs. You might think that you can run a YouTube empire without leaving your bedroom, but think again. You have meetings, training sessions and conventions to attend, and you you will need to cover your transport costs to get there, at least when you start out.
Another problem for a lot of people when they're starting out is that YouTube is very, though not completely, white. It's not that the site is skewed towards white people per se, but that white people are generally the ones with the disposable income and time necessary to do the job.
This is more of a reflection of social inequality rather than discrimination on the platform. In 2011 that UK's Department of Work and Pensions found that the average white household has £221,000 in assets, while Black Caribbean households had £76,000, Bangladeshi households £21,000 and Black African households £15,000. What's more, 60 per cent of black and Asian households have no savings at all, compared to 33 percent of white households.
Altogether, this very much runs counter to the wild west metaphor, according to which anybody can make it and everybody has an equal shot. The metaphor fits too well. YouTube may be a gold rush, but just like before, many of the best spots for panning have already been bagged by rich white folks.
Olly Lennard presents Philosophy Tube and has over 20,000 subscribers (accurate as of January 30).
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