Who Will Buy My Sweet Digital Content?: Money, Commercialism, & Entitlement On YouTube.
YouTube's economy and community mimic many aspects of life, not least school. On YouTube, I may not be in the 'weird angsty grungers with thumb holes in their jumpers and a strong affinity for Fall Out Boy' group like I was at high school, but there are similarities. Probably on account of me maturing very slightly, but still retaining the keen interest in Jaffa Cakes that I've always had, I occupy something of a YouTube clique that I wall call the arty/silly/quirky place. With me are a mix of people who like to make fun of YouTube conventions (see jonbehere's '5 VLOGGING MISTAKES YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW YOU'RE DOING'), people who have perfected an all-encompassing silliness (see Margot Vandersmissen's 'Clumsy Crafts: Making Roadmap Bunting'), and people who are all about spreading those twinkly, arty, creative vibes (see SoSonia's 'Escape' video for SoulPancake). There's variation, but for the purposes of this post I am categorising us for analysis (or because I'm an annoying internet philosopher who must meaninglessly foster discussions on every little thing at all costs - that's my Blogging Brand™).
We are in a place of familiarity with YouTube. There are Alfie Deyes references and Dan & Phil stickers to be found everywhere. We love to joke about the inevitable collaboration between Joe Sugg and Children of Bodom. It is a fun time here. And we are smart and have some (some!) editing skills (I can make captions wiggle, for example). We can see echoes of our style in YouTubers in the tens of thousands of subscribers. I see lots of the stylings of me and my YouTube friends and acquaintances in the videos of Rosianna Halse Rojas, Lex Croucher, Lucy Moon, and Daniel J. Layton. PJ Liguori's pure, magical weird is a huge reflection of us too - especially on his second channel, PJTheKick. There are styles that seem to extend the whole way up the numbers ladder. I would posit Dodie Clark as the queen of my 'YouTube house'. Imagine if there were YouTube houses though? Just put me down as the equivalent of Ravenclaw. Magpie... beak (please don't sue me)?
Gaby Dunn recently published a piece exposing the income struggles of apparently successful YouTubers. As a person with an educational background in art and an adolescence glued to the emergence of social media (I am desperate to post a MySpace bulletin and make a Livejournal secret right now), I'm all too familiar with the endless free creative and personal content present online (anyone wanna PayPal me a quid for this blog post?), and the normalisation and expectation of that content being there for free. I love the possibility blogs and social media provide for digital content publishing, but sadly people have come to feel entitled to that content and to disassociate it from the real person who creates it.
We can gain celebrity status through our creations, but without a chain of support we struggle to be successes in a true personal and financial sense. People are talking a lot about social media's propensity for being 'fake'. My circles are filled with people who make very genuine, honest content, but I think often the veneer is not the personal lifestyle of a YouTuber so much as the apparent success. The status might be there, but the money isn't. Subscribers aren't coins. Not until I finally perfect my human to coin conversion device, at least.
I notice a lot of people complaining about the sanitisation of some YouTubers, and the lack of ease in finding YouTubers with smaller subscriber counts. There's plenty of 'it's not how it used to be' and whilst I agree that YouTube has grown into this big thing with strong, muscly arms (there's probably already fan-art of this), that doesn't mean the little guys making cutesy stop motion videos about how much they love spaghetti aren't around. They are. There are more people starting YouTube now than ever. The small creators are out there, waiting, lurking in the dark corners of the castle. YouTube unfortunately does make it hard to find smaller creators, and this would be one of my biggest criticisms of the platform. I also agree that commercialisation goes too far sometimes with big names, but at the same time I think the disgruntled sentiments towards some YouTubers is unfair. Sponsorship can be awkward, but YouTubers, and anyone creating something that people want, deserve to be compensated.
I think it's great that the internet gives us the opportunity to create and share things for free, and to connect with other people, but for digital content creators and creatives of all kinds, that can be taken advantage of. Charging for your services or creations is not tyranny, and putting a price on something you have worked on is not forcing someone to pay for something as long as they have the free choice to not buy the thing.
Personally, I'm open to sponsorships and collaborations I deem reasonably tasteful and appropriate, and I'm working on some ideas for digital and physical items I can sell alongside my free online content. I'll also sell my eyelashes for £10,000 each if you're interested. Check my info page if you want to commission me to make a hideous sculpture of Niall Horan made of Ferrero Rocher.
Related: Check out my small(ish) YouTuber recommendations, and a follow up post of recommended channels and blogs. Here's a video I made about appearances and movement, and here's a song I wrote for Dodie.