Was the YouTube Partner Program a viable way to make a career? When a machine is in the wheelhouse, probably not.
With the latest ad apocalypse (dubbed the “Voxpocalypse“), another large swath of YouTube content creators are finding themselves in the demonetization (and channel purge) list as YouTube cranks up their aggressive crackdown on content not deemed suitable for advertisers. Worse yet for some, the targeted deplatforming campaigns brought on by individuals caught in their crosshairs is a “taking a bull by the horns” approach to ensuring that major content sponsors are pulling out, decreasing their monthly income (we are ignoring whether or not this is warranted because I really don’t feel like going down that rabbit hole).
I’ve been on the Internet since 1996, starting with a 56K baud modem in the absolute remote wilderness of North Carolina and Internet Explorer on Windows 95. Back then, what content (whether it be videos, blog posts, images) people created were typically self-hosted on shared hosting services, such as GeoCities or Angelfire, or, if you were serious about your work, your paid hosting provider with a custom domain name. People made money off advertising networks that displayed banner ads on their sites. In some cases, they could do very well if the traffic was good (this was in the age before ad blockers became a thing); most of the time, webmasters made money by selling merchandise or asking for donations.
The YouTube Partner Program launched in December 2007. Since then, many have tried (and ultimately failed) to make a career out of YouTube. In the article 96.5% of YouTubers Don’t Earn Enough to Cross the Poverty Line, Study Finds by Daniel Sanchez:
It goes without saying that the lion’s share of revenue generated by advertisement revenue goes to the platform itself. Profitability, however, still remains a mystery. From the article Believe It or Not, YouTube May Spend More on Content than Netflix Does by Adam Levy:
That said, YouTube is going to put their own preservation interests first and foremost. What’s even more problematic for content creators is that YouTube’s biggest competitors–the traditional media–are keenly aware of the delicate relationship that YouTube has with its advertisers. Thus, when a hit piece comes out that could potentially paint the companies in a bad light, the algorithm is changed, videos and channels are tossed, behaviors are modified through demonetization, and YouTube tries to make nice with the old hat media by placing them front and center. Then you have people with an agenda who make waves, triggering another wave of demonitizations and channel/video removals. Then there are disputes between online personalities and journalists. Soon it will come to a point where so much as passing gas accidentally on camera will erupt in a mass exodus of advertisers.
To me, this just screams that people need to go back to what we started with: self-hosting, self-maintaining, and self-reliance. With the advent of cloud computing and scalability, it’s (theoretically) easier now to establish your own corner on the ‘net without the need to rely on a platform.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that large providers–Microsoft, Google, Amazon–aren’t immune to social pressure. But in this case, the content producer is also a paying customer, not a means to an end to generate advertising revenue.