Though it’s becoming less of a thing as YouTube and other video platforms become evermore pervasive in our lives, there is a weird psychological aspect to seeing someone on screen.
Almost certainly left over from the not-too-distant days when broadcast television was the only way to get video content and being on TV in any significant capacity almost inherently meant you were famous, we have a tendency to “celebritise” (yes, I made that word up) our favourite YouTubers.
And, if someone is a celebrity, they’re probably making plenty of money, right?
Of course, while the likes of James Charles and DanTDM are making a small fortune and can be considered to be celebrities by most reasonable standards, the truth is that the overwhelming majority of YouTubers—even the ones that make their living from YouTubing—are living considerably more modest lives than your average A list celebrity.
So, when asking the question, “do all YouTubers make money?” – we can confidently and absolutely say no, no they do not. Many YouTubers make nothing at all from their YouTubing exploits. Making money on YouTube depends on niche, consistency and the ability to monetize properly. If you can convert views into clicks and sales you can do very well.
But it is the grey area between no money and filthy rich that is the most interesting, and that’s what we’re going to take a look at today.
YouTubers Who Make No Money
Before we get to that more interesting area, let’s take a look at the people who don’t earn money from their YouTube channels.
As implied above, we are generally more savvy to the fact that literally anyone can become a content creator, and no matter how exciting and lavish something looks on YouTube, there is a good chance they are filming in a studio flat in between shifts tending bar. There’s nothing wrong with bar tending, of course, but it’s not something people who don’t need the money typically choose to do for fun.
The first thing to consider is that changes to YouTube’s monetisation policies not so long ago made it so that many YouTubers can’t monetise their channel.
For YouTubers who have less than a thousand subscribers or fewer than four thousand hours combined watch time, or any of the other criteria, monetising their content through the YouTube Partner Programme is not an option.
They could monetise their content in other ways, of course, but a channel that doesn’t meet the criteria for the YouTube Partner Programme will often be too small to make any significant income from other means.
There are exceptions to this rule, of course; some YouTubers may make content in niches that YouTube will not allow to be monetised, but still have a big enough following to make money in other ways, such as selling merch, but for the most part, people who can’t monetise their YouTube content are probably not making any money from their channel.
Of course, there is a whole separate discussion to have over whether making money should be considered important. While life is rarely ideal, the ideal scenario would be that the YouTuber makes videos they want to make regardless of whether they are getting paid, and any revenue can then be treated as a nice bonus, and if things progress to the point where you can earn your living from the channel, event better! That being said, we know life is not ideal, and YouTube is a regular job for many people, rather than the dream career it can sometimes look like to outsiders.
How the Other Half Lives
Much like society, the very successful make up a tiny fraction of the total number of YouTubers out there.
The exact amount that any given view is worth varies quite significantly depending on the type of content and things like how long the video is, but as a rough guide, YouTubers can expect to earn between $3 and $5 per thousand views of monetised content. Using the aforementioned DanTDM as an example, Dan consistently gets 2-3 million views a day. Using these numbers and sticking to the conservative end of the scale, we can estimate that Dan makes around $6,000 per day from the YouTube Partner Programme alone. And that doesn’t factor in things like merchandise sales, sponsored videos, super chat money, and anything else he might be doing that earns revenue.
And if that makes you feel a little jealous, Dan ranked approximately 50th (at the time of writing) in terms of video views across the whole platform, meaning there at least 49 YouTubers out there probably making a lot more money!
The reason we’ve included this envy-inducing section is to illustrate just how big the numbers we are dealing with can get. Even with YouTube’s notoriously low rates of pay and unreliable nature when it comes to changing their terms of service, there are YouTubers out there who can easily break a quarter of a million dollars in one month on ad revenue alone. They are by far the minority, but when it comes to YouTubers who get millions of views a day, it’s probably harder for them to not make money.
The Grey Area
So now we come to that interesting middle ground between the people who make nothing and the people who make more money than they know what to do with.
The YouTubers we are talking about here can be a mixed bunch. We might be talking about YouTubers who have a substantial following but make the kinds of videos that YouTube refuses to monetise.
We might be talking about people whose channel has grown enough to be approved for the YouTube Partner Programme but is still relatively small and not making a great deal of revenue.
This swath of YouTube covers everything from people who spend large portions of their week making YouTube content and make very little money, to people who spend a few hours a week streaming off-the-cuff content and make thousands.
And, of course, the many YouTubers whose time-to-earnings ratio is comparable to a regular job.
Understanding Revenue and Motive
When trying to wrap your head around this topic, it is important to remember that YouTubers do what they do for a variety of reasons.
Some people have no interest in money, and only do the bare minimum of monetisation on their channel. Some people do absolutely everything they can to monetise their content and end up making a respectable income from a relatively small number of views.
It is also important to remember that revenue is far from a simple, clean system that looks the same for every YouTuber. For one thing, even the ad revenue earned through the YouTube Partner Programme can vary dramatically between YouTubers. Not only are some ads worth more than others, but the watch time can play a huge role. Consider a two-minute video; YouTube might put an ad at the start of that video, earning the YouTuber a cool $2 per thousand views. Now let’s say a different YouTuber in the same niche puts up a video that is ten minutes long, has two ad placements and gets the same amount of views; that YouTuber will be making $4 for their thousand views. Same amount of views, twice as much revenue.
Of course, this example assumes that both videos are watched all the way through and all the ads are seen, but the fact that we need to clarify that fact illustrates another way in which revenue calculation on YouTube is a messy business.
Then, of course, there are the many and varied ways that YouTube content could be monetised. Someone who seems to be getting relatively low viewing figures on their YouTube channel could be making a comfortable living from their content over on Patreon.
We tend to think of viewing figures through the YouTube revenue lens, which is to say, we assume you need at least 50,000-100,000 subscribers before you can have any hope of making decent money. The truth is you can do it with a lot less if that audience is dedicated and invested in your channel. If a YouTuber had 5,000 subscribers and 5% of those subscribers are happy to send the
YouTuber $10 a month in YouTube memberships, Patreon subscriptions, or something similar, that YouTuber could easily live off the money they make, even if they are getting viewing figures in the hundreds, rather than tens of thousands. Conversely, a YouTuber making all of their earnings through the YouTube Partner Programme would have be getting at least 800,000 views a month to make the same amount of money.
Do all YouTubers make money? Certainly not. At least, not from YouTube. But there are so many factors that go into how much money YouTubers make that it is almost impossible to make an accurate guess based only what you can see from the outside.
They could be a relatively unknown YouTuber with a dedicated following who makes plenty of money in memberships, or they could be a well-known YouTuber who gets millions of views, but their content is in a poorly-paying niche, constantly has videos demonetised, and pays agent fees.
The truth is, unless a channel has no subscribers or millions of subscribers, the only way to be sure is to ask, but you probably won’t get an answer.