Re: The Sad Economics of Internet Fame

Re: The Sad Economics of Internet Fame

Hello Rebels, and welcome back to my life.

Hank Green recently tweeted a link to an article by a YouTuber named Gaby Dunn about the sad economics of internet fame. It was a really good article, and I’m linking it in the description.

If I remember. Which I don’t always.


Anyway, the article’s a great read, and as someone who does most of my business and all of my marketing through the internet, I found it really valuable, but there were also a lot of things in there that…I don’t know, surprised me? Or that I didn’t know, or hadn’t thought about?

One of these things is just how many YouTubers who we think of as “big” aren’t doing YouTube as a full-time thing or, at least, HAVE to have other jobs, as opposed to doing other things because they want to.

Like I had no illusions that people made full-time livings with the couple of thousand subscribers that I have, but I thought, half a million people? Of course! Those people probably aren’t millionaires, but they’re probably able to do a decent life for themselves, just off ad dollars.

Yeah, no. Apparently that is very, very far from the truth. And so YouTubers have to supplement their income in other ways.

One of these is by branded videos—basically videos that companies hire them to make, to promote and talk about their product.

But apparently, branded content can be dangerous, because it can seem to your audience like you’re selling out.

Now I have a lot of opinions about the concept of “selling out,” which, should like, be its own video, but regardless of how I feel about it personally, if your audience thinks you’re selling out, you can lose them.

And then you don’t get to do any more branded videos, ever, because they want you to have an audience.

And I guess I sort of understand that. Like, never say never, right? But I don’t think I’m ever going to do branded videos on this channel. Something about that feels a little wrong to me.

If I ever talked about a product or book or game that I liked, it would be because I liked it. If someone paid me to do it, I would automatically feel super weird about it.

And whenever I see a YouTuber do a branded video, I’m always sort of like, “…Eeeeghhh.”

But at the same time, I want my favorite YouTubers to make money so they can keep doing what they do! So how do you balance that with not liking branded videos? I…I honestly don’t know.

I guess I feel like there’s other ways I would prefer them to make money, but who the hell am I to tell my favorite YouTubers how they should run their channels and their businesses? That would be stupid, obviously.

And that brings us to voluntary audience contributions through sites like Patreon, which is how I currently earn money through YouTube.

Now, this is my favorite model, although I’m certainly not any kind of authority on what’s wrong or right in terms of earning money online.

A small percentage of your audience pays so that you can make the rest of your content free. My Patreon already earns significantly more than I would be making in ad revenue, so it doesn’t make sense to have ads running on my videos, so I don’t.

But the concern Gaby Dunn expressed in her article is that Patreon is an iffy proposition for midlist YouTubers—those who aren’t making enough ad dollars to support themselves, but have enough subscribers and views that they APPEAR successful.

If someone has half a million subscribers, viewers might think they’re TOO big to support. Like, why would you pay them money if you think they’re already successful enough as it is?

I guess I have difficulty understanding this viewpoint, because it’s not one I hold myself. If I want to support someone or a project I really like, I do it—not because I think they need it, but because I want to, and I’m lucky enough to be able to do so.

Like, I don’t buy my favorite films on DVD or my favorite books in paperback because I think those creators need my support—I do it because I want something more than I get from the cheapest version of their media, which would be an ebook or a digital download.

And that might be the “thing” about this, and possibly part of the solution for midlist YouTubers. In order for Patreon to be worth it for your audience, you have to provide a product that’s better than the free videos you already create on your channel.

For me, that’s my exclusive weekend videos that only go to my patrons, as well as other rewards for higher-level patrons, like free copies of my books and monthly exclusive hangouts.

Does it kind of suck that I can’t provide those things free for all my viewers? Well, I guess. But that problem doesn’t exist for artists in the mainstream industries like publishing or filmmaking.

No one expects you to put out all your books for free, even if you occasionally give away free copies to superfans. If you’re a musician, I hope no one expects you to give away all your music for free, or all your merchandise, or concert tickets.

I guess the message here is: YouTubers and other online personalities are people, and they need to eat just like we do. And if you can’t support them, fine, don’t feel bad—but also, don’t attack them for doing what they need to do to pay the bills.

Probably the best way you can support them is through direct contribution through YouTube’s direct support option or a website like Patreon, or, if they offer it, through merchandise.

And realize that if they offer some services that are ONLY for people who pay for them, that’s not because they don’t still love the rest of their audience.

They have to do things to earn money. And if they don’t put some of their content behind a paywall, their only alternative is to work some other job, which they probably don’t like, and which isn’t fulfilling, and takes up time they could be using to create more free stuff for us.

Those are my thoughts, Rebels—what are yours? Let me know in the comments. Thanks for watching, and an extra special shoutout to my supporters on Patreon who make my YouTube channel possible. I will see you tomorrow. Byyye!

Garrett Robinson

Over 100,000 readers have read and loved Garrett's books, like the fantasy hits Nightblade and Midrealm. He's also a film festival favorite with movies like Unsaid, and a tech guru who posts lots of helpful how-tos for writers and filmmakers over at

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