10 Jul 2018 20:01 IST

Too many experts, insufficient rewards

The content creator isn’t left with much after the platforms and advertisers have taken their cut

One of the most important developments of the internet is that it has spawned experts among all of us.

Have you always wanted to author a book but not go through the grind of finding an agent and a publisher? You can self-publish books on Amazon and share profits with the world’s biggest bookseller. I have done this myself and have four books to my credit.

Do you have expertise in a subject — say, vegetarian cooking — that you want to share with other people and make money off it? You could create an online course — with exercises, tests, and supplemental material — and publish it on a site like Udemy, which claims to have more than 160,000 courses and 15 million students. Full disclosure: I have done this myself with two courses — one on college admissions and another on college financial planning.

Do you like to create, edit and mix music? You can use open-source tools such as Audacity and create music which would make friends think that it was mixed at a professional music studio; and you could publish your music on iTunes or Google Play.

Entry barriers to sharing your work have come down so dramatically that everyone can live out their dreams, create products and services they like and sell them for a profit by marketing on social media and the web.

But what do you do when you want to self-publish a book on Amazon, or create music on Audacity, but don’t know how to? You turn to YouTube, the world’s largest video sharing site that also acts as the de facto learning, training and development source for millions of users.

Monetising YouTube videos

Everything on YouTube is free. People who create YouTube videos invest significant time and effort in the hope that the videos would make them popular. The more likes on a video clip, the more easily it shows up during keyword searches. This would lead to more views and even more likes. If your videos garner a sufficiently large and loyal audience, you can ask YouTube to interrupt your videos with display ads from various advertisers.

But most people don’t have the patience to watch a full 30-second ad on your channel. And because YouTube does not like to annoy users, it allows viewers to skip the ad after five seconds of viewing. No one knows the percentage of people who cut an ad short, but it’s a good guess that the majority of users engage in this practice.

If an ad does not run its full course, the publisher of the original video gets no revenue from YouTube.

But this does not deter YouTube content creators. They labour on, creating quality videos in the hopes of attracting a large fan following. This is why almost every video invariably requests you to “like” it or subscribe to the YouTube hannel of the creator.

Glut of Indian YouTubers

Indians, because of their familiarity with technology and English, are at the forefront of YouTube video creation. There are thousands of original videos about every imaginable topic that you can think of — from reviews of mobile phones to how to navigate the Indian government’s income tax website, and how to test software. There are cooking channels, music channels, and even channels dedicated to spotting Indian Railways trains.

Unfortunately, the cruel law of supply and demand acts as spoiler. There are so many people producing so much original content that there is not sufficient demand for a single content creator to become a high traffic channel. New channels and new videos come up each day. As of February 2017, more than 400 hours of content was uploaded to YouTube each minute.

With so many videos posted, advertisers have a huge inventory of clips to choose from. There are only so many advertisers willing to spend money on YouTube advertising, so the massive supply of videos dramatically brings down the cost of advertising. And because YouTube takes a hefty cut — up to 30 per cent — on all ad sales, it leaves very little money for the content creator.

In February, Bloomberg published a story about YouTubers — content creators who want to make money on YouTube through ads. It concluded that even if you had a million views a month — running what would be an incredibly active and high-traffic site — your earnings would be just $16,800 a year, a little less than ₹1 lakh a month. This distinction — that is, of a million plus views a month — is reserved for just the top 3 per cent of YouTube channels.

In the article, Alice Marwick, an assistant professor of communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said, “You can have half a million followers on YouTube and still be working at Starbucks.”

Free content

The world has a glut of experts ready to share knowledge and provide entertainment. But the world doesn’t want to pay, having been trained to consume content for free. So creators go to YouTube in the hopes of selling ads. But monetising in this environment is almost impossible.

Ironically, the entities which benefit from the skills and talents of the content creators is YouTube — which gets a cut of revenues no matter how minuscule — and the big companies — which can advertise at extremely low rates. After all this, the creator isn’t left with much in hand.

So if you’re thinking of making money using the latest internet tools, stop and think again. You may be better off doing something else with your time.