The wave of YouTuber quitting, the cost to make stuff

posted by Jeff | Friday, January 19, 2024, 2:00 PM | comments: 0

Marques Brownlee, who I think represents the gold standard in tech reviews on YouTube, posted some thoughts about a recent rash of very successful YouTubers who are either leaving the platform or taking an indefinite break from it. He generalizes that at a certain scale, producing video for YouTube is a large and complex business, and that's probably not what the founder of the channel wanted to manage. I get that, but also wonder why it is that, if they can afford to hire people, they don't hire said manager. I mean, Leo Laporte built an enormous podcasting business (before it was cool), but he doesn't run it, he makes podcasts. He hired a manager (and then apparently married her after divorcing his wife, yikes).

Regardless, there is a lot of very good video on YouTube that looks every bit as good as what you used to find on cable, before it all turned into cheap reality shows. As it turns out, despite massively lower barriers to entry in terms of technology and cost, making this stuff at that level is not free. You can call it a dream job or whatever, but that doesn't mean it isn't work, and that you often need others to help. This goes back to my comments that "content" is bullshit, and if what you have is really valuable, it's a show. You're a director, editor and personality. Well, until you're managing an enterprise.

I've honestly felt this in the process of making what is clearly going to be a short (not feature length) film. I can't do it all. I need help. The best footage I have was when I had Diana and Simon helping me. I needed animation to tell a story, so I had to hire a guy to do animation. I need the right tools. Despite Apple's claim to the contrary, you can't make something of higher quality with a phone. (Yes, I know, they did the announcement video on an iPhone... which was attached to a crane, Steadicam, with hundreds of thousands of dollars of lighting and other production gear around it.) Fortunately for me, this is a passion project, and since it's self-funded, there is no deadline to deliver it. These top-tier cats on the YouTube, they need help.

They're also tying their well-being to a platform that could cut them off at any time, which would make me deeply uncomfortable. Ugh, I have to resist another rant against platforms. I hate that you have to play in someone else's sandbox now to successfully make things for the Internet. Indie publishers can't make money anymore. Heck, media properties owned by conglomerates can't make money anymore.

And this gets me eventually back to thinking about what I do, what I make. I've had these community sites now for more than two decades. There was a time when I could pay my mortgage with the ad revenue. Now, I have to borrow from myself to keep the lights on, and the costs aren't even that high. It wouldn't be so frustrating if it weren't for traffic actually trending significantly up. Unlike the YouTubers, I don't risk the burnout or management burden, because the reality is that I'm not writing original stuff or making video anymore. But what am I doing? It feels like I only do it now to validate that the software I write in my spare time works as expected. And the occasional off-topic conversation about some peripheral interest.

The joy of making things, and art, seems like the thing that makes us human. But the machine works against you.


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