A Fusion piece this week by YouTuber Gaby Dunn “Too Liked To Fail, Get rich or die vlogging: The sad economics of internet fame” tells the weepy story of how popular YouTube “stars” are suffering financially. Since this theme seems to be popular based, in part, on the comments, it requires a response.
You and Allison are members of what J.D. Lasica termed in 2005 “the personal media revolution,” wherein everyday folks could and would function as media companies in the creation of content for distribution via the Web. This is something new in the world, and you are pioneers in what is an experiment in disrupting the hierarchies of the news, information, and entertainment industries. Absent the need for expensive technology, anybody can be just about anything in the communications field today.
This has forced downward pressure on revenues for all of the old players, and that impacts you, too. This chaos will ultimately level out, and I suspect micropayments of some sort will be the end game for people like you. Those subscribers of yours have value, and I encourage you to stay the course.
But let’s all do so with the whole thing in perspective.
For one, in the free economy, customers set the values, and that’s at the core of the confusing lack of business equilibrium present in the marketplace today. Consider Google. Its core product is search, yet, it’s free to users, so Google makes its money a hundred different ways based on all that free use. You/we need to consider a similar approach. In the music industry, for example, the value of live performances, merchandise, private interaction, and other concepts is what makes the real money today, whereas it was the music itself for a long season under the modernist, hierarchical ways of doing business. Don’t underestimate your ability to create revenue streams outside your core products. Search out things like speaking engagements as a revenue generator. Study the thoughts of “1,000 true fans” and let your mind wander. It won’t be easy, but you can do it.
But let’s take it further. There are many different types of currency in the world today, including celebrity, ego, and the ability to touch what Richard Adams calls “the unbroken web” (that sacred source of creative expression) during the creative process. At core, we create for ourselves, and when that is corrupted by the need to create for others, something important is lost in our souls. As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Great Divorce, “Every poet and musician and artist, but for grace, is drawn away from the love of the thing he tells, to the love of the telling till, down in deep hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him.” This is an important lesson for all of us to never give up on what we find when we touch the unbroken web.
Finally, in the film “The Agony and the Ecstasy,” there is a scene in the catacombs of Rome where Michelangelo is angry over the emperor denying him the ability to finish the ceiling of The Sistine Chapel. The gathering includes many others in the arts, and one says in a voice of frustration, “But we’re artists; we’ll always be slave to another man’s nickel.”
This is an historical reference to the value of the arts in the community, and it has not changed, nor is it likely to ever change. The reward to the artist is in the art, not a comfortable place in the community.
So instead of complaining, adjust your expectations and get busy creating different ways to put food on your table. You should not be embarrassed or ashamed of doing anything necessary to advance your craft. Let only your conscience – certainly not public perception – be your guide.
All the best,