Friday, 1 September 2017

YouTube: The Creators vs The Audience?!


As most of you will probably know by now, I have something of a passion for YouTube.  I love watching videos, subscribe to many varied channels and even have a channel of my own, which I'm incredibly proud of, despite it still being a very small fish in a ridiculously enormous - and arguably, overcrowded - pond.

Of course, I'm not alone.  YouTube is big business and has made household names of many of its most popular creators.  There are YouTube conventions, such as Playlist Live and Summer In The City, bringing the online sensation very much into the real world, with opportunities for fans to meet their favourite YouTubers and spend huge amounts of cash on associated merchandise.  There are also chances to learn more about the actual art of being a YouTuber, seeing as so many people out there have spent long enough watching content on YouTube, that they're now thinking about giving it a go, themselves.

Given that I'm both a fan and a YouTuber (albeit one you almost certainly haven't heard of, unless you're already subscribed to my channel), I take a keen interest in the changes YouTube implements as it continues to grow, and I enjoy participating in online discussions on subjects surrounding YouTube.

Except one subject.  There is one issue, which crops up now and then, that genuinely turns my stomach.  I don't want to have to talk about it, because it shouldn't be a subject.  But it is.  And frankly, it's one we need to tackle.


Okay, Will, I'm getting to it, alright?!

That issue is, depressingly, the argument between fans and content creators as to who owes more to the other.

This was brought back into the light today, after a YouTuber (Chai Cameron) tweeted a request for people to submit contributions or questions for a planned discussion on "Expectation vs Reality" for YouTubers and the art of making videos as a career.

One of the people who decided to respond to the tweet was Alfie Deyes - millionaire YouTuber and partner of equally (if not more) famous creator, Zoella.  His tweet said simply: "You have to upload.. it's your job, we pay for your house."

Now, let's briefly put aside the "YouTubers would be nothing without their fans" thing for a second (don't worry, I'll be zooming right back there, in a minute...) and ponder whether this was a necessary comment from one of Britain's most successful YouTubers?  After all, the request for tweets seemed to be aimed at fans, rather than already-famous-content-creators.  And whilst Alfie might have thought he was being witty - or perhaps he's just sick of having people tell him he's wealthy because of them (again, more on this later) - was it really a helpful comment?  Because when a YouTuber brings this subject up, particularly in the slightly whinging, eye-rolling manner that this tweet could easily be taken (whether intended that way or not), all it does is start the argument again.  And Alfie surely knows as much.  Therefore, his statement could very easily be seen as a red rag to a bull; a deliberate attempt to start pointless (pun intended) drama.

And of course, it worked.  Very quickly, someone non famous responded: "Without YouTube, what income would you have?  None.  So yes, we are paying for your house.  Don't take it for granted.  It could leave you any second."




And guess what?  She's right.

That doesn't mean that I support anyone who badgers famous, wealthy YouTubers with similar comments out of the blue.  Most YouTubers are very aware of their fanbase and many of them take time to thank those who have supported them along the way (my favourite YouTubers, Dan Howell and Phil Lester, are really good at this and it's one of the many reasons I love them).  Most YouTubers who have achieved financial security and fame as a result of their YouTube content and their additional, related ventures (merchandise, book deals, live shows etc) know how lucky they are.  They are aware that they're in an enormously privileged position that many people will never achieve.

I say "most," because this, sadly, doesn't apply to all big YouTubers.  There are people out there, who believe that their fame and success is owed to them, because they've worked so hard.  

But what's the unspoken implication of that point of view?  That smaller YouTubers, who've never reached the same heights, don't work as hard?  Isn't that mildly absurd, given that almost all YouTubers who are now hugely famous and wealthy as a result of their channels, will have once upon a time, been a small YouTuber, without the enormous fanbase and the guaranteed views?!  Success rarely happens overnight.  In many cases, it's a long haul, rather than a sprint.  And without the work put in at the start, when nobody was watching, would they have made it as far as they have?!

I'll be honest and say that I've never particularly liked Alfie and it's because of comments like this and similar ones in the past, which do tend to paint him - possibly wrongly - as someone who believes he's owed success.  Someone who is vocal in his dislike of having people comment that he wouldn't be where he is today, without the fans who've watched his videos and bought his merchandise.

And, believe it or not, I get why he might not like being told that.


This gif is so appropriate...

Look, I'm a YouTube minnow.  My channel is tiny.  But I know how much time and effort goes into creating content.  You have to think of an idea, write a script, set up your camera and - if you're lucky enough to have them - lights.  Then you have to film, which can take anything from half an hour to a couple of hours, depending on the style of video you're making and how many different locations or outfit changes are needed (for my channel, I do a lot of "sketches" or "skits" to break up the parts where I'm just talking to camera, so it can sometimes take an hour or two to film everything).  Once everything has been filmed, you have to import the footage to your editing software and the edit can take several hours (a short video that's been pretty quick and straightforward to film might take me 1-2 hours to edit, but a longer one, with things like green screen or key frame animation involved can often end up taking 4, 5 or even 6 hours).  Once the video is finished, you have to design an eye-catching thumbnail and either upload the video for immediate release, or schedule it for the time you want it to go live on your channel.  Once it's up, you have to market that video, to try to encourage as large an audience for it as possible.  It's not a quick process, if you're trying to do it well.  And to feel as though the credit for your success is being given to your audience, rather than you...?  Well, that can't be easy.  I can understand people feeling mildly aggrieved by having viewers tell them "we pay for your house," or "you're only famous because of us."

Notice, I said "mildly" aggrieved.

Because, on the flip-side, what a bloody lovely "problem" to have.  I go through the above video-making process at least once a week and I consider it a good result if the video I worked so hard on gets more than 40-50 views.  The idea of having a fanbase that guarantees you hundreds of thousands - possibly even millions - of views, is a mere pipe dream for someone like me.  I also write this blog and have published five books, but only three of those have been with a (very, very small) traditional publisher.  The other two were self-published.  The thought of having such a huge audience via YouTube, that I could be handed a book deal by a major publisher, knowing the book will sell in large enough numbers to make me a viable option for success, is mind-blowing.  And as a teensy little speck of a YouTuber, the fantasy of people buying MrsManics merchandise - t-shirts, stationery sets or even a make-up range - is just that: a fantasy.

The fact is, you only get those things if your audience is big enough.  And yes, you only get that audience if you work hard and are very lucky, but that audience has to be there and I don't believe anyone riding the crest of the wave should ever forget what it was like to be doggy-paddling, with your head barely above water.

And so, whilst I don't entirely feel comfortable with viewers who tell YouTubers "we made you as famous as you are," or words to that effect, I equally dislike seeing famous YouTubers seemingly forget that those viewers do kind of have a point.

Still, I would never have even seen this little Twitter exchange, seeing as I don't follow anyone involved, until someone I did follow (very much past tense) - another famous, British YouTuber - responded:


I vowed not to swear on this blog anymore, once I started writing bedtime stories for kids, so... This next part is going to be a CHALLENGE, because MAN, do I want to swear.


WHO.
IS.
SERVING.
WHO?????!!!!!



Okay, first of all, let's pick the earlier bits of this tweet apart, shall we?!  The "dedication, motivation, ideas and creativity" part reads rather nauseatingly like a massive pat on her own back, as well as those of her massively famous friends.  Golly, aren't we clever?!  It places Louise and Alfie on a pedestal, as though "dedication, motivation, ideas and creativity" are attributes exclusive to famous YouTubers, who already have millions of subscribers.  And, speaking as a very small YouTuber, who is 100% dedicated to her channel, motivated to make a success of it and full of creative ideas for content for it...

She said it, kids.  Not me.


Then, let's take a little peek at the "you wouldn't have our videos to watch," part.

And...????!!!!

Look, I admit it:  When I get a notification that there's a new Dan, Phil or Dan & Phil Games video, I get excited to watch it right away and I click "play" the very first chance I get.  Because I love their content and I want to support them.  But you know what?  Truthfully, if I felt that they believed their audience had no part in their continued success - if they wrote something as staggeringly arrogant, blinkered and patronising (that little heart at the end of the tweet made me want to punch a freaking wall) as Louise's tweet - I would question whether they had lost sight of the very much two-way street their careers are driving down and I would be forced to asked myself whether I wanted to support them, anymore.  And, if (heaven forbid) that day ever came, I would find something else to watch.  Because you know what?  YouTube is saturated.

Sure, the household names get the majority of the views, but that doesn't mean there aren't some fantastic small YouTubers out there, making regular, funny, entertaining content for anyone who stumbles upon it, to enjoy.  For example, I would recommend Penny Dang extremely highly, if you're keen to find someone new.  She should have thousands of subscribers - she's warm, funny and engaging and I really look forward to her videos.  She was also my 100th subscriber, so she's got a special place in my affections.

My point is, there are other people out there.  Amazing, witty, talented, clever, creative people, whose content is far better than their sub count or overall views might have you think.  For a big YouTuber like Louise to write a tweet in a way that makes it sound like her channel is somehow better or more important, and that people should be grateful for her serving them, is ridiculously entitled and beyond arrogant.  

For every big YouTuber, there are thousands of small ones, many of whom are making content just as enjoyable as someone like Louise or Alfie.  The world of YouTube would not fall apart without either of them, however much they might like to think it would.

And now, for the part of the tweet that raised my blood pressure to dangerous levels...

"So who is serving who here?"

Well, this is what I had to say:

The emoji really helped my point, I felt.



A YouTuber doesn't become massively famous, rich or successful unless their content reaches a wide enough audience.  Therefore, they have to be good enough to make people want to watch them.  So, they deserve some respect for their "creativity, motivation, dedication, blah, blah, blaaaaah."  Of course they do.  I can promise you that I mean that very sincerely, because as a creator of content myself, regardless of how small my own audience might be, I would like to think that people appreciate the amount of work that goes into making my videos each week.  

BUT...

If I ever became famous, it would almost certainly be as a result of my audience getting bigger and bigger.  Those subscribers watching my videos, supporting me in any other endeavours I undertook (writing a book, or making live appearances) would be helping me to turn a hobby I am passionate about, into a potential career.  Their continued willingness to watch my videos and fork out their hard-earned money on merchandise or tour tickets etc, would be what perpetuates that career.

To put it simply:  It would be viewers that made me and, if I got too big for my boots, or became lazy about my content, because I just assumed people would watch it no matter how little effort I put in, it would be viewers that would inevitably break me, too.


If you know why this is here, we should definitely be friends.


It's utterly insulting to the millions of people who watch Louise's - or any other big YouTuber's -  videos, to imply that YouTube success is some kind of one way street.  Creators and their audiences are not islands.  They are a natural pairing who "serve" (have I mentioned how much I detest that she used that word?!  Is that coming across??!!) each other, equally.

You can't have success if you don't have an audience.  That's literally the most simple truth of all, here.  Having an audience of guaranteed viewers allows you to create content as a career, rather than as a hobby.  It is what leads to sponsorship deals, live appearances, book deals and magazine articles.  NONE of those things happen when you're dipping your toes into the water, with a hundred or so subscribers.

But that audience has a responsibility, too.  Whilst by merely clicking the subscribe button, they don't owe the creator anything, they must also understand that the creator is still in charge of his or her own content and doesn't have to tailor it to what they want.  They must also understand that the creator is entitled to lead his or her own life away from YouTube and may choose to keep certain aspects of that life private.

As an audience, fans are entitled to share their views on content, but they can't make demands.  They have to accept that they might not love every little thing a YouTuber says or does.

And as creators, YouTubers must understand that, if they have a lucrative income as a result of their channel and their associated merchandise or endeavours, they owe that success not solely down to their own hard work, but to the fans who support them with their views and who spend money on their creations.  

Again, that level of success is impossible without an audience.  Who's going to ring up and offer me a book deal, when I only have 143 subscribers?!  Who's going to suggest we buddy up to produce a range of t-shirts or hoodies?!

YouTubers need their audiences, just as their audiences need them.  It's ebb and flow, give and take.  To suggest it's a one way street is blinkered and conceited.

I'm sure that Louise and Alfie won't care if someone like me writes a critical blog about them.  I'm sure it won't bother them at all to know that someone thinks it's arrogant to believe they're owed success, or that they give their audiences more than their audiences have given them.

But those same audiences are full of people whose support and financial expenditure has contributed enormously to the wealth and success that they are now able to enjoy.

What a shame they either can't, or won't see that they need those people just as much as they believe those people need them.


2 comments:

  1. Great post. Louise Pentland blocked me, she was moaning on Twitter (I know she does nothing but moan and complain) about 30sec ads before videos.... I basically said "you ad ads to your videos, isn't that what got you earning from YouTube" and she blocked me. I'd stopped watching her videos after the "who is serving who comment" she is so arrogant and self absorbed. She needs to step back into reality. As for Alfie, he's just another YouTuber who needs to step back into the real world. I love watching the bloomfields they are so new and sweet it's like a breath of fresh air. Jx

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  2. Ooh, I'll check them out - not heard of the Bloomfields, before! I have to agree; I think Louise has a very arrogant persona and it's really off-putting. I'm surprised that she didn't block me when I responded to the "who is serving who" thing, but then again, maybe she did - I unfollowed her so fast I wouldn't have known, haha!

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