While YouTube stars often share the intimate details of their lives to millions of fans, there’s one thing they usually leave out: money.
We hear conflicting mumblings. We hear that YouTube star PewDiePie has reportedly made $12 million, and that he’s not the only one to score a big payday
But we also hear that stars with half a million subscribers can sometimes struggle to make ends meet. There’s a disconnect that comes from both the complicated nature of how these stars actually make money, and the lack of standardization in the industry.
We talked to Scott Fisher and Adam Wescott, who manage YouTube stars like MyLifeAsEva (5 million subscribers) and LaurDIY (2.6 million subscribers), to get a sense of how the industry is evolving, and where the money is coming from.
While revenue from Google’s ads provide a baseline income YouTube stars can count on, Fisher and Wescott say that the key to success right now is being ready for any opportunity: brands, shows, books, appearances — the list goes on.
There is no set place all the money comes from.
One area that’s exploded in recent months is selling content to premium streaming video services, like Verizon’s Go90 or YouTube Red. To take advantage of this, Wescott says he’s worked with each of his clients to develop a handful of original short-form ideas, two or three half-hour ones, and at least one feature-length concept. “We’re ready all the time,” he says. He never knows when the right call will come.
This might seem like overkill, but Wescott explains that it’s increasingly valuable for YouTubers to jump on a blockbuster opportunity. Brands, in particular, are starting to look for longer-term deals with stars — the type of opportunities that don’t come around twice.
“They want to work with one person per year,” Fisher says, to sign someone to be a spokesperson a brand. Brands, in general, are less focused than they once were on one-time promotional videos on YouTube. In May 2015, one of his clients, Gigi Gorgeous (2.1 million subscribers), became the face of a Crest toothpaste line in Canada (she’s Canadian).
This has driven a change in the way Fisher thinks about management.
“It’s not just signing people willy nilly,” he says, and hoping that one will work out. “It’s about helping to create that big star that you can do so much with, that generates the revenue 50 clients would.” Brands have begun to come back, not just to their management company, but to specific stars. And if you become one of those stars, it can be incredibly lucrative.
“[For brands] it used to be, round up a bunch of influencers and see what happens,” Fisher says. Not anymore.
The logical extension of this is a divide between the haves and have-nots, even among YouTubers with high subscriber counts.
Who is a superstar?
When Fisher and Wescott assess whether a YouTuber has a potential to be a star in the wider world, they look at both traditional “star quality” and what the market needs.
“Brands have a huge need for mothers,” Wescott says. “There are less than a dozen successful moms on YouTube,” he continues. “There are ‘mommy bloggers,’ yes, but as far as video, no.” And brands want the spending dollars of moms who relate to a YouTube personality.
But does the deep intertwining of corporate brands with the income of YouTubers threaten their audiences?
Gaby Dunn (529,000 subscribers) wrote a compelling article for Fusion about her experiences with sponsored videos angering some of her fans.