YouTube and digital sharecropping

The Verge reports that with YouTube’s newest algorithms, independent creators are greatly disadvantaged over large corporate brands:

YouTube creators need to get millions more views than late-night TV shows in order to appear in YouTube’s Trending section, according to a study conducted by a YouTube channel popular among creators. The Trending section appears on YouTube’s homepage and can potentially direct thousands of views to a video, but YouTube seems to make it far harder for individuals to be featured than for large brands.
Using data scrapped from 40,000 videos, the study found that creators, like Logan Paul, need to reach about 11 million views on a video before it hits the Trending section. Comparatively, segments from TV shows like The Tonight Show only need a couple hundred thousand views.

Small YouTube creators and their fans built YouTube from nothing. But free video hosting is one of the most low-margin activities there is–without advertising bucks.

For a while, YouTube/Google execs seemed to honestly believe that they could build a viable, long-term business model based on “long-tail” ad revenues from thousands of small creators.

That dream ended for good in 2017 and 2018, when a variety of political controversies and publicity stunts (the jackass who filmed dead bodies in Japan’s “suicide woods” comes to mind) made small channels anathema for paying advertisers. From the advertisers’ perspective, there was simply too much risk involved.

So YouTube pivoted. They demonetized small- and medium-sized channels, and tightened the criteria for acquiring monetization in the future. Although YouTube would never admit it, part of the motive was to disincentivize small creators, whose behavior is difficult to monitor.

And now, YouTube has overtly changed its algorithms to favor big corporate brands.

This is the danger of digital sharecropping–building your creative enterprise on someone else’s platform. I understand that video makers face special challenges in this regard; but it is never a good idea to spend much time making content for social media sites that you don’t own and control.

This is why I more or less shuttered my YouTube and Twitter accounts. My Facebook account is a shell, too. I only use these sites for posting links. And I have no intention of wasting any time on Reddit.

There is nothing wrong with using Facebook to keep in touch with your high school classmates. If you’re a creator, though, never build your platform on real estate that you don’t own.