Some YouTubers did better in 2016 than they used to. Some did worse. And both camps seem to credit or blame YouTube data crunching machinery.
Algorithm changes, they say, have affected the popularity and pocketbooks of a lot of YouTube creators, so much so that PewDiePie, the biggest of the big guys, threatened to shutter his site in protest as soon as he reached the 50 million subscriber pinnacle. Nobody has more.
But PewDiePie didn’t stop, either, and felt fairly flattered when, earlier this month, YouTube sent him a huge and never-before-made Ruby Play Button. Mere mortals get Silver, Gold or Diamond when they reach lower rungs.
While PewDiePie (really Felix Kjellberg) has always professed his solidarity with the little people (sincerely and with humor) he used the Ruby award to thank the hand that feeds him, and sometimes, in his mind, slaps him around.
“I know I shit a lot on YouTube," he said. "And I don’t want it to seem like just because they did this for me, like all the problems have gone away. Just taking all that aside for a minute, YouTube really has given me everything. It’s given me so many opportunities. It’s made my life from being in a very terrible place to an amazing life that I couldn’t ever have even dreamed of having.”
But even happy YouTube creators, including Vlogbrother Hank Green, who is something like the philosophical/spiritual head of YouTuberville, remarked recently that he’s on the opposite of a roll:
"A lot of people have seen their channels shrinking (like me), but many smaller YouTubers are having huge growth,” he wrote.
Earlier in December, he ruminated, 140 characters at a time, on why some YouTube channels show signs of slippage. Sometimes it’s glitches, he wrote, but “Sometimes it’s because demographics of the site are changing and audiences are going other places for content.”
Or, he said darkly: “Sometimes, it's because subscribers don't like what a creator is doing anymore or are bored with their content.”
This is how the entertainment biz works.
Green knows this, too, and in a later post, he more or less pointed fellow vloggers to look within and (possibly) change their act. He linked to vlogger and musician Andrew Huang, who shortly after reaching 500,000 subscribers, posted a how-to video for everybody who’s not there yet.
“Five hundred thousand is a huge number,” he says. “It’s kind of incomprehensible.” In a nutshell, part of what got him there was consistency. He discovered the trick was not gaining subscribers. The trick is “not losing subscribers.”
By looking at YouTube data, he saw that for every 10 subscribers he gained, he eventually lost four. So he devised a gimmick to keep viewers coming back.
That’s the kind of solid, business-like advice older people often end up telling younger people like Huang..Part of the wonderful thing about being a YouTuber is that its stars make videos like that for the whole world to see. It’s an oddly helpful place, whether you're on the way up or on the way down.