How Much Do YouTube Creators Make? What You Need to Know About the YouTube Partner Program and Monetization
If you’ve ever thought about starting a YouTube channel, you’ve likely pondered how much creators actually make. After all, these days there are entire channels dedicated to giving away ridiculous amounts of money or gifts — so are the people behind these channels really making it rich on the platform?
Admittedly, answering the question “how much do YouTubers make” is complicated for a number of reasons. For one, it’s difficult to compare a channel with 1,000 subscribers to one with 10 million. Secondly, as you’ll see, the types of content that creators produce can also play a major role in how much they make per view. Plus, while YouTube may be where creators start and become known, the platform is far from the only way they can monetize their popularity and audience.
With all that in mind, let’s first dive into how the YouTube Partner Program works and how it allows creators of many sizes to generate ad revenue, followed by a look at some of the other ways YouTubers can monetize their content.
YouTube Partner Program FAQs: How Do Creators Get Paid?
Who can join the Partner Program?
Prior to changes made in 2018, the threshold for meeting Partner Program eligibility was for your channel to have a total of 10,000 views. However, as part of YouTube’s larger bid to be more “advertiser friendly,” those rules were overhauled and made more complicated.
Today, there is actually no straight views requirement. Instead, in order to be eligible for monetization, a channel must have 4,000 hours of watch time within the past 12 months. This means that, across all of your videos, users must have consumed 4,000 hours of your content in the most recent year (although your channel can technically be less than a year old and still meet this requirement). YouTube also notes that these watch hours need to be “valid” and “public” — in other words, private videos nor views that appear suspicious will qualify.
The second requirement channels much reach before being invited to join the YouTube Partner Program is far more straight-forward than the watch hours one: channels must have more than 1,000 subscribers. That might sound like a lot when you’re first starting out but, trust me, it’s achievable once things start rolling. Also, if you do have a video or multiple videos that are accelerating you toward your watch hours goal but you’re falling short of your subscriber requirement, consider using YouTube cards and end screens to put a greater “call to action” in order to turn viewers into subscribers.
While the two requirements mentioned above are far and away the biggies, there are a few other necessary elements to discuss. For one, you must reside in a country or region where the Partner Program is offered. Luckily, the list of locations is pretty darn long so this hopefully won’t be too much of an issue.
Another important requirement is that you must link an AdSense account to your channel. If you’re not familar, AdSense is Google’s digital advertising arm. By the way, among creators, you may also occasionally hear YouTube revenue referred to as “AdSense” or “AdSense dollars.” Although YouTube lists having an AdSense account as a requirement for joining the Partner Program, you can typically wait until you meet the other requirement before setting up an account — but make sure you do set one up before running ads as YouTube will need this in order to pay you.
Finally (or technically the first requirement if you look in the YouTube FAQ), in order to join the Partner Program, you’ll need to agree to follow YouTube’s monetization policies. As they note on their site, “The YouTube monetization policies are a collection of policies that allow you to monetize on YouTube. If you’re a YouTube partner, your agreement including the YouTube partner program policies require compliance with these monetization policies in order to potentially earn money on YouTube.”
Once your channel meets the watch hours and subscriber number requirements, your channel will undergo a review to ensure that you’re eligible to join. That might sound scary but it’s really just a means for YouTube to dot their Is and cross their Ts. When you are officially approved, YouTube will send you a congratulatory email, at which point you’ll be able to start monetizing your videos using the tools in Creator Studio.
It’s important to note that there are reasons why a creator might not be able to monetize a particular piece of content. One example is related to copyright — if you use music, images, or other elements of someone else’s work, the original copyright holder may be able to put a claim on your video (note: there are ways to appeal these claims but we won’t get into that whole process now). Should this happen, the rights holder can opt to allow your video to remain up, but will be entitled to at least a share of any ad revenue the content generates. This is obviously not ideal, but it may be better than the alternative of them forcing your video’s removal.
Another reason a video may be demonetized relates to advertiser friendliness. Let’s face it: there are some topics discussed or images shown on YouTube that some brands might not feel comfortable associating themselves with. Therefore, YouTube has installed various systems and algorithms to identify this type of content and make it ineligible to place ads on. Again, there are ways to appeal these decisions — including requesting an actual human to watch the video and make the determination — but just be aware it’s possible that not all of your uploads will be able to run ads.
How much do you get paid per view/video?
Does YouTube take a cut of your ad revenue?
Yes. Currently YouTube takes 45% of the gross revenue your channel generates through running ads. That may sound steep but it’s worth considering that YouTube is the one finding advertisers, allowing them to bid on the ad inventory, and running the whole show. FYI: some channels — especially those tied to major media networks — may actually sell their own YouTube ad inventory directly, but we’ll overlook such arrangements for the purposes of this post.
What are CPMs?
As confusing as it may be, CPM does not stand for “cost per million” but actually “cost per mille” — or, in other words, the amount you make per 1,000 views (not 1,000,000). Making matters even more convoluted, even though it’s commonly used when looking at YouTuber revenue, in this case CPM is actually referring to how much the advertisers spent to advertise on your videos. Nevertheless, CPMs are usually the easiest way to understand how much money you’re making per view.
When looking at your YouTube analytics, you’ll see a column for “playback-based CPMs.” Keep in mind that this number doesn’t yet factor in YouTube’s cut. Therefore, you can multiply your CPM by .55 to arrive at a figure closer to your “true” RPM (revenue per 1,000 views).
“Adpocalypse” and other factors impacting CPMs
What makes estimating CPMs for YouTubers difficult is that there are several different factors that can affect a channel’s revenue. For one, the type of content the creator makes and the audience they reach can cause their average CPM to be higher or lower than another creator who might have a similar number of views. On top of that, external forces can also cause your ad revenue to fluctuate.
Perhaps the most talked-about examples of this are the so-called “adpocalypses” that have hit YouTube in recent years. It seems that, every so often, a news organization will find a questionable piece of content on YouTube and note the advertisements that played before, during, or after said clip. Like clockwork, this leads high-profile brands to temporarily pull their ad dollars, YouTube promising changes that will prevent such issues in the future, and yada yada yada. What’s important to note is that, while your channel is likely not pumping out the problematic content that advertisers are worried about, brands cutting ties from YouTube can drive down CPMs for everyone. Similarly, as you’ll see in a minute, the current COVID-19 pandemic has also had a big impact on creators as many advertisers are scaling back their ad budgets. Sidenote: this is why many YouTubers have taken to diversifying their income and monetizing their audience in other off-platform ways.
On the bright side, there are positive factors that can impact your CPMs as well. For example, if advertisers want to reach a more well-defined audience, they’ll end up paying a premium to have their spot shown to those viewers within their specifications. Thus, if your channel reaches the audience they seek, you’ll likely enjoy a higher CPM. Additionally, other economic conditions that might cause advertisers to shell out more (such as the winter holidays) can also bolster your CPMs and revenue overall.
How much do you make from YouTube?
Before I share some specific numbers from my Money@30 YouTube channel, let me set the stage a bit. First, with just over 5,000 subscribers, my channel is considered to be quite small. Second, as you might expect given the bent of this website, my channel is geared toward personal finance with a particular emphasis on money app reviews. With that, let’s jump in:
- In January of this year, my estimated ad revenue from YouTube was $1,009.15 (making for my best month ever).
- This was generated by 74,652 monetized views.
- My playback-based CPM for this month was $24.58
- If you’re doing the math, remember that YouTube takes 45% of your gross revenue, with the $1,009.15 figure representing the net.
- Meanwhile, a year prior (January 2019), my estimated ad revenue was $468.97 from 56,213 views with a playback-based CPM of $15.17
As you can see, CPMs can vary greatly from month to month and make a big difference to your income. Even though my views were less than 50% higher in January 2020 than in January 2019, my revenue was more than doubled. Now you can probably see why answering the question “how much do YouTubers make” is difficult to answer for just one creator, let alone provide a general answer for the entire platform.
Other Ways YouTube Creators Monetize Their Videos
Before I had the opportunity to join the YouTube Partner Program, one of the ways I attempted to monetize my channel was by sharing referral links. This actually worked well for me since my channel was mostly about app reviews anyway. Thus, when making a video about an app, I’d share my personalized link, with some of the apps in question giving me bonuses when other people signed-up. In a similar vein, you may come across creators who link to various Amazon products in their description box, as they earn a commission on sales thanks to the Amazon Associates program.
These days, there are plenty of companies that offer some type of affiliate program either directly or via an affiliate network. Although some of these programs have their own requirements for who can join, others are open to anyone. Meanwhile, the public referral links I mentioned operate in a similar fashion to affiliate links, but are more accessible for NewTubers.
A word of warning: make sure you let your audience know that you will benefit from them using these special links. This is not only important for transparency (and following FTC guidelines) but may also inspire them to take advantage of this easy way to support you and your content.
Patreon (or similar) subscriptions
Given the fluctuations that creators often see with the AdSense revenue, many have taken to asking their fans for additional help via Patreon and other platforms. For those unfamiliar, Patreon is a service where podcasters, writers, YouTubers, and more can offer subscriptions to their listeners/readers/viewers etc. Often times creators will set up their Patreons to have different tiers that are tied to perks. For example, a supporter contributing $2 per month or per upload might get early access to videos before they go public while a $5 supporter might get that plus additional bonus content.
While all types of creators have taken to Patreon and similar services, it’s even more common among YouTubers whose content presents monetization problems on YouTube itself. For example, Philip DeFranco’s news-based show often results in content deemed not to be “advertiser friendly” — thus his push to bring fans into the “DeFranco Elite.” Meanwhile, creators that rely on the narrow and complicated “fair use” area of copyright law such as music reviewer Todd in the Shadows also depend on external income as their videos tend to get flagged or claimed by copyright holders. That said, even if your content doesn’t pose some of these problems that might necessitate direct viewer support, you may have fans willing to donate to your endeavors if it means you keep supplying them with great content.
In recent years, YouTube has been experimenting with different ways that creators can make money through the support of their audience — but doing so on-platform instead of via third parties like Patreon. This currently includes what YouTube calls their “Supers.” Easily the most popular Super is Super Chat, which allows viewers to donate money during live streams and, in turn, have their comments or questions highlighted for creators to more easily see and acknowledge. Meanwhile, YouTube has also introduced Super Stickers that subscribers can purchase.
One of the more recent Supers — which is actually still in beta testing — is Viewer Applause. Unlike Super Chat and Super Stickers that are only enabled during live streams, Viewer Applause is a way that viewers can essentially tip creators while watching their regular uploads. As I mentioned, this feature is still in the works so nothing is too concrete yet but the current idea is that viewers would click the “Applause” button, authorize a transaction via Google, and the creator would earn a percentage of the money collected.
Speaking of percentages and money, YouTube does take a share of revenue generated by Supers. Currently, this split is 70/30 (Creators get 70%, YouTube takes 30%).
Sometimes a brand likes your content so much that they want to play a bigger role in supporting it and associating themselves with you. The result of this is a sponsorship. You’ve probably seen all kinds of sponsored videos — with the creator or host often announcing “today’s video is brought to you by…” at the top.
Sponsorships certainly have their pros and cons. On the one hand, having a sponsor can allow you to create the content you want and not worry as much about YouTube’s monetization restrictions or other such factors. Additionally, sponsors may benefit your audience by offering them discounts or deals on products that might interest them. However, these perks can only come to fruition if you choose the right brand to partner with. Accepting sponsorships from companies that don’t fit with your audience or, worse, fall short in the integrity department can turn off viewers and cause them not to trust you. Similarly, it’s important to clearly disclose when videos are sponsored — including toggling on the “sponsored content” option in YouTube Studio.
Last but not least, if you’ve spent much time consuming content from some of the top creators on YouTube, there’s a good chance you’ve heard them shout out their own various merchandise. These items can vary greatly but, more often than not, creators will offer custom apparel that references their slogans, taglines, or inside jokes. Funny enough, the slinging of merch has become so common on YouTube that it’s even become a punchline in some circles.
Like with other monetization methods, there’s nothing wrong with selling merchandise to your audience. However, once again, keep in mind that anything you sell will be an extension of your brand. Thus, it’s in your best interest to ensure that what you’re selling is high-quality and valued by your audience. Otherwise, your attempts to make extra cash may backfire.
Although the term “YouTuber” still calls to mind a specific type of personality for many, the truth is that the platform is now extremely diverse and can be utilized in a near-unlimited number of ways. As a result, while it’s difficult to pinpoint just how much a YouTube creator can make, there are now an increasing amount of ways for them to monetize their content and perhaps even make a living off of serving their audience. So, whether you’re just starting out and exploring affiliate opportunities, made your way into the YouTube Partner Program, or are growing to the point where fans are demanding merch, there are still plenty of opportunities to make money with YouTube.
Also published on Medium.