Last updated on September 15, 2021
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In 2010, Daniel Middleton (DanTDM) created a YouTube channel and presumably wasn’t earning much money as a teenager. A few years later, he would become the highest-paid YouTube star earning $16.5 million. Many other YouTubers, including Felix Kjellberg (PewDiePie) and Lilly Singh, have made millions as well. Suffice it to say that uploading videos to YouTube can be an excellent way to earn a living.
Thousands of people earn money on YouTube by posting videos because it’s a high-traffic platform. It’s the second most visited website and search engine globally after Google. (YouTube and Google are owned by the same company, i.e., Alphabet) As a top online destination, YouTube boasts several impressive statistics:
- YouTube has paid $30 billion to creators over the past three years.
- YouTube has over 2 billion users—almost one-third of all people on the Internet—and each day those users watch a billion hours of video and generate billions of views.
- More than 500 hours of content are uploaded to YouTube every minute.
- YouTube has the highest reach and viewing hours among ad-supported streaming services in the US.
- YouTube reaches more 18-49-year-olds than all linear TV networks combined in the US.
- There are localized versions of YouTube in over 100 countries around the world, across 80 languages.
- If YouTube were a standalone company, it would be worth billions.
Are You a YouTuber?
The chances of success and a person’s earning potential depends on his or her status. “YouTubers” are highly active/engaged on the platform and dedicate most of their working hours to creating and promoting their content. By contrast, casual content creators upload videos infrequently, and YouTube isn’t their primary focus or revenue stream. For example, I’m a casual user and upload videos once or twice quarterly (to grow my online brand, reach a different audience, and drive traffic to my website).
YouTubers take different approaches to profit from their channels and videos. For instance, a standard approach is to enroll in YouTube’s partner program, whereas others focus on affiliate marketing. To monetize your content, you must own all the necessary rights to commercially use all visuals and audio elements, whether they belong to you or someone else. YouTube provides guidelines for content you create and don’t create. Lastly, you can generate revenue directly on YouTube and offsite, for example, directing viewers to buy products on your online store.
How to Earn Money on YouTube from Uploading Videos
YouTube Partner Program
The most common way YouTubers make money is through ad revenue. Ad revenue is managed through YouTube’s Partner Program and paid through AdSense. The YouTube Partner Program (YPP) lets creators monetize their content on YouTube. Users can earn money from advertisements served on their videos and from YouTube Red subscribers who watch their content. To be eligible for YPP, a channel must reach 4,000 watch hours in the last 12 months and 1,000 subscribers. Your channel will also get reviewed to make sure it follows YouTube monetization policies. YouTube sends you an email when you’re eligible to apply. Users can leave YPP anytime by disabling the monetization feature on their dashboards.
How to join YouTube’s Partner Program:
- Sign in to YouTube.
- In the top right, select your account icon > YouTube Studio.
- In the left menu, scroll down and click on Monetization.
- Click on Apply Now.
- Follow the on-screen prompts and await more details from YouTube.
Once a channel joins YPP, it must be linked to an approved AdSense account. AdSense facilitates payments to content creators like YouTubers and bloggers once a month. YouTube pays 55 percent of ad revenue to creators. Revenue details are in your YPP terms.
YouTube Select is a premium advertising program that aggregates the top YouTubers and content for users between 18 and 49. Unlike YPP, creators cannot apply to YouTube Select. It’s an invitation-only program. The revenue share for Select is a secret since creators can negotiate better revenue splits. High viewership channels such as IGN, The Verge, SciShow, and itsJudysLife participate in YouTube Select.
Super Chat allows viewers to purchase chat messages in live streams. Creators receive 70 percent of chat revenues. Revenue details are in the Commerce Product addendum. To be eligible for Super Chat, you must meet these requirements:
- Your channel is monetized
- You are over 18 years old
- You are in one of the available locations
Super Stickers allow fans to purchase animated stickers during live streams and Premieres to show their favorite creators just how much they enjoy their content. Stickers will come in a variety of designs across different languages and categories, such as gaming, fashion and beauty, sports, music, food, and more. Super Stickers and Super Chats have the same eligibility requirements.
YouTube viewers can now purchase Super Thanks (formerly Viewer Applause) to express their gratitude and show support. They’ll see an animated GIF and get a distinct, colorful comment to highlight their purchase, which creators can respond to. Super Thanks is available at four price points between $2 and $50 (or the local currency equivalent).
Note: Super Chat, Super Stickers, and Super Thanks may have restrictions, such as age-restricted, unlisted, or private videos. Visit Google Support for more details.
Channel memberships allow viewers to join and support your channel through monthly payments. Subscribers get members-only perks like badges, emojis, and other goods you offer. Eligibility requirements include:
- Your channel must have more than 1,000 subscribers.
- Your channel is in the YouTube Partner Program.
- You’re over 18 years old.
- You’re in one of the available locations.
- Your channel is not set as made for kids.
- Your channel does not have a significant number of ineligible videos.
- Videos set as made for kids, or videos with music claims are considered ineligible.
- You (and your MCN) have agreed to and are complying with our terms and policies (including the relevant Commerce Product Addendum).
YouTubers have been earning money from merchandise sales for years, but creators had to direct traffic offsite for transactions. Now, creators can sell to fans directly. You can link to your merchandise or crowdfunding site(s) from your videos as long as they’re on the list of approved sites and you are part of the YouTube Partner Program.
In a space directly below a video (the merchandise shelf), creators can sell goods, such as tee-shirts, hats, phone cases, and over 20 different items that make sense for their channels. Approved websites for Merch Self include Shopify, Etsy, Google Play, iTunes, Teespring, Ticketmaster, and more.
Crowdfunding is a fundraising strategy that focuses on raising smaller amounts of money from a collective of individuals. YouTube is an excellent marketing channel to promote crowdfunding campaigns. Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe are only a few of many crowdfunding sites.
Product & Merchandise Sales
Many YouTubers leverage their channels to sell branded products and merchandise including apparel, accessories, and gifts. Setting up an online store is quick and painless with software from Shopify. Standard and print-on-demand marketplaces are an option too, for example, Amazon, Zazzle, and Design By Humans. However, online markets list hundreds of thousands of products and are very competitive, so they’re probably not the best places to send your viewers. If a viewer likes you and your brand, it’s better to keep them in your ecosystem to generate sales.
Digital Media Sales
Many YouTubers sell online courses and books. Online courses are a natural extension because they include videos. Case in point, I’ve seen several travel vloggers with classes on travel tips and insights. You can sell classes on e-learning marketplaces (Udemy and Skillshare) or independently with course software, such as Thinkific. I use Thinkific to sell my affiliate marketing masterclass, for example.
Publishing a book takes a lot more effort, and I only recommend doing so if you have thousands of subscribers or a large audience/email marketing list. DanTDM wrote a book called Trayaurus and the Enchanted Crystal, and Amy Landino published a book entitled Vlog Like a Boss. You can self-publish a book on Amazon or seek a publisher.
Memberships & Subscriptions
A fantastic way to generate passive income is through membership and subscription payments. Patreon is a popular membership platform that makes it easy for artists and creators to collect and process subscription fees. Fans pay creators subscription amounts of their choice in exchange for exclusive experiences and behind-the-scenes content. Billions have been paid to creators, and over 200,000 creators use the website.
Patreon is growing as demonetization, stricter/unfair policies, and foul-ups by YouTube continue to upset YouTubers. It has three pricing plans. Alternatively, you might use a WordPress membership plugin, Shopify app, or charge members to access a closed/private Facebook Group. Many billing apps are available to support recurring payments.
Affiliate marketing is a performance-based advertising model. An affiliate (publisher) promotes a product/service online and receives compensation for achieving a specific objective or action. A merchant (advertiser) specifies the goal, which is usually a valid sale. For example, a merchant will pay an affiliate a 30 percent sales commission. A merchant may use one or multiple advertising pricing models, for instance, cost-per-action/acquisition (CPA), cost per sale (CPS), cost per lead (CPL), or pay per lead (PPL).
YouTubers who dabble in affiliate marketing add affiliate links to their descriptions and about sections. In their videos, they casually mention to “see” or “click” on links in their descriptions. They might also direct traffic to their websites for affiliate marketing and ecommerce purposes. Most affiliates on YouTube don’t disclose their affiliate links, but they should as per the FTC’s guidelines.
Regarding the niche you’re in, there are affiliate programs that compliment your content. Many affiliate networks have over 30 product/service categories. Explore my affiliate marketing category for different niches, including gaming, cryptos, subscription boxes, web hosting, and more. Secondly, many YouTubers promote TubeBuddy and VidIQ, which are two excellent channel management/growth browser extensions.
MagicLinks powers social commerce through an exclusive marketplace for video influencers and the world’s leading brands. Their technology enables creators to share the products they love with their fans across social media websites.
Paid Product Placements
Like product placements in movies and endorsements by professional athletes, YouTubers can earn money in these ways as well. According to YouTube,
You may include paid product placements, endorsements, sponsorships, or other content that requires disclosure to viewers in your videos. If you choose to include any of the above, you have to let us know by selecting the paid promotion box in your video details.
Paid product placements are pieces of content that are created for a third party in exchange for compensation or where that third party’s brand, message, or product is integrated directly into the creator’s material.
Endorsements are pieces of content created for an advertiser or marketer that contain a message that consumers are likely to believe reflects the opinions, beliefs, or experiences of the content creator or endorser.
In most cases, high-traffic YouTubers are approached by companies to promote and endorse products. However, some creators initiate and pursue deals.
YouTubers with large and loyal followings–those usually in the YouTube Select category–are ripe for original programming deals with YouTube Red, Netflix, CNN, and media platforms. In 2016, YouTube star Casey Neistat inked a partnership with CNN worth $25 million. Brazilian vlogger and comedian Felipe Neto released a Netflix original comedy special, “My Life Makes No Sense,” in 2017.
A lesser-known revenue stream for YouTubers is live events such as tours, speaking engagements, concerts, premium webinars, and comedy gigs. For instance, DanTDM toured Australia. Sites like Eventbrite and Ticketmaster can help with ticket administration and sales.
Frequently Asked Questions
There are no limits to how much a YouTuber can earn, which differs from most jobs. However, some video categories perform better than others, for example, comedy/skits, gaming, fashion, music, and tech are high-revenue potential categories.
Billions of people flock to YouTube to be entertained and relax. Regardless of the content category, engaging videos and high production value can yield significant revenues. For instance, geography isn't an exciting topic for most people. Knowing this, Paul Barbato infuses his geography-themed videos with flair, excitement, and comedy. His channel has amassed millions of views and subscribers.
If a creator isn't enrolled in YouTube monetization activities like YPP, the creator will earn nothing from his or her views. If the creator enables monetization with ads, 1 million views can generate between two to five thousand dollars for the creator. The AdSense revenue that a creator earns will vary depending on many factors including the types of ads running, the number of ads, average ad consumption, content category, average video length, and more.
Channel subscribers don’t factor into AdSense revenue, only enabled YouTube monetization features. However, channels that feature many subscribers have a social proof advantage. Social proof is a psychological phenomenon in which people rely on the feedback and actions of others to determine what is right and wrong in each situation. If an individual sees many channel subscribers, it will motivate him or her to subscribe.
YouTubers can earn money without AdSense. They can make money from ecommerce, affiliate marketing, paid product placements and endorsements, membership fees, live events, and so forth.
All your videos that appear on ad-supported YouTube will also be available without ads on YouTube Premium. YouTube Red provides a secondary revenue stream for creators in addition to what they already earn through AdSense.
YouTube pays publishers through AdSense and depending on your payment address, the following payment options may be available: • Check • Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) • EFT via Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) • Wire Transfer • Western Union Quick Cash
Google is required to collect tax info from creators in the YouTube Partner Program (YPP). If any tax deductions apply, Google will withhold taxes on YouTube earnings from viewers in the U.S. from ad views, YouTube Premium, Super Chat, Super Stickers, and Channel Memberships. Learn more here: https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/10391362