As a YouTube channel you are most familiar with the platform, but if you look around you’ll notice that much of our daily life is by now happening on platforms. Uber provides for your transportation, AirBnb lists accomodations anywhere, Amazon is your one-stop-shop for nearly everything. What all of them have in common is that suppliers can use the platforms’ infrastructure to reach customers. They are the matchmakers between supply and demand and if they weren’t incredibly low-threshold to both sides you probably would’t run a music channel. This new level of participation especially on the supplier-side, in turn, creates much more competition, of course. In many cases, professional creators even compete with amateur creators, a situation that would’ve been inconceivable in Hollywood.
Challenges and open questions surrounding platform industries
The platform economy created by YouTube (you can also read Vimeo, Facebook, Instagram here) brings about some challenges:
- Market power of the platform → YouTube is a quasi-monopoly
- Dependency of the suppliers
- Questionable rights protection
- YouTube generates major incomes based on the works of content creators without rewarding them
- Flood of content
A paper by Deloitte deals with the rise of the platform economy at large (you can read it here). Two questions therein are especially interesting for content creators on YouTube:
- Are workers empowered or exploited by platforms?
- Does the platform economy create any redistribution of wealth or is it just accelerating inequality and does it lead to reproduction of social inequality?
While Deloitte leaves these questions open, we have quite a clear view on them. We appreciate the opportunities YouTube has created for the music industry; the jobs it has spawned and the promotional stage it offers to musicians. We, however, believe that more needs to be done to empower workers that use the platform, be it as their main source of income or as a side hustle. In addition, the numbers about inequality don’t lie:
We can measure intense skewness of views among YouTube videos
Bärtl (2018, p. 16) conducted a study with a sample of 19,025 channels that supplied 5,591,400 videos across various genres (Music, Gaming, Beauty, etc.). He found that on average 85% of all views are generated by only 3% of all channels. At the same time, these top 3% of channels only supplied 28% of the content.
Similarly, Jonah Berger (2013, p. 12) mentions in his book Contagious: How to build word of mouth in the digital age an article by The Business Insider with data from 2009 that states:
“Some 53% of YouTube’s videos have fewer than 500 views […]. About 30% have less than 100 views. Meanwhile, just 0.33% have more than 1 million views.”
More specifically, for a study on over 10,000 music performance videos I did for HollyWhat?, I measured that on average the top 10% of the videos received 68% of the views.
Besides that we all know how small the shares of channels are that get 100,000, 1,000,000, or 10,000,000 subscribers.
A certain level of inequality is obvious. If it was accelerated by the launch of platforms is hard to tell. Now, not every channel wants to appeal to a mass audience and even if, it’s a foolhardy aim to try to ease out inequality in a creative industry. So, maybe we shouldn’t obsess over subscriber numbers and view counts. For us at HollyWhat? it’s far more important to look at and support those channels that upload quality content regardless if they belong to the 97% of channels that have to share the 15% leftover views. We see you!
Bärtl, M. (2018). YouTube Channels, Uploads and Views: A Statistical Analysis of the Past 10 Years. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 24(1), 16–32. https://doi.org/10.1177/1354856517736979
Berger, J. (2013). Contagious: How to Build Word of Mouth in the Digital Age. London, UK: Simon & Schuster.