Being a content creator seems like a sweet job. You do what you normally do—whether that be applying makeup, trying out new tech, or hanging out with your buds—film it, edit it, and let the views accumulate. Throw in a couple sponsorships here and there and all the sudden you’re in the six-figure tax bracket (and paying less to Uncle Sam than ever!).

It comes as no surprise, then, that 1 in 3 British children between the ages of 6-17 told Pollsters for the BBC last year that they’d like to become “full-time Youtuber[s]” when they grow up, according to Bloomberg.

Unlike traditional childhood aspirations, however—fireman, astronaut, movie star—the “influencer” remains an opaque position. While NASA releases its own selection odds—0.6% for the average applicant—the world of Youtube is a lot murkier, with the only knowledgeable player in the game, YouTube itself, incentivized to inflate the odds of success.

Into this murk steps professor Mathias Bartl of Germany’s University of Applied Sciences Offenburg. In an article to be published in the upcoming International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, Bartl attempts to estimate, using data from the past ten years, “a fair picture of the platform in its entirety.” Specifically, he seeks to ferret out the truth behind numerous press releases which “make YouTube seem a viable career opportunity for many.”

Unsurprisingly for my fellow hardened cynics and I, it isn’t.

Mirroring the rest of the global economy, most “wealth” on YouTube—measured as “views”—goes to the top 3% of channels. Bartl estimates that this minority receives on average 85% of total views, warning the figure may in fact be closer to 95%.

Professor Bartl [YouTube screenshot]

Experience plays a part, too. In 2016 he found, 33% of the most successful channels had been started prior to 2014. Along with blonde, swoopy hair, it seems, becoming an influencer requires patience.

Finally, Bartl points out various mismatches between supply and demand. For those seeking to simply sit in front of their camera and “be themselves,” the news is not good: the “People & Blogs” category is one of the fastest growing, accounting for 75% of newly created channels from 2010 onward. The chances of breaking into the top 3% from that category, subsequently, are “consistently worse than average.”

Just look at that jawline. Now that’s good content.

He concludes by stating that, for the aforementioned reasons, YouTube appears to be operating on the “rich-get-richer” method of success. Influencers, it seems, have their own Barrymore family.

In one bright spot for content creators, however, he finds that, of the videos that made it to the top 3% within their first year, there was a “mix” of user generated content and professionally produced work. This, he says, gives “hope that YouTube’s ‘broadcast yourself’ rhetoric is not a complete fiction.”


Feature Image Courtesy Ahmet Yalcinkaya