So for a while now I was thinking about starting a Youtube channel. I guess I'm not the first one to think about it or even give it a shot. Being an analytical kind of guy I'm not afraid of just doing it but first I need to have a look at the numbers and wether or not it would make sense for me. Below is my thought process about this problematic.
Playing with the Idea
A Youtube channel is basically a place for me to share my ideas, show projects I am working on and ultimately build some kind of brand with the community that goes with it. It's also a way to have fun to be honest, at least it looks fun to me when I watch all the people online sharing their videos and all the cool and amazing stuff they did. To the point that it sometimes gives me the sense that maybe I'm not doing enough? So that's surely some kind of bias from my side but I digress.
I stumble also upon a lot of people having their Youtube channels around sensationalising topics like "AI" or "Machine Learning" when in truth they are using basic code that they package as a "my computer is sentient" or "my genetic AI singularity is destroying pacman" deal and people seem to fall for it and even love it. Many of those channels have millions of subscribers and according to youtube money calculator get in a whole lot of moneys, it's sure shiny, but is there any substance behind it except entertainement?
I don't want to go down that route because I think it is unethical and to be fair I don't want to be remembered as a guru or a glorified clown faking his way to his first million. All things considered if I would make or work on a channel it would be anything but sensationalized or geared towards clicks and potentially a failure before it even started. One could argue that these are tricks, but to invest my time and build a sustainable business one needs a plan and not a sequence of tricks.
If I would be envious it would be about the skill these people have to dissociate themselves from what they do and how they sell it and less about their success.
Time and effort
The most important metric before dwelving into this venture is of course how much time or effort this will take to do seriously. There are countless guides and videos about what is the right setup, how to build a script for a video, build a teleprompter and the rabbit hole goes very deep. It's seems no longer a "here's a video I did to share an idea" kind of deal - especially in the tech-educational-niche that i'm targetting - but rather a "here's a professionally edited cinematic preview with b-roll of my basic docker-compose file or minikube setup".
All things considered I calculated that it would take me from 2 to 4 hours to create, record and produce a 15-20 minute video and of course 1 to 2 hours of followup (comments, updates and other things). Your mileage may vary of course but I'm not used to this whole thing and I'm sure I could find a lot of stuff to automate. This means that this 15-20 minute needs to generate enough money for max 6 hours of my work hours. This is a LOT of money this video needs to generate before being a sensed investment of my time.
Bad faith actors and legacy
Added to the time investment, it's not a surprise anymore it seems like there is a toxic environment with copyright claims and youtubers fighting youtubers over the silliest of things. I don't like that at all and it could provide an angle of attack that needs to be accounted for with setting up the proper legal framework in Germany. (Trademark for the name of the channel, Company with limited liability and other things...).
But again, I know this only from hearsay but it's a non negligeable risk to account for.
Another important measure is that whatever is uploaded stays there forever and could eventually bite you in the ass at some point down the line. Imagine an expression or thought process is alright today but no longer okay in 10 years because of reasons, you might have made yourself a problem. But that's really flirting with fear-mongering a little but you never know what the world of tomorrow will hold.
Success and luck
After an initial analysis, many of the channels I had a look at were stagnating under 10k subscribers and an average of 1000 views per video and 40 videos for over a year. Usually something happens at some point, they get shared on reddit, recommended on youtube or on twitter and then all metrics increase.
This is seemingly based on sheer luck if you'd take the video creators to their word - they all seem to say they don't know how their views increased. So that would mean minimum 240 hours upfront investment before any return on investment (according to my calculation of how much production time is needed per video).
This is quite a lot but nothing extraordinary, you need to put in the work :) and again I need to emphasize that I never made a Youtube channel or some videos, although I concerted with some friends that have their Youtube channel and will interview them in the short future.
So far, it is pretty clear that approaching the Youtube space would initially contribute to vanity and ego before paying back anything consequent to me. This is of course if you are not doing any "partnerships" or sponsored content in which case you're not making videos anymore but the videos are making you. (bias and other things)
You can check for yourself here how much your favorite channels could pull in on the Youtube Money Calculator, which is I guess a funny assembly of numbers but it might give an idea about the "perceived" value of the channel. How the actual bottom line looks like differs a lot from channel to channel of course.
The point being is that it would be a lot better to work on a business with actual customers and a minimally predictable income (think SAAS or bakery).
It's not all about the money
Let's face it, my approach so far has been very focused on monetisation and getting paid for the work I would put in. However I would argue that it's not always about the money. Youtube is also a perfect place to just share something that is a hobby and that I love doing without expecting to monetize or whatever.
You know, some of the best channels and best people out there are just knowledgeable and passionate people sharing for instance how they pick locks or how they like to cut wood into shapes among other things. It shouldn't always be about the money but it should be at least clear from the beginning to set expectations for this Youtube journey.
Some clarity always helps, it's just about finding the metric that is right for you.
Where it would make sense
Let's say I already have a business, in that case Youtube could be a great marketing channel for the things that have to do with the business especially if it's a SAAS or thing that is in the current Zeitgeist (AI/ML/singularity...). It would be the only interesting way that doesn't just contribute to your own vanity but actually has impact on the bottomline of your business.
The whole Youtube channel is then an advertisement for something else. I think this way has the less risk associated with it. If the Youtube thing is botched or the channel is broken, you'd still have the emails, contacts or people on your business home page. You're not left with Zero.
Now this is not a new thing, a lot of channels do it that way that they talk a little bit and then try to sell a course or an infomercial. That space is also full of snake oil salesmen like mentioned in the beginning but hey, it's an opportunity to differentiate myself and do something better.
But I guess that's where the bar is at, better adapt, improvise and overcome.
Again, the other point would be to just do it for fun, not worry about having too much quality or whatever but just do it because I love what I do, namely programming or 3D printing and would love to share my experience and thoughts and maybe teach a thing or two along the way.
This way I wouldn't have to stress myself too much also.
And I think something that grows organically and not in a hardcore planned fashion is something that might just have better success.
I will give it some more thought and crunch some numbers but so far I seem to be more on the side of "let's create a value generating or problem solving business" rather than "let's create something to inflate my ego".
However, to bridge the gap and take a first step to my Youtube ignorance, I will create a few test videos and see how they are perceived and most importantly how I feel about them and if it is something that I genuinely enjoy doing.
Important: This is an analysis for me and doesn't mean that anyone with a Youtube channel is parading their ego, far from that, it would just not predictably pay off for me soon enough that I could justify it not being an ego trip or something that I would do as a hobby/pastime.
Thanks to my friend Louis for reading early drafts of this and sharing with me his point of view.