Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, May 28, 2019
Internet fame and influencers

By the standards of the time over a decade ago, I once was what is today called an "influencer", somebody who puts content on the internet which might influence people to buy certain products, not that I ever did much advertising. Of course blogs are now completely outdated as social media, and with the growth of social media the 3,000 viewers per day I had at the peak of this blog would today not be considered as much. But while I was watching content on Twitch and YouTube of modern-day influencers with hundred thousands of views, I was struck by a thought: The modern-day content appears to be much more work intensive than blogging.

I never was much interested in monetizing my content. I only put up a "buy Tobold a coffee" donation button, and that one has netted me less than a thousand dollars over a decade. So I did stick to my day job, in which I am reasonably successful, and so I am well-off financially. I blogged before going to work, or during my lunch break, or in the evening. The decline of my blog, which I think resulted from a mix of the decline of blogging in general, the decline of MMORPGs, and my declining interest / time spent blogging, has never been a problem for me. Neither financially nor otherwise; I got my "15 minutes of fame", and that was enough for me.

Today's influencers seem to be much better paid than I ever was for creating content, but also to put in far more hours. Twitch streams often go on for hours, and while YouTube videos are a lot shorter, they need a lot more editing. And influencers are usually expected to be present on several social media at once, so a Twitch streamer probably has YouTube videos as well, and a presence on one of more other platforms, like Twitter or Facebook.

In short, while my blogging was a hobby, and any money I made was a token of recognition, today being an influencer is basically a full-time job. And I am not sure that this is a good idea. Of course to many people this might sound like a dream job: You play video games on Twitch and get paid enough for it to live from that income; you are your own boss, and make your own work schedule. However from all I hear about what you can earn as an influencer, there is only a really, really tiny number of people who "get rich" that way. The typical YouTuber / Twitch streamer earns enough money to make a living, but not to buy a Ferrari, or even much in the way of savings. It's a bit like a career in sports, where a small number of superstars makes big money, but a large number of people who went into that career just make enough to get by.

I consider that somewhat dangerous: Internet fame is notoriously fickle. Most influencers are young adults. What are they going to do in 10 or 20 years, when they have gotten replaced by a younger generation, and their income has drastically decreased? Twitch and YouTube don't have a pension plan. And "I spent the last 10 years playing video games on Twitch" isn't exactly a selling point on a CV if they try to get back into the regular economy. So, no, I don't think I missed the boat by never switching from blogging to streaming / YouTubing. I'm quite happy with my day job, and wouldn't recommend "becoming famous on the internet" as a career path to anyone.

And "I spent the last 10 years playing video games on Twitch" isn't exactly a selling point on a CV if they try to get back into the regular economy.

Well, not if they phrase it that way.

If instead they phrase it as being an entrepreneur/small business owner of a media company that garnered X thousands of daily viewers/subscribers, have extensive video editing experience, comfortable with networking, social media, SEO, and curating a brand... things might be a bit different. Unlike "guild/raid leading in WoW," the reasonably successful streamers have dollar amounts and viewer stats they can point towards to justify the inclusion on a CV.

All that is assuming they want a marketing job or similar afterwards though.
> there is only a really, really tiny number of people who "get rich" that way. [...] The typical YouTuber / Twitch streamer earns enough money to make a living, but not to buy a Ferrari

That's the case for every job.
"That's the case for every job."

Yes, but then most of those everyday jobs have some sort of job security, health plan, pension plan, etc., which this job doesn't have. It seems to be the ultimate "gig economy" job.
To add, I'm pretty sure the majority of all doctors, lawyers, etc are doing well, and while all jobs have a range, the range is a hell of a lot tighter in most careers than it is on the 'social media influencer' field. Social media is like the core entertainment field of actors; a few big movie stars, a lot of waiters who are also background actors making pennies.

I'd seperate influencer from streamer though. An Instagram influencer is most often a good-looking girl who posts 'hot' photos, and gets paid to post ad photos for fit tea or whatever. A gaming steamer (are there non-gaming steamers?) makes their money via Twitch/YT subscriptions, and while the top ones also make sponsorship money, I think the core of the model is subs and donations. Someone like Shroud makes millions a year off subs, and likely less via sponsors. People without tens of thousands of subs don't get sponsors, but can still making a living via streaming. Also unlike influencers who will 'age out' quickly, I could see a popular streamer staying relevant for years (assuming of course Twitch/YT are still relevant, and don't go the way of MySpace or Facebook).
This stuff won't look good on a CV in ten years when you can truss it up all you want, and the guy interviewing you across the table is part of the same generation and can see through the bullshit:

Candidate for Job: "I was an entrepreneur and small business owner of a media company that garnered X thousands of daily viewers/subscribers, have extensive video editing experience, I'm comfortable with networking, social media, SEO, and curating a brand..."

Interviewer: "Oh, so you're another social media streamer/twitcher/whatever. Get in line with the rest of them."

As usual, you focus on gaming when you talk about the demise of blogging. Blogging is about as far from being dead as it's possible to be, as you'd know if you worked in the book trade. Try this for size:

In the UK, at least, a successful blog is still a prime route to a publishing or tv dealin a number of disciplines, cooking and fashion being only the most obvious. It's true that most people doing this are vloggers as well as bloggers but as you can see from the website ( ), they identify the enterprise as: "A blog started by 2 chefs".

Moving on to the issue of streaming as a long-term career, you sound like someone from the 1970s! Who has a career for life these days? Who even wants one? What's more, even in my day (and I'm 60), most twenty-somethings didn't plan any further ahead than the next year or two, if that. Most people change jobs or careers several times during the course of their working life. There's this thing called re-training.

My step-kids are all in their 30s now but if they were 10-15 years younger and thinking of trying streaming as a means of making a living I'd tell them it was a great choice. It makes a lot more sense than the things I and my friends tried at the same age - trying to become rock stars or comics artists or movie directors. And guess what? Some of my friends successfully managed to do all those things for a while, before moving on to do something else. That's how a life is lived.

I agree with you pretty much on all points.

Many "modestly" popular streamers spend way more then 40 hours a week doing stream related activities. People forget how involved streaming or recording really is. You'll see people with 2-5 viewers who have obviously spent hours just setting up their graphics overlay, emotes, badges, bots, etc. If you also upload to Youtube you need to throw in time to edit and render/upload your videos. Then if you don't want your stuff to be shit quality you'll have to invest in a decent capture card, dual monitors, microphone, sound dampening for your walls, and a green screen. You'll probably pay for a better internet package to make sure you stream doesn't drop frames. Maybe also get a decent chair because you'll be sitting for 8+ hours a day. You give up some of your social life because you'll most likely want to be streaming during peak hours for your time zone which tend to be the afternoon or evening. You need to stream practically everyday or at least most days without taking breaks because even a small week-long break can completely kill small channels.

On top of all that you also need to be running social media accounts to try and generate traffic, networking with other streamers to share views, and planning what you are going to be playing when in order to grab viewers when the big dogs aren't. If you are really small you can't really play the big AAA games when they come out because you'll get no views since all the larger streams will be cannibalizing those viewers.

It's a hell of a lot of work and stress and frankly probably pays barely above minimum wage when you factor in all the costs and time it takes to do to a level where you MIGHT get decent views.

There is a reason most streamers who do hit it big eventually hire full time staffers to run all the stuff I just mentioned for them.

It's a foolish business to try to get into and while I personally stream just for fun I would never expect it to turn into anything serious. It's great for someone that isn't currently doing anything else and has the means to support themselves without generating income. But it's definitely not a viable business for most people.
I think that if the young people who are interested in the influencer path realize that it is a job just like any other, they may not actually dedicate as much time to it. You're an independent contractor, and you have to be careful to balance your independence with your need to generate money by accepting contracts from various companies.

It's definitely a weird business to be in, and I agree with you in that being dependent upon the internet means an excessive amount of risk. But I guess some people really like doing that stuff.
It's worse than a full-time job... it's digital busking, purely dependent on donations. No-one owes these streamers anything. I keep seeing 'woe is me' articles about the challenges streamers face in making digital busking a lucrative job, but it all boils down to the fact that if they work reasonable life/work balance hours, their job pays bullshit, but if they sacrifice everything they have, it can pay great. To which I can only say... no shit?

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