Tobold's Blog
Saturday, November 25, 2023
YouTube enshittification and the Apple tax

I am watching a lot of YouTube, using the YouTube app on my iPad. The disadvantage of that is that the YouTube iOS app is a walled garden within a walled garden, with both Google and Apple having a lot more control about what I can do and can't do than if you watch YouTube on a browser. Now I used to have a Premium Lite membership to YouTube, in order to avoid ads. Adblockers are nearly impossible to set up when using the iOS app, and recently YouTube started an arms race against adblockers, where whatever adblocker you use might suddenly not work anymore or prevent you from watching videos at all. Unfortunately, in the ongoing enshittification of all web services, YouTube just cancelled my Premium Lite plan, not offering that option anymore. They even had the gall to send me "sorry to see you go" e-mail.

So I was looking how much a full YouTube Premium subscription would cost. And as I was looking on the iPad device, I was shocked by the number: €16.99 per month! But it turns out that €5 of that are in fact the "Apple tax", the additional fee you pay to Apple whenever you buy a subscription directly on an Apple device. The trick is to use a browser instead, where suddenly the same subscription is down to €11.99 (where I live; apparently it's $13.99 in the USA).

The clever thing to do would have been to change my habits, stop using the YouTube app, and start using whatever adblocker is working this week to watch YouTube via a browser. But that is a lot more hassle than I want, and I am pretty sure that YouTube is going to manage to block all adblockers sooner or later. So I subscribed on a browser, just avoiding the Apple tax, because Apple hasn't found a way yet to prevent me from using my YouTube subscription on an Apple device when I haven't subscribed via Apple. Going from Premium Lite to full Premium wasn't exactly what I wanted, but I do have to admit that the full Premium subscription for YouTube has some added advantages that I might use. On a mobile device, the ability to download videos is actually useful. And I am not very happy with the Amazon Music service I get for free with my Amazon Prime subscription, so maybe YouTube Music is better. Although getting YouTube Music to run on an Amazon Echo is a whole added story, where you need to basically turn your Echo into a Bluetooth speaker instead of using Alexa.

I follow several youtube channels, but recently I've been more and more tempted to jump ship, subscribe to Nebula and forget about youtube completely. It's not just that advertising has become more and more invasive, with longer, non-skippable, breaks, but also that the current approach favors clickbaity titles way too much. As a result, even informative channels have resorted to sensational titles which are completely misleading or downright false just to try to get higher in the recommendation list.
Even worse is the title/thumbnail optmization done by some channels who keep changing it to try and get more views. For channels which I routinely follow it's easy to spot, but for the ones which I check weekly (or less) I have trouble guessing if I've already watched the video or not, forcing me to try and see the initial ad AGAIN.
In any case the current economic situation is messing things up for social networks: facebook threatened me to switch on ads or pay a subscription, no "third option". I only use it for messenger, so I don't really care, but of course after the message I opened my home just to see what's going on..... half of the posts are "sponsored".....
One of the reasons I use android is the freedom to sideload apps. There are two YouTube solutions I know about, YouTube Revanced and GrayJay which both block ads. Grayjay. Maybe pick up a cheap android tablet just for YouTube?
There are partial solutions to youtube problems, but gotta say I would prefer youtube to sort its own issues, rather than me puzzling over how to make it at least somewhat useable.

> I have trouble guessing if I've already watched the video or not
For that, I'm using RSS feeds for channels/playlists I follow, and never visit youtube to check the updates. RSS readers usually mark viewed/new in a clear way.

As for clickbaity titles, there's no way to change them (yet, I'm pretty sure this will be doable with AI soon), but installing an extension that changes all caps to lowercase already was a huge relief.
I have a work around that works for the moment but I suspect it won't last. I use the Brave browser that has a built in ad blocker and the same browser allows me to save a shortcut to the youtube web page to my home screen that looks and acts like an app button. I just use that button instead of the Youtube app. I have an Android phone though so I am not sure if IOS allows similar functionality.
Just don't forget to have the device online 3-4 days before you want to watch a downloaded video.
In the airplane it is too late to do that.
(found out the hard way that 'offline' does NOT really mean 'offline')
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