New YouTube Partnership Policy Detrimental to Small Channels

I am sure you heard YouTube is dumping all of its small channel YouTube Partners. Anyone who does not have 1000 subscribers or get 4000 watch minutes a year are being kicked out of the YouTube Partnership Program (YPP), meaning that small channels will be unable to earn money on ads shown in front of their videos. It does not matter how many years you have been a Partner or how much quality content you put out, YouTube is saying ‘good-bye: come back when you are worth something’.

My creative partner and I have been running our little book review channel for more than five years now. Our lives were a lot different when we first started our channel. Instead of jobs and bills we had to worry about turning in essays on time and fitting our vlog reading in with our required school reading. But we were inspired by the review communities we watched regularly and knew that a vlog was the best way to connect with other readers out there.

Death of the Author Reviews, (which we so ‘cleverly’ named after the Roland Barthes essay) started out like a lot of vlog channels started out: with a dinky little video camera, two homemade lights, and absolutely zero audio equipment.

Our first videos had terrible production values but we were confident that we could improve. Through years of tough spots, scarring day jobs, tragedies, struggles, heartbreaks, and all the other ups and downs that life has brought us, Death of the Author Reviews has been a central part of our lives.

The day we got accepted into the YouTube Partnership Program we took ourselves out to dinner to celebrate. We shared the good news with our friends: Death of the Author Reviews had reached a level of success that would give us a small supplement for our passion.

The amount of money we got from AdSense each month wasn’t a lot – sometimes it felt like nothing at all – but the little bit we earned was a scale that we used to measure our progress and functioned as encouragement when we were tired. The small amount of revenue we got let us know though we had put in thousands of hours and thousands of dollars into our passion project, we were slowly being rewarded for all our hard work. I doubt we are the only YouTube creators out there that appreciated and depended on that small little bit of income to help subsidize all the time, money and hard work that goes in to fostering our little communities.

Having a YouTube Partnership Program meant something to us. YouTube had acknowledged that our channel had substance. We produced quality content that adhered to the code of conduct and were thereby worthy of some compensation in the form of a Partnership.

And now YouTube is stripping away our badge of pride in the wake of YouTube megastars, people who make millions of dollars off their channel, creating insensitive and offensive content. And let’s be clear, the change in the YPP policy is directly in reaction to inappropriate videos being uploaded by what they have so quaintly dubbed “bad actors”.

…we’re making changes to address the issues that affected our community in 2017 so we can prevent bad actors from harming the inspiring and original creators around the world who make their living on YouTube.

The Logan Paul fiasco is the one most controversy on everybody’s mind. Logan Paul’s video, in which he inappropriately filmed a body of a suicide victim, was viewed millions of times on a channel that has over 15 million subscribers. It was the viewers themselves that created a stir about the content, and when enough people complained about the video Logan Paul took it down himself – not YouTube.

Needless to say, advertisers weren’t impressed that their ads were being shown in front of his content and many pulled money from their YouTube advertising campaigns. And lack of revenue from ads makes YouTube very unhappy.

But here is the thing: advertisers aren’t concerned with how many subscribers a channel has or how many watch minutes a video gets. What they want to know is if a channel’s content is will reflect badly on their brand and if the demographic they are advertising to is going to buy their stuff. Otherwise a view is a view, a click is a click whether you’re on a small channel or a large one.

And if you are unsure if this crack down on small channels is about YouTube losing ad revenue then hear it straight from the mouth of the beast.

These higher standards will also help us prevent potentially inappropriate videos from monetizing which can hurt revenue for everyone.

Inappropriate video monetization can hurt revenue everyone… and everyone is code for YouTube. But dumping small channels from the YPP to combat inappropriate video monetization is like setting your house on fire to get rid of a spider.

A lot can be said about YouTube’s algorithm and how it chooses what content gets recommended to viewers. There is phenomenal video by The Game Theorists that explains poor programming of the algorithm unintentionally promotes bad content. The Game Theorists dubbed one issue ‘the Logan Loophole’ and it functions like this: the more a video is featured on trusted news sites like CNN or Fox News, the more it appears all over YouTube. Videos by “bad actors” that cause a lot of controversy (and therefore get featured on news sites) get boosted in the trending section, recommended to people, and suggested at the end of videos. That means that YouTube rewards inappropriate content.

And I have no doubt that there are more of these “loopholes” littering the algorithm that fails to determine what content should be flagged for violating their codes of conduct.

But in no way does this crack down eliminate the fact the YouTube algorithm is broken. If YouTube is so concerned about advertiser’s removing ads they should be developing a better system to flag offensive content, not slapping small creators in the face.

Small channels like Death of the Author Reviews have been producing quality, inoffensive content as YouTube Partners for years. While we might not be producing viral videos every second day, we have been here working just as hard and just as long, if not longer than the big YouTube celebrities out there.

Small channels deserve the respect that has come from years of hard work and compliance to the YouTube codes of conduct. We were Partners with YouTube. Someone from YouTube evaluated us when we applied to the YPP and decided that we put out quality content. But, all of a sudden, we are not good enough anymore. It’s psychologically demoralizing.

Small channels that have been around for years and not violated the code of conduct should be allowed to stay in the YPP. Small, existing YouTube Partners should be grandfathered in. We have proven ourselves again and again. If YouTube wants to tighten up Partnership then apply the new standards to every channel they sign up after this point, that’s their business, but cutting small channels out of the Partnership is not the way to do it.

In the company’s statement about the policy changes YouTube said:

Though these changes will affect a significant number of channels, 99% of those affected were making less than $100 per year in the last year, with 90% earning less than $2.50 in the last month. …After thoughtful consideration, we believe these are necessary compromises to protect our community.

I have no idea who YouTube is compromising with, because it certainly isn’t the small creators. And it’s the height of arrogance and privilege for a multi-billion-dollar company to say that $2.50 a month (which works out to $30.00 a year) doesn’t make a difference to small creators. That’s domain fees, a subsidy for tech upgrades, or even money that go straight back into Google when creators buy ads.

And keep in mind that a lot of small channel creators are young teenagers for whom $30.00 is not small change. This policy change isn’t going to “protect” the YouTube community, it’s going to destroy smaller communities, and for nothing. Cutting out small channels is not going to solve the problems caused by their own algorithm.

So, what can the we do about YouTube’s decision to change the requirements for the YouTube Partnership Program? There are a lot of other small channels out there that are going to be affected by this change. We, as small content creators, can complain about YPP policy changes on social media, write YouTube letters, or even threaten to take our business elsewhere. We could petition YouTube, start hashtags and organize campaigns asking them to do the right thing and continue to support small channels and creators. That’s a good start, but ultimately, by making this change to the Partnership Program YouTube has already all but out-right stated that small content creators don’t matter to them.

Ironically, the only way we have any hope of getting the multi-billion-dollar media site to acknowledge that they overcorrected with this new policy is if the big channels took up our cause and petitioned YouTube to do better. We need their attention on this issue. They were little once too; hopefully big channels remember what it is like to have a small community and a smaller budget. If you’re a small channel and you have friends in larger channels, ask them to bring this issue to the attention of YouTube. “Call your Senators” so to speak. If larger channels gave us their support, created videos to raise awareness, pulled monetization from their videos and contacted YouTube, the billion-dollar giant would have no choice but to listen.

The policy changes go into effect February 20th, so if any campaign asking for respect for small content creators is going to happen, it is going to have happen quickly.

As for Death of the Author Reviews we adore the little community we have built, but with our small growth rate we are not even half way to the new threshold of 1000 subscribers. It’s taken us five years to get this far and at this rate it’ll take us five more to once again be recognized by YouTube as the quality producers we are.

We are heartbroken that our small but successful Partnership with one of the world’s biggest media companies is coming to an end.

Written by
I graduated with a BA in English and minors in Film, Women Studies, and Religion and Culture. I adore fantasy and sci-fi, especially when it comes to the YA section, but that doesn't mean I don't read anything else. When I'm not reading, I'm writing, biking, taking my dog for long walks or watching anime.

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