YouTube Red and the Ethics of Compensation

After writing my previous article, which started to explore the ethics of compensating online content creators, I realized that to really understand and get more context for my next article, I should do a bit of research and try to find out what people involved with the business actually say about the matter. After posting a query on Facebook, I got a few responses pointing me to YouTube and webcomic creators’ thoughts on the subject (thank you, Brie, Alex, and Andrea!). As I prepared to write this article, I ended up primarily watching videos about YouTube Red from a few different creators and reading comments from viewers, so I’ll be framing my thoughts this week with thoughts about that service’s implications, as well as picking up threads I previously worked with.

During my formative media-consumption years, my family still had dial-up internet access and shared one computer (and I wasn’t exactly tuned in to popular trends), so my early exposure to YouTube was limited. As a result, I didn’t really realize until I reached high-school and college just how much of a community-builder it could be and how deeply people appreciated and connected to various YouTubers who made all kinds of videos from music to life advice. Over the past few years, I’ve deepened my knowledge of the medium, and I have come to value the treasure trove of entertainment and information that YouTube provides. I’ve also experienced my fair share of annoyance at the site’s ubiquitous ads and have often wished there was a way I could avoid them altogether. YouTube Red is a possible solution to that problem. In a model similar to Netflix’s, YouTube Red offers ad-free watching of every regular video, as well as exclusive access to new shoes produced by popular channels and creators. Such bounty comes at a price, however, to the tune of $10 per month. For many viewers, the cost is prohibitive, which in turn limits the creators’ potential audience. The service’s existence highlights the thorny tangle of artistry, commerce and the needs and limitations of consumers alongside those of creators.

In his Vlogbrothers video Understanding YouTube Red, John Green (noted YA author and Kenyon alum) talks about how subscription services solve some problems associated with advertising models of business while creating entirely new ones. His main argument for the service is that it allows creators more leeway in deciding what to make without bending to the whims of advertisers and such. Green’s main concern about the service is that it will create hierarchies; he wonders, “will it create two classes of YouTube watchers, ones who can pay and ones who can’t?”​As time has passed since Green made the video, his fears have—to some extent—been realized. Loyal subscribers to certain channels who can’t afford the YouTube Red fee are unhappy that they can’t access content. The tension that is inherent in the service comes across at the end of YouTube user Chloe Coombs’s comment on Green’s video: “I hate YouTube Red and love it, because it will allow creators to live happy lives with enough money, but keep me out.” Though there’s still the corporate middleman of YouTube taking a cut of the subscription proceeds, revenue flows more directly to creators. In the end, one can’t escape the fact that it does exclude potential audience members, but, to a certain extent, most art is like that.

In the end, I don’t have any answers yet, and I don’t know when, if ever, I will. I do realize that I’ve only scratched the surface of the YouTube Red issue without dwelling on the sustained arguments against it. I do want to work towards finding a way to balance my belief that creators deserve compensation, especially if they work hard to make good content and people derive value from what they produce with my desire to see art democratized and available to a wide audience. As I continue to explore the issues surrounding this subject, I would love to hear from anybody who reads my articles about your thoughts and if you know of any good resources to consider in my research, please send them my way!

Image Credits: Feature, 1, John Green