Some of you may have noticed that, all of a sudden, after a bit more than a year, I’ve been posting my pictures and videos again. The reason for that is slightly complex, and as promised on some of the comments on Flickr and YouTube, here follows the explanation why I have ‘interrupted’ the steady flow of visual content… and why I have restarted it again!
You might think there is a very deep psychological explanation for this behaviour! I’m so sorry to disappoint you… the main reason is mostly technical!
For a long time, I had no smartphone with the ability to take selfies, so I used the webcam for almost all pictures (and videos) I took in ancient times (i.e. over a decade ago!). Then the company I work with presented me with a more recent version of an iPhone, with which I could take pictures with better quality than with the webcam — and it was easier to carry anywhere, on top of that.
There was, however, a catch: it was not that easy to see, on the tiny screen, if the pictures came out great or not. Sure, one can always zoom them out; but I’m old-fashioned; except on some cases, I usually can only decide if a picture is worth publishing if I can see it as others will see it, and that means on a laptop/desktop screen. So I would take a lot of pictures, carry them over to the Mac I’ve got, connect the cable, import the photos, and see which ones were worth publishing, and which ones were Just plain garbage.
You might imagine that in this age of Instagram this goes completely against the purpose of taking quick snapshots and publish them on the spot. Well, it’s not that easy. Some of the pictures I take at home (or inside the car!) have notoriously bad lighting. This meant loading them up on Photoshop and correcting them — at least, as far as it was possible to extract meaningful information from those very bad pictures. Sometimes there is really nothing you can do with a picture except discard it; that was particularly true with blurry and out-of-focus pictures, of which I invariably have lots.
A friend of mine tells me that she takes about 400 pictures to get one that she is happy with. I’m not that a perfectionist, but I totally understand her point. These pictures become public; they will be seen by hundreds; and the pressure and demand put upon us to ‘look our best’ on social media is especially true for people like us. It’s actually amazing how a slight twist of the camera angle can make me look ten years younger and much slimmer than I actually am — and that without need of using Photoshop! My face is also not perfectly symmetric, and that is especially noticeable in certain poses: I look so much better from one side than the other, but, of course, I do not always get the opportunity to catch myself on the ‘right’ side (and tmore often than not, I forget which one it is!).
Add to all that my slight body dysmorphia, and that means I’m especially sensitive to very slight changes in the angles or the lighting…
Now, all this means that it takes time to process all those images. A ‘short’ session might be a few dozen pictures, each of which needs to be carefully analyses, before I’m happy to accept some for further processing, or simply reject it because it would take too long. Usually, I would take the pictures late at night, and ‘process’ them early in the next morning, while having breakfast, and before starting to work. But as I went out more and more, this also meant more and more mornings processing images from the day before, until, well, it meant having to do that ‘every day’ (or at least that’s how it seemed!).
Technology advanced, and this brought advantages and disadvantages. For instance, Apple’s macOS comes with a wonderful tool called ‘Preview’, which is a real jack-of-all-trades, the Swiss Army Knife of image processing. It can open 3D models as well as SVG; it renders PDFs beautifully; and it allows simple image processing with just a few mouseclicks. It’s not Photoshop, not even by far — it has very limited editing capabilities — but it’s small, fast, easy to use, and does pretty much 90% of what I need. Photoshop, a heavy-weight for doing professional, studio-quality image processing, was quickly abandoned in favour of Preview which is so much more practical to use! (I still use Photoshop for complex image processing, such as creating the profile images for all social media, or creating animated GIFs, ‘fake’ images of myself — pasting my face over someone else’s body — or simply for those cases when I really want to use a picture, but the retouching needs are far beyond the abilities of Preview). And that accelerated the whole pipeline quite a lot — I could process more images in less time than before!
Still, there were many ‘rejections’ — pictures that were simply so bad that there was no hope of using them at all — but all that changed when Apple added another clever trick to their iPhone software: you could take not just one picture, but a quick succession of pictures with slightly different settings. I believe that professional cameras call that ‘bracketing’; I certainly remember a setting on one of my wife’s cameras that allows her to take 3 or 5 pictures in quick succession with different settings, and then pick the one which is best. The iPhone, by default, 10 pictures at a time, but I think there might be a way to do even more.
The advantage? Well, especially when holding the phone to take a selfie, with a shaky hand, this ‘bracketing’ trick will try to catch at least a few pictures where the focus just happens to be ‘right’ for a fraction of a second. That way, when selecting the pictures to approve, I would have far more choices, and it would be highly likely that at least one out of ten would not be blurred, and possibly even with acceptable lighting settings.
The problem, of course, is that I would have ten times more pictures to select… and on top of that, I would have ten pictures of each pose, which is even more boring to do. Oh, sure, sometimes this can be done quickly enough… but it would also mean that I might have, say, two hundred pictures to go through, most of them just slight variations but which nevertheless had to be analysed, one by one… well, you get the picture (pun intended!).
To make matters worse, I did not want my ‘Sandra’ pictures to get mixed up with the other ones. That meant transferring the images via an USB cable directly to a folder in the computer which was not used by all the other images. Oh, and it’s not as if I have many non-Sandra pictures; it’s just that the few I have I want to keep them totally separate; and, remember, ‘my’ iPhone actually belongs to a company that I work with, and my wife uses it all the time — there are certain pictures and videos I don’t want her to see and comment about.
At the end of the day, this was taking waaaaaaay too much time!
It’s just recently, after many software releases from Apple, that I finally got an easy ‘pipeline’ to get the pictures I want from the iPhone. So basically now everything gets sync’ed between all my devices, automatically, and in the background. I don’t want to sound like a cheap Apple commercial (you either love or hate their products; there is no middle ground!), but the newest software updates have brought much better handling of pictures — most notably, the ‘bracketing’ function has been replaced by a ‘Live’ function, which is a sort of mini-movie; you can later go through it, frame by frame, to pick which one’s best. But the old news is that the software will pick the ‘best’ frame perhaps 90% of the time, especially under bad lighting conditions. The current iPhone I’ve got even goes a step further: the selfie camera now has improved resolution and it features a sort of ‘flash’ — basically turning the screen white for a brief second and ramping up the intensity to maximum — which, in conjunction with the better software, manages to get far better images even in low light.
Actually processing the images is incredibly easy now. If all my devices have an active Internet connection, the pictures will get automatically sync’ed between them. This happens in the background but it doesn’t take long; usually, after just finishing a session and sitting in front of the laptop, it will have already sync’ed all pictures (and videos too). Then I can leisurely select the batch I’ve just taken and export them to a folder – and while doing so, I can even delete GPS data for the whole batch (instead of having to go through all images, one by one). If I’m not too happy with one image (because it appears blurred, for example), I can very easily enter the ‘Edit’ feature of the ‘Live’ mini-movie and replace the picture with a better one; this is incredibly easy to do. Also, the rest of the settings rarely need any change: because the selfie camera and the software which drives it are so much better, that the ‘average’ settings will work just out of the box, so to speak.
Once exported, I can delete the originals on the laptop – and they will be promptly deleted from all devices automatically. No more frantic browsing through all devices to see if any image is still somewhere on history! (I’ve narrowly escaped a few catastrophes because I forgot to delete some pictures from one of the devices! (And while I primarily use the iPhone, occasionally I use the others as well…)
So what ultimately happened was that I needed to go first through literally-hundreds of pictures – close to a thousand, in fact – until I came to the most recent batches, the ones that take just a few minutes. In total, my backlog was 1,287 pictures (well, after removing those that were not good for anything, even after retouching). And this was incredibly discouraging. I mean, I would start with some pictures, say, from last April, go through a hundred of them, finally pick the ten that would be published… and I had easily lost an hour. I kept picking up that task, get frustrated with how many pictures were left, and give up… to try again after a month… when more hundreds of pictures had accumulated… and so forth. I have literally gone through over ten thousand pictures just to select those 1,287 to upload to Flickr!
And, of course, there were still the videos to do.
The videos take even more time to process than the images, of course. Even though my videos are very short (some of you remember the days when YouTube placed a restriction on the size of each individual video), and I’ve changed the pipeline a few times (as video processing technology evolved!), there is some preparation involved. First comes the introductory snippet, which I retain for copyright reasons (crediting the music composer, Kevin MacLeod). Because each video is different, I have to do that bit every time from scratch, based on a Keynote presentation — I have to drop the whole video into the small rectangle and trim it to just a few seconds. This gets now exported to QuickTime; and I have to take care to actually select the correct format. While most of my videos are done with the iPhone ‘selfie’ camera (so that I can have an idea of what’s happening!), some are not — I have more cameras around the place! — and each might have a different format; so, to make everything fit together properly, the intro video is always saved to the ‘right’ format for that particular video.
Then comes the ‘raw’ video. Sometimes I don’t need to do anything — just detach the audio, since it will be overwritten by the soundtrack anyway, and drop it in iMovie after the intro. But most often it needs some trimming, especially at the beginning and at the end. The lighting almost always needs an adjustment as well; fortunately, the ‘auto-adjustment’ tool works rather nicely and it’s rare that I have to use any of the other tools (which are simple enough to use but do not give the vast range of options present on the photo viewer I mentioned before). Sometimes, however, there is more editing to be done, and this may happen for several reasons, like, say, dropping the ashtray in the middle of the video, or sneezing, or something stupid like that. Also, when I’m filming in the bathroom, sometimes I cannot help myself, if you know what I mean. I know that I’m very strangely wired in the brain— but I’m not the only one!! — but I humbly admit that I get turned on by women smoking (that’s what smoking fetishism is all about!). So when I watch myself, well, uh, I see a woman smoking, even though it’s just me — and of course I know it’s ‘just me’, but I guess there is a wrong wiring in the brain which simply doesn’t care and gets excited anyway. Reflecting on what exactly is happening at that moment is something worth several dozens of articles — or possibly even a book or two! — and I really can’t explain what goes through my mind. I can’t even say that this strange form of narcissism is ‘more exciting’ than, say, watching other women smoking; I mean, an orgasm is an orgasm, and it seems ‘as exciting’ to me, with the main difference that when it’s my body, I can control what I’m doing in terms of smoking fetishism — I’m my own movie director, so to speak — and of course that means that the ‘plot’ is obviously tailored to my preferences, and that is way more exciting than watching some female models who don’t even know how to smoke showing themselves off on the camera. I’ve got absolutely nothing against watching models on camera, of course! But I always feel a little bit ‘cheated’, so to speak, when that happens; I ‘demand’ that whoever is doing a smoking fetishist video loves smoking as much as I do 🙂 or else it simply doesn’t work for me (I’d rather watch good old lesbian porn instead!).
Anyway, I’ve derailed a bit…
To finish it off, the movie needs a soundtrack, which I pick among the music I like most from Kevin MacLeod (who so nicely gave us full access to his free music!); sometimes I do that randomly, sometimes the music has actually something to do with the video (even though that’s rare), sometimes I pick one music that is long enough to span the whole video. Whatever the criteria are (and I’m not very consistent!), the soundtrack almost always needs some stitching and trimming and fading out, whatever. iMovie does all that nicely and easily enough, although some versions are a bit more quirky than others.
Finally, the video gets exported. iMovie really doesn’t give many options, but the truth is that the resulting video will be huge — about 1 GByte for 2 minutes or so. It’s fine to upload that to YouTube — they will do their magic in the background, and the better the quality fed into YouTube, the better the results will be, something which I had to learn the hard way! Once I’m sure that the video has been uploaded, I then convert it to DivX, which will mean practically the same quality, but using less than a tenth of the size. At this point, the ‘raw’ video, as well as the video produced by iMovie, go into the Trash; I back it all to my home-based backup system, and on Microsoft OneDrive as well (in case something goes wrong). I’m close to the limits where it’s still free, though, so it’s plausible that I will have to find another alternative. Fortunately for me, I do have my own cloud backup system on my own server, with pretty much ‘unlimited’ disk space (well, until the 2 Terabyte disk fills up), but to be honest, I haven’t set it up properly yet (because I do do many things at the same time, I keep forgetting to do that).
Whew. And that’s it. I’m not at the point where each minute of movie takes one hour of processing, like on commercial movies, but I’d say that 15-30 minutes per video is not unusual. In more recent times, I have managed to reduce overall time by doing them in sequence, i.e. one is processing, one is uploading, one is being edited, and so forth.
Now… we all know that it is far easier to do a little bit every day than to do a mega-marathon of editing and publishing, so it’s fair to ask again: ‘why now?’ Is there even a reason?
Actually, there is. And it’s not even a very good reason, as you will see.
Recently, I got a message from YouTube in my mailbox. You might have noticed that almost all my videos will have some advertising here and there. I had no illusions about getting rich out of those ads, but when I subscribed to the advertising thingy, I had over a million views — which is quite a reasonable amount! (1.6 million as of today) You might be astonished with that number, and rightly so, because if you look up my latest videos right now, you’ll see that they have just a couple of dozens of viewers, a few hundreds at best. And I certainly don’t have that many videos online!
Well, let me explain what is not so obvious. I joined YouTube a decade ago — an eternity in ‘Internet time’! YouTube was launched in early 2005 and bought by Google in late 2006; I joined YouTube in June of that same year, before we even believed that Google would buy it! That is so long ago that most people alive today didn’t even know that YouTube existed before Google bought it; they haven’t gone through the painful experience of ‘merging’ accounts together (you’d have one for YouTube, one for Google, and these remained separate for several years) and the mess that this generated. Anyway. As you can imagine, before Google bought YouTube, it didn’t have the billion users or so. It was much, much smaller, and it lacked content, because not everybody had a webcam with good enough resolution — remember, the iPhone was only launched in 2007, so this was the pre-smartphone era! Of course a lot of people would post ‘stolen’ content (as they still do today), and YouTube would be after them very quickly, so there was a certain lack of original material. In fact, YouTube was competing with a few platforms. Vimeo, as an example, had been established in 2004, and by 2007 it was already offering high-definition videos, while YouTube was painfully struggling with anything above 320×240 (seriously!). It was not seen as a very ‘serious’ platform for video production (people would go to Vimeo or the now defunct Blip.tv for ‘serious’ content), but rather as a place where people with handheld Sony video cameras would post videos of their children falling into the swimming pool, or of cats slipping in the kitchen, or such similar, nonsensical, futile things. We still have them, of course (just with way better definition!), but YouTube grew so much that it became the social network to post videos (even though Facebook, Flickr, etc. all now support high-definition videos as well).
Before that growth became exponential, however, people struggled to find the content they wanted (before Google started indexing YouTube, it was way harder to find things that we considered ‘interesting’). So you have to consider the following scenario: few original content producers, with limited means at their disposal (YouTube also placed a very short limit to the size of the videos; I think they started by offering just five minutes maximum for free); a bad indexing system, so that it was hard to find anything; very bad definition, with most videos at 320×240 and a very few, done by people who followed YouTube’s official tutorials, who managed to get 640×480 videos to be displayed correctly (this required that you had software at your disposal that would encode the video just so).
In other words: there were few channels for smoking fetishists. Oh sure, there was a lot of pirated content — people who would join porn websites which featured videos for smoking fetishists, downloaded them, and uploaded them to YouTube. But those who were really into smoking fetishism quickly figured out that all that YouTube had to offer was low-quality copies of what they had already seen on porn websites. There was some original content, of course; and by ‘some’ I certainly mean ‘several dozens’ of channels; most of the smoking fetishist community would subscribe to all of them, and we would watch each other’s videos and make comments on techniques — and on the makeup and apparel as well, of course 😉
With Google buying YouTube, however, YouTube exploded with new users — they came by the droves! And all these users would naturally want to see content that interested them, and that would mean that the few channels with original content would be literally swamped over with hordes of new users. And while it’s absolutely incredible to imagine this today, some of my videos easily hit 50K views (!), a few even going over 100K! And every week or so, when I posted a new video, I would once again get 10,000 users within the first minutes after releasing it, and a few more dozens of thousands over the week, until I posted a new video, and the process would start all over again; adding all that up, that’s how I very easily reached the million-views mark, with just two dozens of videos or so.
Then, around late 2009, early 2010, things started to change. Now YouTube became ‘interesting’ enough to be used by professionals, as well as very talented amateur hobbyists. The demands for quality went up; Google started to offer higher and higher resolutions; and the first YouTube celebrities started to host their channels and catch millions of views with each video (not totals!) and get some return on advertising. Google did also pay reasonably well for ads back then — I cannot quote the numbers exactly, but it was a fair and reasonable amount. Someone whose channel got a million views every time a video got posted, and did 2-3 videos per week, could easily live off YouTube with a couple of thousand dollars every month. It wasn’t a bad deal.
With more content being offered, and higher quality of that very same content, users would flock to whatever was popular. And we cannot forget that each and every YouTube channel competes for a few minutes of people’s leisure time — time they could spend reading a book, playing computer games, go out and watch a movie at a theatre, or, well, watch TV at home. This was still the time before Smart TVs could stream YouTube directly, or before people could watch high-quality video on smartphones while watching TV at the same time. Competition for leisure time is very tough, because naturally people will pick things based on moods, preferences, advertising, recommendations, and so forth.
The first decline I saw in viewers meant that most videos rarely hit the 10,000 viewer mark. And why? Well, there are simply not that many smoking fetishists out there, and my channel doesn’t really appeal to anyone else. The only reason I got so many views in the early days was because there was nothing else to watch. In other words: people didn’t find me or my channel because they wanted to, but rather because they were quasi-randomly driven to it, since, again, before Google started to apply their AIs to the ‘recommended videos’, anything could pretty much appear as ‘recommendation’, and ‘popularity’ was one of those. This is how it worked: a video gets watched, and the number of views mean that it ranks higher than others with less views. This means that this video appears more often on the list of recommendations, which in turn makes people watch them more, which increases the number of views, and therefore the likelihood of being recommended to even more people. This was why incredibly stupid videos often went viral very easily — not because people were actually sharing that specific video which they found funny or interesting, but just because the algorithm for recommendations was really very bad. It became a bit better when it took ‘tags’ into account — for a few years, the thousands of viewers I got did not come from the smoking fetishist community, but rather from the crossdressing community, since I always tag my videos with ‘crossdressing’. That means that my videos would appear on the list of recommendations for people searching actively for crossdressing videos. With a catch, of course: by then I already had a million views in total, so it was quite obvious that I would get recommended more often than others. And it even meant that my videos would appear on lists of people who had no interest in either crossdressing, transgender people, or smoking fetishism; I would just be high on the ranks just because in the past I had lots of views.
Google, of course, fixed all this. They were perfectly aware that ‘older’ users had an unfair advantage: because in the past they had so many views (since there was a limited choice of original content), they continued to gather more and more viewers because they would come at the top of the lists, while pros (or amateur hobbyists with talent and semi-professional studios) would have this wonderful high-quality, original content which nobody would see. So the algorithm was changed to favour these professional or semi-professional channels over the others; and this makes sense from a business perspective. After all, from those million viewers, only a tiny percentage are actual smoking fetishists; many would just feel insulted by my videos and had no problem telling me so; nevertheless, they would count towards my total amount of views! Google didn’t want that: they wanted engaging content, with people watching several minutes (or even hours!) at a stretch, because that gave ample opportunity for advertising — while those who would be sent to an ‘unwanted’ channel, watched a few seconds and went away, furious for being shown the ‘wrong’ content, would just screw up the numbers and give unfair privilege to older users with low-quality content (especially when it was meant for such a niche market as fetishist smoking!).
Google only makes money from ads, so most of their resources are fed into developing more and more sophisticated AIs to figure out what people really want to see. At this time, now approaching the mid-2010s, a lot of things happened at the same time:
First, Google slashed the payments for ads (that happened on Web ads too, not only on YouTube). The idea was that only top performers with incredibly good content and a very loyal fanbase of millions of subscribers would be able to make a living out of YouTube — because it was that kind of content that Google wanted to sell ads for. Nobody cares about ads on a movie with a smoking crossdresser; there are simply not enough companies advertising on that tiny niche market (except perhaps for porn websites — but Google, by that time, was also refusing to sell ads to porn companies). So ads on my channel would be ‘wasted money’ — in the sense that Google would still have to pay me a few cents, even though the ads were worthless on my channel — which Google would rather prefer to see spent on one of the really popular channels.
Then, of course, the number of channels for smoking fetishists exploded (well, all channels exploded). To give you an idea, I’ve just opened a page on a browser I never use, and I didn’t log in, so that Google does not know who I am and what my preferences are; and typed ‘smoking fetish’ on the YouTube Search box. My channel is not listed on the top 10. Not even on the top 50, nor the top 100. In fact (I didn’t actually try that!), I wouldn’t be surprised that I’m not even on the Top Thousand — in spite of having far more followers than many who are listed in the top 50 (and a bit less than half of #1), and most certainly far more views than them… while back in 2007 or 2008, well, there were perhaps just a few dozens, at most a few hundreds, of smoking fetishism channels, and I’d be listed on all those searches. Not even ‘crossdresser smoking fetish’ finds me anymore (note: if you try this out, remember to use a browser with history and cookies cleaned up and do not log in to Google — because if you’re reading this, it’s more than likely that my channel will come up on this search — because Google knows that my blog is linked to my channel, and Google knows what you’re browsing and what tabs are open and all that, so their AIs can easily spot the connection — and change the search results accordingly).
Why? Well, because nowadays I lose a dozen subscribers every week or so (most from accounts that were deleted, blocked by YouTube, or simply not active any more); the number of views on my recent videos are around the hundreds, not the tens of thousands; and I pretty much didn’t post anything in the past year, so Google naturally assumed that I’m ‘dead’ (online death, that is) and scarcely has any interest in me anymore 🙂
While, on the other hand, all those channels on the top 10 (or top 50, or top thousand…) are growing. They might not have the total amount of views and subscribers as I do, but Google pretty cleverly figured out that this means nothing. In other words: who cares if someone watches 5 seconds of your video and goes away because it has no interest for them? This barely allows an ad to be shown. No, what Google wants is people watching videos for hours, because, that way, every few minutes (just like on TV), they can sell an ad.
Thus, the new metric that Google uses to establish ‘popularity’ is not ‘views’, but rather minutes of viewing (they still give some attention to subscribers because these are potential viewers). This actually makes more sense, because it eliminates all those viewer watching your channel ‘by mistake’ — a few seconds, and they know they’re wasting their time and go elsewhere.
That’s what happened on my channel all the time (and it still does, of course, but not at the same levels as before). In fact, when one of my videos hit the 10,000-views-mark, it was almost certain that I would get hateful comments. This is not a coincidence: there are not that many people bothering to post hate speech in YouTube, even if it seems that way. In fact, the utter idiots at the lowest echelons of the human species are not many; but they spend a lot of time online, watching videos, and have a secret pleasure in annoying others (yes, that’s a mental condition). In my particular case, it would mean that: out of 10,000 views, 100-500 would come from my faithful subscribers, who know what they’re watching, and would see the video to the end (and sometimes give a word of appreciation or two!); over 9,000 would see my content by mistake, and disappear after a few seconds; and one out of ten thousand would be a jerk. Of course, the longer a video stays online, and the higher the number of views, the higher the number of jerks, but, seriously, there were never that many, even on the most popular of my videos.
Anyway. You can now understand two things:
- How Google makes money, and how they have fine-tuned their search AIs to make sure that people’s limited time is funneled towards content where Google can place ads and earn their revenue;
- Why my channel is technically ‘dead’ from the perspective of Google, YouTube, etc. even though apparently I’m doing fine (by the criteria of 2007!)
Now back to Google’s recent email to me. They explained to me that to keep the ads on my video, I have to comply with two criteria in the past 12 months:
- Have more than 1,000 subscribers (easy-peasy).
- Have more than 4,000 view hours (say WHAT?!).
To give you an idea: on the past 12 months, I have a total of… well, a little below 1,200 hours. Google has only started their viewing time statistics in 2012, and since then, the total amount of view hours I’ve got is about… 6200 or so (!). And each year I get less and less viewing hours.
I scratched my head and thought that these criteria are impossible to meet — the point being that my videos are very short (about 3 minutes or so on average; some are shorter, a few go up to five minutes). I believe that from all of my subscribers, some 400 are really active (fortunately, Google adds up the inactive ones as well). This means that each time I publish a video, I can expect, at best, 400 x 3 minutes = 20 hours of viewing time. That’s it. To be able to reach four thousand hours, I’d need to publish two hundred videos every 12 months, or very roughly, one video every working day (there are around 260 working days per year).
Of course, the alternative would be to dramatically increase the subscriber base (how?) or do much longer videos (tough! there is a limit to how long the typical smoking fetishist is willing to watch in a video! and my imagination is not that great)
You might say, ‘well, that’s tough, Sandra, but if you want to make a living of it, then you will certainly need to do a lot of videos… it’s only fair, after all!’
Really? Here is what Google owes me for January 2018 one month of viewing: $0.76. That’s right. It’s not even a dollar.
My estimated earnings for the lifetime is $85.65 (this has started in March 2013; I wasn’t eligible for ads before that; and remember that Google paid much better back in the beginning!). I never saw a cent of all of that, since Google conveniently only pays when you reach $100.
All right, but that’s just with 1,100 hours or so (for the past month). If I had, say, four times as much (to reach their criterium!), how much would I earn?
The math is simple to make: 1,100 hours earned me $9.30. I could expect, therefore, about four times as much: yay, $36 — and that’s before any taxes, or commissions, or whatever!
Assuming that I would really need 200 videos every 12 months, which would take, say, on average, half an hour of my time each… that’s 100 hours of work… for $36… or 36 cents per hour of work! There are countries where slaves earn more than that!
Ok, but that’s a worse-case-scenario — in practice, I don’t need 200 new videos every year; after all, there is a feature of the Internet era economics known as the long tail. Quoting Chris Anderson, former editor-in-chief of Wired magazine and current CEO of 3D Robotics, a drone manufacturing company:
People gravitate towards niches because they satisfy narrow interests better, and in one aspect of our life or another we all have some narrow interest (whether we think of it that way or not).
What this means in plain English is that even my oldest videos are getting more views, and the longer they stay online, the more views they will generate — and all of it adds up. Why? Because smoking fetishism is a niche market, and because my videos are ‘timeless’ in the sense that a smoking fetishism video of 2006 is as pleasing and exciting as a smoking fetishism video of 2018. In fact, pre-YouTube, early-Internet smoking fetishist videos were mostly cuts from past movies, especially those in the 1940s-1960s, which all feature scenes where women would smoke in a sensual way — so, in a sense, those ‘old’ video snippets still have an audience today. Of course, when they were freshly released, they generated the most views; but after years and years, the few views they got will continue to go on and on and on, and adding up to the total.
Theoretically (as people like Anderson foresaw), and given an infinite method of distribution at zero cost (which is the definition of the Internet in general, and YouTube in particular), videos would earn ultimately more from ads on the ‘long tail’ than on the beginning (i.e. at the moment they were released) — because there will always be some people interested in a very narrow interest, and watch those videos over and over again. That this is clearly not my case doesn’t ‘prove’ that the theory is wrong; it just ‘proves’ that YouTube is not a ‘perfect’ distribution medium. And as I’ve explained, this is hardly the case: YouTube not only shows ‘recommended videos’ according to a user’s personal tastes but it is also deliberately skewed in showing recent, high-quality content, which is trending high; this naturally makes the long tail far less attractive. Still, it’s not ‘zero’. I still accrue some views from insanely old videos, which pop over and over again on people’s recommended lists. This always surprises me, when someone decides to post a comment on a video made before 2010 and says ‘I love the dress you wore today’ or ‘you’re looking better every time’ (when the gallant viewer is most probably seeing all videos in a backwards timeline…).
The point is simply that it would take me a lot of time to keep up to the standards that YouTube ‘demands’ from me. On the other hand, I decided to make an experiment: if I release around a dozen videos in a very short time (meaning that my fans and subscribers all of the sudden get their mailboxes filled up with notifications every day, or even several times per view), how will this affect the number of views?
An image is worth more than a thousand words:
In blue you have the watch time in hours, in red the number of views. As you can see, in the days before I started to post new videos, the red line begins with 273 views, it peaks at 1316, and goes down to 528. There are two distinct peaks, and one less distinct — these correspond roughly to the days where I posted more than one video per day, and that meant quickly surpassing the 800-views mark. I would now need to stop posting more videos for a while and see what happens: will my views hover around, say, the 500-view-mark, or will they slowly drop back to 250 or so?
These statistics only help me to establish the following: to reach YouTube’s minimum requirements of 4000 hours per 365 days, this means about 11 hours per day on average. I can read directly from the graph above that this is reached with around 1000 views per day, which happened on those days when I uploaded 2-3 videos. As far as I can see, to keep the number of views at that level, I would need to upload 2-3 videos every day! Of course, at some point, the number of views might stabilise at around those 1000 views per day on average, so I wouldn’t need so many new videos uploaded per day — that would, indeed, be the point of betting on the long tail to keep generating enough extra views!
So, as you see, all that work… to be ‘allowed’ to earn US$3 per month!
That’s just insane! That’s how Google/YouTube really ‘exploit’ people — they get all this amazing content for free, sell ads, share their revenue with content creators, but… at the end of the day, you get just a few cents for all your work.
To earn, say, US $3000 per month (which would allow me to live really comfortably!), with the current amount of viewers and subscribers I’ve got… it meant getting a million views per day and not across a decade… and posting thousands of new videos every single day! Now obviously this is impossible: a day only has 1440 minutes, and with each video taking 3 minutes, even if I were awake 24 hours per day and uploaded directly to YouTube without any kind of editing and post-processing, I could, at best, generate 480 videos per day… and at that amount of output, it would easily saturate the ability of my subscribers to watch… remember, they would also have to watch those 480 videos, every day, round the clock, and do nothing else in their lives. Clearly that’s utter nonsense!
The alternative, of course, would be to get a few millions of subscribers — 3 or 4 million would be enough, I think. Having a thousand times more subscribers would certainly generate more than enough views every day, even if I just created 2-3 new videos every day (which would not saturate the subscribers, since my videos are short enough). There are certainly some channels around with millions of subscribers. I’m just not one of them — simply because there are not enough smoking fetishists around there! 🙂
In conclusion: all my work is for nothing — lol! But it was an interesting experiment: my theory is that with a little bit of luck, I would reach the 4,000 hours of viewing required by YouTube, and not be kicked out of their advertising programme. I guess I really overestimated my abilities! Still, the results were an interesting exercise in understanding Google’s business model with YouTube, and it’s clear now how they make so much money out of ads — the trick is basically persuading people to work for free for them, or at least for slavery wages, having hundreds of millions of content producers (and a billion consumers — the 1:10 ratio is quite common in communities built around content production) earning nothing from Google, but allowing a critical mass of producers among which a few hundreds will emerge with the ability to attract enough subscribers — and therefore being able to make a living out of it. But because Google encourages people to ‘become one of the few’, the elite YouTubers who earn enough from ads to make that their main source of income, everybody else is eagerly trying very hard to reach that level — and utterly failing, of course. In the mean time, however, YouTube accumulates more and more and more content, all for free.
(Of course I’m well aware of the costs that they also have with their infrastructure, and it’s huge — but not that huge. Remember, investment in things — machines, computers, Internet connections… — is always way, way cheaper than investment in labour. Successful companies shift as much as possible their costs away from wages and other employee-related costs, and push them into ‘things’. Technology allows that. But nothing beats convincing people to voluntarily upload content for free — slavery will beat technology easily enough. Combine both, and you can begin to understand how Google — and no only Google, of course; Facebook is not different — can make so much money.)
There is an old adage, originally applied to the United States, but which — I think — applies universally. Among every thousand writers, 999 write absolute crap, while one will be good enough to (barely) survive with the earnings from their writing. But you need to have the other 999 as well: it’s a question of critical mass. Now, among thousand writers who can survive from their work, one will be exceptionally good, and hit the bestseller lists. Note that they don’t even have to be ‘good writers’ in the literary sense of the word: they will only need to push out books that the public is keen to read. Those people will become millionaires with their writing. But most of them will still be writing crap — these are the authors that will be seen on airport lounges everywhere, writing bad novels, but novels that nevertheless attract millions of readers. Some will be good enough to win a Nobel prize. That’s how the pyramid works! So basically what this means is that you need a million authors constantly writing — most of them never earning enough to make a living, a few hundreds barely managing to survive, and one who will be a Nobel prize nominee. And that’s also why countries with a huge population, such as the US, are able to have a reasonably large number of professional writers — while small countries will simply not have enough critical mass for that. In my own country, for example, two decades ago, there were only two professional writers — i.e. those who could make a living from their fiction novels. All others, no matter how good they wrote, were amateurs in the sense that they had to have a main source of income to survive, and write only in their spare time. One of the two who were professionals won a Nobel prize in literature and died shortly afterwards, so we’re back to just one professional author (who does not write ‘literature’ in the fancy meaning of the word, so, while he will certainly continue to live off his writing, he won’t earn any ‘literary’ prizes). That’s the best our country can expect, and, in fact, the odds were against us — the more professional authors, of course, the more likely that at least one of them will be good enough to become the next Nobel prize in literature. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the vast majority of top authors worldwide are all native English speakers, or, at least, fluent enough in English to be published in that language; no other language achieves critical mass so easily, although Spanish comes close. Chinese (especially Mandarin Chinese) authors could obviously appear on the top bestseller lists easily enough — China has certainly a critical mass of writers! — but they have the disadvantage that nobody outside of China reads Chinese. To become serious candidates to the top bestseller lists outside China, they have to be translated first; but then they will compete with all other English writers out there — the hardest market to be in, since it’s the one which, by far, has the most writers!
Musicians have it slightly more easier — music is pretty much ‘universal’ and a Finnish heavy metal band will sell everywhere in the world (even in China) even though nobody speaks Finnish. Painters, sculptors, graphic designers, etc. also don’t have the language barrier, but they have other disadvantages… anyway, I digress!
To resume it all: posting pictures and/or videos takes a huge amount of time, much more than people realise, even though (at least with pictures!) it’s now much easier for me than, say, a decade ago. The huge backlog came mostly from not really having an incentive to continue to push content out there for the enjoyment of my subscribers. Thanks to Google’s change of policy regarding advertising, I made a ‘last effort’ to try to reach their minimum requirements, and see if there was some way to achieve them. I failed miserably (I wasn’t expecting anything else) but I learned about why I failed. So there is no ‘loss’ here: Google would only pay me around $1 per month for all the video content I’ve uploaded, and, since I never reached the US $100 (accumulated) minimum for a bank transfer, I will never get anything anyway.
This means that in a handful of days all my videos will have no ads any more, and it’s highly unlikely that they will ever get them back again, since, as I’ve shown, the time requirements to push the number of views to an ‘acceptable’ level for Google/YouTube requires way, way more time that I’m willing to spend — to earn around US$3 per month, at most (and getting paid every third year…). That simply doesn’t make any sense.
Instead, I’ve done my experiments, I’ve learned from those experiences, and my videos on YouTube will become ad-free (an advantage for most of you, I’m sure) in a few days.
The End. 🙂 Wow, 8000+ words just to explain all of this. And I was hoping this would be just a small ‘update’ article…
Also published on Medium.