Making money from YouTube has become a whole lot harder in the past few months, forcing some towards a black market trading in subscribers and accounts.
New rules around monetization, which were announced in January and came into force in February, require YouTube channels to have been watched for at least 4,000 hours in the last 12 months, and to have 1,000 or more subscribers, to be eligible for the YouTube Partner Program.
The Program allows users to monetize their YouTube channels by selling ads on their videos through Google’s AdSense brokerage scheme. In short, if you don’t reach the two thresholds, you’re not going to make any money from your burgeoning YouTube career.
The rules were introduced following headlines attacking Google-owned YouTube about its inability to control its broad range of creators, and dissatisfaction from advertisers who saw their products promoted alongside unsuitable videos.
But there’s a problem: YouTube can’t process the applications of those who have reached the monetization threshold fast enough. Application processing was initially meant to have been completed at the end of April, but was pushed back. “We’re hoping to get caught up by the end of June,” a statement from YouTube explained, “and will let you know if anything changes.”
The delay has raised the hackles of creators—and pushed some into the arms of black-market companies trading in subscribers and watch times, an important metric on the site, as well as other potential scams.
There’s a burgeoning market in social media likes and subscribers across all platforms, not just YouTube. Devumi, a social-media marketing company, which The New York Times revealed had provided millions of fake followers on Twitter to celebrities and businesspeople in the U.S. and U.K., sells 10,000 YouTube views for $64.
Another site, SMMKings, offers unique YouTube views that it specifically markets as monetizable. Rates start at $1.10 per 1,000 views, each of which will last for five minutes. Buyers will receive the views, around 100-250 each day from “real human mobile iOS” accounts, “in a NON-STOP Natural Pattern” to evade YouTube’s anti-gaming measures.
Some have explored the option of buying themselves into the advertising revenue-generative club. The Facebook page of QQTube, which sells 1,000 “100% Real” YouTube views for $3, has fielded questions which ask specifically how long each bought “viewer” watches a video for, while so-called “sub4sub” groups (where YouTube users post links to their channels, proposing to subscribe to those who subscribe to them) are being filled with posts advertising “real monetizable views”.
One user posting on the YouTube Sub4Sub Facebook group advertised 250 hours of watch time for 480 Indian rupees ($7.45). If the post is legitimate and not a scam (another post on the site asks users to email their YouTube usernames and passwords, supposedly to help create a bot that will feed users subscribers and views), a user could theoretically cross YouTube’s new boundary by spending just $120 on bought watch time.
Of course, you’d have to then wait at least a month for YouTube to approve your application to join the Partner Program—probably longer, given the previous missed deadlines.
That’s not a problem, though: There’s a secondary market in ready-monetized YouTube channels. The prices for such accounts on EpicNPC—a forum where gaming accounts, YouTube channels and World of Warcraft characters are up for sale—range from $80 to around $300. (Taking a chance on the cheaper offer means putting your fate in the hands of someone who advertises his services by saying: “youtube changing rulls 2018. you want monitization on in you channel so need 4k/1k . don’t worry, i provided to you very carefully and very secure”.)
In reality, most content creators wouldn’t buy a ready-made monetized account because it would mean abandoning their pre-existing accounts. There’s also the potential of getting caught by YouTube and wasting your investment, as well as losing your content. But online chatter shows some are seriously considering gaming the system in some way or another, even with the risks involved.
“I fear YouTube has opened the floodgates for scammers to profit over content creators,” said Randy Hansel, 39, who runs a YouTube channel called Planet Randy. Hansel crossed the 4,000 hour and 1,000 subscriber marks just before the February deadline with what he says were “countless hours self-promoting” his channel through legitimate means.
He has, however, seen the issue of illegitimate views and subscribers “explode” since YouTube’s January announcement.
“That has never interested me,” he said. “I want to feel like I’ve actually accomplished something without cheating to get there.”
Announcing the changes in January, Neal Mohan, YouTube’s chief product officer, and Robert Kyncl, the site’s chief business officer, wrote that “Though these changes will affect a significant number of channels, 99 percent of those affected were making less than $100 in the last year, with 90 percent earning less than $2.50 in the last month.”
Matt Karnuk, 19, uploads videos regularly to YouTube, where he has 1,192 subscribers—but fell short of the watch time requirements before the February cut-off date. “I personally feel this is a negative change,” he said.
“I’m working harder than ever to create a career out of the platform,” Karnuk said. “For the last two-and-a-half years I’ve been making videos on my channel. I’m passionate about it, but YouTube keeps making changes that make growing my channel harder.”
Karnuk refuses to buy the view time he needs to meet YouTube’s requirements, but has been trying to drive more people to his videos. “I’ve started sending out emails, reaching out to people, and promoting my channel in just about every way you can imagine.”
Some YouTubers on discussion forums have attempted to band together to subscribe and watch each other’s videos to try and nudge channels over the cut-off point. Others have taken to social media to plead for subscribers to their channel.
But come what may, Karnuk won’t be giving up on his dream yet. “I definitely haven’t come this far just to give up,” he said. “I still have confidence that I’ll have a successful career with YouTube. I may still have quite the journey ahead of me, but I know I will get there.”