The daily grind of being a successful YouTuber this week claimed another victim. Logan Paul’s decision to step back from daily vlogging—following in the footsteps of his younger brother Jake who shook off the requirement to upload every single day in the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting—came as a surprise to his legions of fans.
Paul joins an ever-increasing list of YouTubers who have recognized uploading a video each day to the platform is not just unsustainable but futile as YouTube increasingly abandons its core creators in favor of mainstream celebrities.
At Brandcast, YouTube’s equivalent of traditional TV’s upfronts, held this past Thursday, the platform announced a new slate of YouTube Originals: series supported by YouTube through advertising partnerships.
The names are household names, but not to YouTube’s most dedicated viewers. Big-funded projects by LeBron James, Hollywood star Will Smith, and British comedian Jack Whitehall were hawked by YouTube to its advertisers as the face of the platform, rather than the thousands of creators who toil every day to populate the platform.
Worse still, those new, celebrity-backed vehicles will automatically be enrolled onto Google’s Preferred ad scheme, a program which guarantees to advertisers a mark of quality—right as many YouTubers try and fail to regain monetization on their channels, which was taken away from smaller creators earlier this year.
Larger creators are growing disillusioned with YouTube, and winding down their efforts on the platform: Mark Dohner, who was one of the generation of Vine stars to migrate over to YouTube alongside Paul and his younger brother Jake, announced in early March he was ending his vlog after 389 videos. “It kind of turned into this repetitive, not challeng[ing] competitiveness,” he told his 2 million subscribers. “The importance of vlogging wasn’t really about showing your day and having fun. It came down to ‘I’m living my life for this camera right here.’”
Days later, Roman Atwood told his subscribers, “I don’t want you guys to assume I’m going to upload every single day. I think we see this happen with most daily vloggers,” he said. “I have reached a mental point where I kind of want to create something bigger. If you daily vlog, that’s like the only thing you can really do.”
And in November 2016, Casey Neistat himself (who has subsequently picked up the habit of daily vlogging again) ended a series of daily vlogs that began in March 2015.
Taking all these recent developments together, it’s easy to see why even YouTube’s biggest names are dedicating less time and effort on a platform that appears to be trying to squeeze them out of the equation. In the video announcing he’d be ending daily vlogging, Paul made sure to plug his merch and his upcoming podcast, while he’s recently started streaming on Twitch.
That decision to spend more time on Twitch is telling: In case you didn’t realize, daily vlogging is hard. To attain success on YouTube, you need to play to what the algorithm wants—and although no one truly knows how YouTube’s black box of promoted videos work, the general consensus is that it prioritizes regular, lengthy videos. YouTube auteurs looking to create videos that are artwork, rather than snackable quick hits, rarely succeed (unless you’re Casey Neistat, who somehow manages to create artistically beautiful daily vlogs). Grinding out videos—even ones where a vast chunk of the runtime is spent shilling your merch—can quickly get frustrating. “Your boy wants to exercise his creativity in different ways,” Paul said in the video announcing he was ceasing his daily uploads.
Having to do more more often wasn’t always the standard for creators on YouTube. Matt Gielen of Little Monster Media Co has spent more time than most trying to reverse engineer the platform’s algorithm. In the years he’s been watching how YouTube promotes certain videos and leaves behind others to fester amongst the 450 hours of video uploaded every minute to the site.
It used to be the case that creators could survive the algorithm’s whims by uploading at least a video a week; when Gielen last looked at how the algorithm operated, he found that the minimum requirement now is more like three videos a week. At the same time, the length each video needs to succeed has increased from around three to four minutes as a sweet spot to more like 10 or 12.
There are a number of reasons for this, but all of them share one common denominator: competition. As YouTube has become a more recognizable mainstream media platform, its creators are no longer just competing against each other—and there are plenty more of them around. (That 450 hours per minute stat? Eight years ago, it was 24 hours per minute.) They’re also competing against businesses: think of Tasty, BuzzFeed’s well-staffed video-focused food arm, where entire teams of producers labor over videos that standalone creators or small teams could only dream of doing.
“Traditional” vloggers, who have to come up with concepts for new videos every day and then spend several hours editing them, have also struggled to keep pace with gaming YouTubers, who don’t have to bother with the rigmarole of post-production. Gamers, who often livestream footage of themselves playing video games, rather than editing together complicated scenes, have become an enormous subsection of YouTube, increasing from 0.1 percent of videos uploaded on the site in 2006 to 8 percent in 2016—and 15 percent of all YouTube videos go to gaming channels.
We’re also to blame. Our desire to take in this content is insatiable. “Who doesn’t want more of the thing they love?” says Gielen. “Would you rather have one scoop or two scoops of ice cream? Most people would rather have two scoops.”
Although Logan and Jake Paul, both of whom have stepped away from daily vlogging, are far from one-man bands competing against big businesses (the younger Paul’s Team 10 group of YouTubers is a fully-fledged business, with agents, hangers-on and executive officers), even they struggle to juggle the challenges of producing daily content while also managing their other, diverse business interests.
“YouTube isn’t my career,” Logan Paul admitted to his fans in his farewell to daily vlogging.
And that’s the point: YouTube, for those who are trying to pursue it as a career, is a sped-up version of working life. You spend your early days toiling in menial work, doing the work of four or five people, until you’re able to promote yourself to the point at which you can manage your own team. You can hire a video editor; a manager; an agent or a PA. You gain fans—and improve your salary—by stretching yourself in new directions, diversifying your brand-slash-business, then begin earning enough cash that you can start to drop or scale down certain parts of the business.
The first thing to go is often daily vlogging: Why spend hours every day shooting footage then editing it (or getting someone else to) when you can earn the same amount of money you’d get from selling ads against it from the sales of your T-shirt?
The challenge is making sure you climb the ladder quick enough before you burn out. YouTubers can see a light at the end of the tunnel: spend enough time on your channel, put in enough hard work, make it big, and reap the rewards. Broker brand deals, enjoy AdSense revenue and make merch that you can sell to your fans if you’re lucky enough to become a YouTube celebrity (not for nothing did Logan Paul repeatedly plug his merch in the video announcing his step away from daily vlogs).
The list of YouTubers who have shunned daily vlogs continues to grow, but years before current day creators decided that recording vast chunks of their life to be broadcast on a daily basis wasn’t sustainable, one of YouTube’s earliest megastars also came to the same conclusion. Burnout and disillusionment about daily vlogging isn’t new. Ask OlgaKay.
OlgaKay, a Russian national named Olga Karavayeva born in Ukraine who came across YouTube when she was working as a professional juggler traveling with the Ringling Brothers circus, first uploaded a video to the site in 2006. She was soon spending 10 to 12 hours per day teaching herself how to edit and upload videos.
She brokered some of the first YouTube brand deals, and by 2014, when she was profiled by The New York Times at the age of 31, Karavayeva was making $100,000 a year. The problem? She was producing more than 20 videos a week to earn it, including a low-production value gaming channel.
When I spoke to her for a retrospective feature on YouTube from some of its original stars, she told me: “I didn’t have a life, and if somebody invited me out somewhere, my first question would be: ‘Can I film there, because if somebody’s uncomfortable with me filming I don’t think I can go and have fun with you guys because I need content.’”
Much like the Pauls, Karavayeva stepped back from daily vlogging and found a more manageable pace, before eventually slipping away from the site, with the odd return to test the waters. She wasn’t the first to do so, and Logan Paul certainly won’t be the last.