Get rich or die vlogging: The sad economics of internet fame

Excerpt from this article:

The disconnect between internet fame and financial security is hard to comprehend for both creators and fans. But it’s the crux of many mid-level web personalities’ lives. Take moderately successful YouTubers, for example. Connor Manning, an LGBT vlogger with 70,000 subscribers, was recognized six times selling memberships at the Baltimore Aquarium. Rosianna Halse Rojas, who has her own books and lifestyle channel and is also YouTube king John Green’s producing partner, has had people freak out at her TopMan register. Rachel Whitehurst, whose beauty and sexuality vlog has 160,000 subscribers, was forced to quit her job at Starbucks because fans memorized her schedule.

…Platforms like YouTube mirror the U.S. economy’s yawning wealth gap, and being a part of YouTube’s “middle class” often means grappling daily with the cognitive dissonance of a full comments section and an empty wallet. Journalists kvell over stars like Swedish gamer Pewdiepie, whose net worth is around $12 million, or comedian Jenna Marbles, who’s worth around $2.5 million. On the other extreme, fan-funding sites like Patreon (a Kickstarter-type site that allows for ongoing funding) are at the center of a communal movement to fund “smaller YouTubers.” But that definition gets blurry. Is someone with 50,000 subscribers worth supporting financially? How about 200,000? What if people assume you’re too successful to need money, and you’re too proud to tell them otherwise?

… The high highs and low lows leave me reeling. One week, I was stopped for photos six times while perusing comic books in downtown LA. The next week, I sat faceless in a room of 40 people vying for a menial courier job. I’ve walked a red carpet with $80 in my bank account. Popular YouTube musician Meghan Tonjes said she performed on Vidcon’s MainStage this year to screaming, crying fans without knowing whether she’d be able to afford groceries.

… When Essena O’Neill, an 18-year-old Instagram star, quit social media for being “fake” to much praise, I mostly felt pissed off. Easy for her to quit and renege on all her sponsorships, I thought. I figured she must have made her money already, or she’s not under contract to keep a photo up for a year no matter how many fans hate it. She must have a safety net already to be able to just stop. Whereas if I don’t keep up the charade and post this Instagram photo of a “fun autumn basket of goodies,” I’ll eat ramen for a week. All this is why I’ve been hesitant to reveal anything publicly. Frankly, I’m worried about the money I’ll lose.

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