How Can a Content Creator Make a Living?

We’ve all seen the celebrity influencers who have big brand deals and live lavish lifestyles. That accounts for about 1% of the 1% of the 1% of content creators, but that doesn’t mean that a hardworking content creator can make a decent living right now. In fact, quite a few do. Whether they’re bloggers or YouTubers or TikTokers or Instagrammers or any number of other things, content creation is a very real part of the economy. And that’s because we as a society consume so much content, all day, every day. We read columnists or bloggers, we watch videos, we scroll through pictures and Tweets. If all of that content is being created and consumed, then why can’t we get in on the action? What’s stopping us from being content creators ourselves–and, more importantly, making a living at it?

How to Make Money as a Content Creator

There are so many ways to make money as a content creator that we can’t name every individual app, program and policy, but what we can do is break these things down into categories and talk about the major players in each category. But trust us: you can make money as a content creator. Here are just some of many ways how to do it:

Advertisements

No matter what platform you’re on, making money through advertisements is the most obvious way to make money. You have content, people are reading it or watching it, and you promote a product or service. They get the content, you get a little money in your pocket (or a lot of money in your pocket). But where do you go to find advertisers?

AdSense

AdSense is probably the most common way that content creators make money, no matter what platform they’re on or type of content they’re creating. AdSense has been run by Google since 2003, and they put advertisements (text or video) in front of your text or video.

AdSense uses a CPC (cost per click) and CPM (cost per thousand impressions) model to determine how much money you earn: there is a certain dollar amount designated for every single click or impression, so your goal as a content creator is to get the viewer to click those links and watch those videos. AdSense encompasses all of Google advertising (which is everywhere) but also YouTube advertising, since Google owns YouTube. They use the same system, and it’s very easy to sign up for.

Generally speaking, you have to reach some sort of monetization threshold: with YouTube you have to have at least 1000 subscribers and they have to have watched at least 4000 hours of content. At that point you are eligible for monetization, and, once you monetize, that counter starts to run. 

The nice thing about AdSense is that it’s passive income: you don’t really have to do very much at all to be eligible for it, and it runs seamlessly in the background. When someone goes to your blog and they see an ad next to your content, that is an impression. When someone watches your video and clicks on the advertisement, that is a click. And when impressions and clicks are added up, you get a check. How big is that check? We’ll talk about how much you can earn below. 

The downside of AdSense is that you often have to split the revenue (if your YouTube video is shown on Facebook, then Facebook gets 50% of the AdSense money). You also don’t have control over the type of ads that are being shown on your page. This has become a problem with some content creators getting very upset that a steakhouse commercial is being shown on a vegan website, or a political ad is shown that promotes ideas contrary to yours.

And, of course, you have to reach those monetization thresholds, which can sometimes take a while to get to. Don’t expect money right out of the gate.

Sponsorships

Sponsorships are like advertisements, except they get the content creator to do the advertising for them. In sponsorships, a business will pay a content creator a certain amount of money (usually a flat fee) for you to say good things about their brand. 

Companies like sponsorships. They like them a lot. This is because 1) the business gets to choose who they are sponsoring (instead of getting random placement in AdSense) which gives them more control over the brand identity, and 2) because sponsorships give a much better return on investment for the brand than an AdSense ad.

The thing is, the public is not only wary of advertising generally, but they’re also wary of clicking anything wrong on the internet for fear of either downloading something malicious or getting their data tracked by someone who shouldn’t have it. So if a content creator–someone the public trusts to deliver good content–endorses a business, then the public is more likely to visit that business’s website and purchase products. In fact, it has been estimated that a sponsorship has ten times the ROI of an AdSense advertisement. 

So it seems like a win-win, right? The downside is that you have to have a relatively strong number of followers to get sponsorship deals. There are some companies that used to have an everybody-can-be-a-sponsor attitude (remember when every single podcast was sponsored by Audible?) but those are typically on a CPC basis, not a flat fee. When everyone could be a sponsor of Audible, podcasters only made money if their listeners would sign up for the subscription using their specific coupon code. 

If you want to secure big sponsorships then you need big followings. So you’ve got to start creating content for free for a little while at first before you can expect a payout.

Subscriptions

The next major way that content creators can make money is through subscriptions. While there are a lot of subscription services out there, three major players are Patreon, YouTube Memberships, and Twitch. 

Patreon plays a dual role in earning you money (we’re going to talk about it again when we get to “Donations and Tips” below). Patreon is an app that lets you set tiers for people (patrons) to pledge a dollar amount per month to you in exchange for perks. These subscriptions can offer a whole host of things, but some of the most common are extra content, behind-the-scenes content, access to private channels (Discord or Facebook are the most common), and anything else that relates to your personal brand of content. If you run a knitting channel, then you can offer your patrons free knitting patterns once a month that they can download. Authors offer free critiques of their patrons’ work. Artists offer to include the names of the patrons etched on a sculpture they’re working on. 

For many, this Patreon service is an ideal way to not only get a monthly income (indeed, for many content creators, they rely on Patreon as their main source of income) but it also grows the community. By doing things like offering patron shoutouts–listing their names at the end of videos or using their name in a certain artistic work–you’re creating a desire in people to be recognized publicly by someone they admire. They want to hear you say their name. And they want to be part of private communities where they’ll have a chance to chat with you and have special access.

YouTube Membership is very similar to Patreon, in that it offers specific bonuses to people who become members of YouTube channels, but it’s a more convenient interface for popular YouTube channels to run their subscriptions. Everything is managed by the user’s Google account (so if they’ve already got a credit card set up in their Google account then all they need to do is click “Join” at the bottom of the video and they don’t need to fill out any forms.) 

Twitch Subscriptions offers something similar, but it affects the way that users interact with the people they’re following on Twitch in real time. Having a Twitch Subscription gives you access to special emotes that only subscribers can get. They award the user with badges which show up next to their names in chat streams. And, like the others, they give access to personal interaction with the Twitch Streamer. 

The companies like these subscription methods because it keeps a portion of the money in their pockets: Patreon, YouTube and Twitch all take a percentage of the monthly subscription revenue. 

Affiliate Links

This might be something that you haven’t thought of before, but affiliate links are another great passive way to add to your income. What an affiliate link is is when you link to a store on your site or channel, and then that store gives you a kickback if someone uses that link to purchase something on their site. 

The biggest player in affiliate links is Amazon. By signing up with the Amazon Associates plan (which you can do no matter how big or small your following is–a big perk) you will get a special bit of cod that you can use when you link to products on YouTube’s site. If someone follows that link and buys the product (or, actually, if they follow that link, browse YouTube and buy any one of millions of products you didn’t even recommend) you get a small percentage of the purchase price. 

Affiliate links are good for consumers because they cost the consumer nothing–the product isn’t any more expensive for them–and they’re good for you because you put very little effort into posting the link. 

Affiliate links are common on a lot of different content creators’ channels: fashion bloggers link to specific clothes; tech bloggers link to products they’re reviewing; hobby bloggers link to the hobby products that they used to create their latest work of art.

Although any company can create an affiliate program (and many do) Amazon is the biggest and available to any content creator to sign up for with ease.

Donations and Tips

We told you we’d talk about Patreon again, and here it is: a lot of content creators have a certain tier of their Patreon page that is just for supporters of the channel: people who like what you do and want to send you one or two dollars a month. That may not sound like much, but if you’ve got tens of thousands of followers and even a small percentage of them decide to send you $1-2 a month, that’s good money. (Patreon allows patrons to sign up for any dollar amount they want–patrons don’t have to use your tier system. Some people just want to be kind and donate.)

Another app that is big in this space is Buy Me A Coffee. This app, as the name suggests, is a virtual tip jar where readers and viewers can go to give a one-time donation, usually a set amount of three or four dollars–to buy the content creator a cup of coffee. This is an extremely useful tool if you don’t have a large following (no one wants to be a monthly subscriber) but you have several pieces of content that are performing very well. If you have a YouTube channel where most of your videos get fewer than a thousand views, but one of them blows up and is getting tens of thousands, you can add a note that says “Thanks for stopping by. If you like what you’ve seen consider buying me a coffee.”

Sales and Merchandising

Merchandise can be a big contributor to a content creator’s income. The content creator can have a logo that they put on a sticker or a shirt or a bookplate or a hat or any number of other things. With websites like TeeSpring this can be done for free (you don’t have to buy any inventory beforehand–it’s print-on-demand), or you can go with other merchandisers and run the inventory and shipping yourself. Often content creators who are making enough money to hire assistants will have a system in place where the assistant handles all the packing and shipping of merchandise.

But sales doesn’t stop there. Are you a content creator with a very specific set of skills? Sell your knowledge. Either through a special series of videos that can be purchased, or even a one-on-one consultancy. Many authors–content creators–sell their books as their day job and editing services as their night job. Remember that as a content creator you are trying to corner a market–you’re trying to be an expert in that one corner of the internet–so make the most of your knowledge and monetize it. 

And we mentioned authors: if you’re an expert on a subject, consider publishing a book on the topic. If you’re a blogger, consolidate your best blogs into a book. Self publishing (or indie publishing, as it’s now known) is a booming industry and if you already have a built in fan base of followers, publishing a book of your expert knowledge can be a great bonus way to make additional money. 

Whatever you do, don’t think that you can’t sell something. If you’re an expert, if there’s a reason that people are seeking out your content, then capitalize on that expertise.

How Much Money Can A Content Creator Make?

Now this is a hard thing to pin down, because the amount of money can go from absolute zero to millionaire celebrity influencers. And one of the hard things to gauge is how much money certain things actually bring in, because a given ad for one channel might pay a tenth of the amount that same ad would pay on another channel: this is because of AdSense’s algorithm. If AdSense (and other advertising platforms) know that a certain channel attracts a viewer that makes more money (and Google does know this–they’re always collecting data) then that channel will get higher CPCs and CPMs.

That said, here’s what we know. 

YouTubers earn an average of $18 per 1000 ad views, which works out to about $3-5 per 1000 video views. If you have a brand new channel, you’re not going to be making much. But if you’re consistently churning out content that gets views and get a moderate following, you can be earning in the thousands per month. Just remember that for every mega millionaire PewDieDie there are hundreds of thousands making less than $500 a month. 

For Patreon, they estimate that the average patron pays $7. So if you can get a hundred patrons, that’s $700. Of course, you’ve got to be turning out good content to get that many patrons, but there are people who are earning more than $50,000 a month on Patreon alone. Have a good product and people will pay for it.

When it comes to influencers, there’s big money to be had. According to a 2018 article in Vox, influencers with a million followers can get up to $10,000 per post, depending on the platform–and in some cases can make as much as $250,000 per post. That said, the Vox report says that people with smaller followings (who it describes as nanoinfluencers) can make between $30,000 and $60,000 per year. 

Of course not every content creator is going to make that kind of money. A 2016 study showed that of the 7 million bloggers in the world, 63% made less than $3.50 per day and 10% made nothing. Only 8% said they made enough money to support a family. 

So how much money do content creators make? It all depends on what kind of content you’re creating and how big your reach is. The more followers you have, the more money you’ll generate.

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