As YouTubers, we’re not as much in the video business as we’re in the attention business. We use our video-making skills to capture attention, then we sell it to advertisers or trade it with other YouTubers in collaborations. Viewed this way, attention is a kind of commodity.
However, unlike traditional commodities like gold or oil, attention can be shared. If I have a gold bar, and I sell it to you, you now have the gold and I have the cash. But on YouTube, I can sell the attention I gather while still also keeping it on myself.
Let’s say you want to pay me to promote your lemonade stand on my YouTube channel. Doing so directs the attention on my channel to your business. But it’s still my channel, and it might even be my face and voice, so the attention is still on me.
It doesn’t end there. YouTube also shares that attention. Do they have more of a claim over the attention than I do? Who gets to decide what to do with that attention? If it’s sold, who gets to set the price?
Regardless of who owns the attention, YouTube’s terms of service give creators a great deal of agency over what they do with it. They want to sell it, but you can sell it, too. Or you can give it away. Or you can try to take it away from YouTube entirely and move it onto another platform.
Outside of monetization, it’s interesting to think about other uses for the attention your YouTube channel acquires. You can direct the attention to other platforms where it’s eventually monetizied, or to charity organizations or up-and-coming YouTubers. Spreading awareness about an important issue is another great use of this attention, one that could have lasting societal benefits.
Then there’s the fact that lots of people just plain enjoy receiving attention. As a YouTuber, there’s a good chance you’re one of them. Countless YouTubers publish content for years without ever earning a profit. Of course, many of them hope to turn that around someday but others just love having people watch their content.
It’s important to occasionally take a step back and think about how the attention you generate can offer value beyond selling it as a commodity. The next step isn’t always to monetize. Instead, you can choose to share the wealth.