We recently started running a poll in the sidebar of creatorhandbook.net. It asks the question: What is your biggest challenge as a creator? The responses have been varied. However, there is one challenge people have selected twice as frequently as any other response. And that’s making money.

YouTube creators make up the largest share of our readership. It comes as a surprise, then, that our readers are having trouble making money. After all, they make content for the platform with the most appealing direct monetization program of any video platform out there.

The reason creators think YouTube is the place to make money is clear. Top creators make tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars a month from YouTube advertising. Through the YouTube Partner Program, YouTube gives creators 55 percent of the ad revenue it collects from creators’ videos. It’s unusually generous. Instagram, TikTok and Twitter pay creators hardly anything.

For creators, making money isn’t the goal of using these other social media platforms. When someone decides to dedicate time to these platforms, they’re looking for something else: attention. That’s part of why these platforms have never offered a monetization program as robust as YouTube’s. As long as they can continue to deliver large and growing audiences, creators will publish content there without collecting checks.

But there’s another reason YouTube pays so much compared to the other apps. Making long-form YouTube videos is hard. If creators earned as much money per view on TikTok as they do on YouTube, why would they ever create content for YouTube again? A good TikTok video requires a fraction of the effort it takes to make a good YouTube video.

And so, sharing ad revenue is YouTube’s way of enticing creators to the platform, even though developing an audience takes so much more work. And for the top 1 percent of creators, it’s a good system. For everyone else, the promise of riches and financial independence by way of the YouTube Partner Program is a mirage. 

I’ve come to believe most creators are suffering from survivor bias. Users don’t typically see content from creators who’ve failed and given up. When making the decision to become a YouTuber, creators look only at successful channels; they use those channels’ subscriber and view count to make forecasts for their own channel. 

That’s a good way for creators to set themselves up for disappointment. The vast majority of creators will never have enough views to live off the ad revenue they get from YouTube. The unspoken truth is even most of the creators whose content we engage with every day can’t live off the ad revenue from YouTube. It’s reasonable to think that unrealistic income expectations are part of what’s driving YouTuber burnout for everyday creators.

Though, there’s good news. Creators who diversify their revenue sources can live off the income of YouTube channels with audiences many would consider small. These creators are making money with sponsorships, selling products, marketing professional services and guiding viewers to more profitable platforms.

The YouTube Partner Program is generous by any standard of today’s social media. But it’s simply not enough to make the average person financially independent. Creators looking to YouTube as the foundational platform on which they’ll start their careers need to be clear-eyed. They need a plan for making money in a variety of ways other than ad revenue from the YouTube Partner Program. YouTube’s ad-revenue split is simply an incentive to get your content onto their platform. It’s not a key to riches.