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Authors Can Learn a Lesson from the YouTubers Who Keep Imploding

Inspired by the recent self-destruction of Youtuber PewDiePie, Polygon published a long editorial yesterday which looked at why Youtube stars keep imploding.

According to the insider who wrote the piece, many of the fallen suffered from two common problems – problems which I think authors could learn from.

The first is that the pro Youtubers have to maintain a grueling daily schedule of shooting and uploading videos in order to not just keep their audience’s attention but also to keep being punished by Youtube’s algorithms.

For example: “subscriber burn,” which is a nefarious little side effect of not uploading a new video for a couple of weeks. The term was popularized by the Game Theory channel in 2014; your subscribers stop getting notified of your videos if they stop watching or you stop uploading. Going on vacation? Let’s hope you got a backlog, because you’ll see a big drop in views if you take a week or two off. And they might not come back.

Most uploaders begin to believe they have to flood the site with videos for a chance one goes viral or to reach subscribers who aren’t notified or to make up for losing them. And the numbers do go up when you start to do that, leaving many to believe it’s the only reliable way to keep relevant.

You need ad revenue if you want to make a living talking over video games, which means views and that means uploads. Or at the very least, you need brand deals which means you need clout, which means you need subscribers, which means views, which again means uploads. Most pros create at least one video a day, and it’s a punishing schedule. Some create as many as three videos a day.

Speaking from personal experience, I fully understand that need to get the content out today. It pushes us to go for "good enough" rather than the best work we can do.

And it’s worse for pro Youtubers, who are under more pressure than news bloggers such as myself.  They have to produce content on a daily basis, and what’s even worse is that they have to be photogenic, articulate, personable, and even worse – funny.

That might not sound like a difficult job; after all, it’s what stand up comedians do, but Youtubers don’t have the time to devote to perfecting each joke.

There’s an apparent double standard, right? Comedians tell AIDS jokes, Holocaust jokes, 9/11 jokes and much more. When a popular YouTuber does it, it’s suddenly being reported by the media (and, cough, other YouTubers). Didn’t George Carlin once say no topic is off limits?

Yeah. But like most comedians, he also spent a lot of his time writing those jokes, refining them, trying them in smaller clubs before his big venues, commiserating with his peers, etc. A “secret” of successful comedians is you don’t just spit out jokes that come to you. You develop bits, callbacks, sets, etc. There are legit reasons that Louis CK, Sarah Silverman, and Jim Jefferies get away with questionable jokes and JohnnySephiroth315 doesn’t.

So when PewDiePie tells a joke that goes wrong like using an Israeli company (Fiverr) to promote anti-semitism, it’s not that he is an ass so much as there is a fundamental flaw in the process he uses to produce his videos – he has no easy way to beta-test his work:

You can actually imagine, if you like, PewDiePie doing a stand-up set and having comedian friends tell him at the bar that “man, you’ve been leaning on the Nazi stuff a bit lately.” Or an audience groaning at a smaller venue, which signals to him it’s time to do a rewrite. That’s why there are workshops, writing sessions and smaller venues and drinks with fellow comedians. You have to fail often when the stakes are low to learn how to get the big wins. It’s a process.

And like many Youtubers, PewDiePie has no opportunity to make small mistakes.

That is not to excuse his mistakes, however; my point is that PewDiePie’s failure wasn’t the specific videos but more general; it was the process he used to make the videos.

The general problem is that many Youtubers don’t have a source of feedback which could help catch horrendously bad ideas before he uploads a video.

Which brings me to the second problem shared by many Youtubers.

Like bloggers, the pro Youtubers will often partner with agencies which sell ads and line up brand partnerships. Those agencies are called "Multi-Channel Networks", and according to the insider these agencies are strictly sales agents who do not fill the roles of business managers, image consults, producers, PR flacks, etc.

My MCN is typically pretty nice and in touch, but I’m not managed and if I decide to do an interview — or write this article — a PR person won’t notice or care. I’m completely on my own when it comes to thinking about how my audience views me, for better or worse. I don’t have a manager to call for advice, guidance or media training.

Surprisingly, this is also true of some of the biggest names in the business. I don’t want to make it sound like MCNs do nothing, they are valuable business partners that make it easier to pay the bills, but they definitely don’t curate your content. They don’t tell their big talent to “lay off the political posting,” or “dial it back on the hard stuff for a bit.” It’s all business, no grooming or advice.

I don’t think this is due to apathy or greed. I’m not sure they know how to handle these things either.

There are two lessons to be learned from this.

The first is that authors need to pay as much attention to their process as to their content; it’s not just about publishing a book as it is about the steps authors go through.

How many editors are involved? What about beta readers?  Has anyone gotten a second opinion on the cover?

The second lesson to be learned is that authors need a safety net. The need to surround themselves with people who can catch mistakes before they blow up into huge public fiascos.

Luckily, most authors already have that safety net in the form of writing critique groups, beta readers, online forums like Absolute Write, and local writing clubs.

So authors have all sorts of ways to avoid blowing up their career – if they remember to take advantage of them.

image by iamchad


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Mackay Bell February 22, 2017 um 3:29 pm

PewDiePie made a joke. It wasn’t funny. He was trying to be edgy and outrageous and it didn’t work. However, I doubt any of his long term fans blinked at it, and many (including Jewish friends) have rushed to defend him once he was attacked.

The problem (for him) is not that he lost any of his audience, but that there is a permanent class of of pearl clutching social monitors searching for outrage on the internet and trying to create hysteria anytime they see anything offensive. Or, perhaps, anything they know they can successful label as offensive.

The other problem (for him) is that he was aligned with a big corporation (Disney) that (reasonably) cared more about it’s family friendly image than trying to waste any time defending him (for a dumb joke). There is also a danger that You Tube, also owned by a huge corporation, might buckle to organized "outrage" and find ways to punish him. (Limiting his ad revenue or censoring him all together.)

Yes, I suppose one way for entertainers to deal with this active online outrage committee is to just create bigger and bigger self-censorship layers on yourself so you keep up with all the current topics that are now taboo and make sure you don’t offend anyone, even accidentally. Perhaps you can make a living selling white bread content. Certainly the big corporations would prefer that.

However, it’s more likely that water downed humor won’t be of much interest and you’ll doom yourself to obscurity. I personally think the cultural landscape is changing, and the ability to go around censors and over the top outrage makes it worth it in the long run trying to be edgy so you stand out. And there is no doubt controversy can actually build audience.

I also think that big corporations, like You Tube and Amazon run the danger if they fall into the outrage/censorship game and keep lowering the bar to what material is acceptable. Twitter is already struggling because it’s perceived as being against free speech. New platforms are emerging that will be open to outrageous humor in order to stand out.

I’m curious to see what PewDiePie does next. He has a big enough audience he could take many of them somewhere else if You Tube tries to punish him. Disney, however, probably made the right call. They never should have even go into the low budget daily video business.

In terms of my own creative work self-publishing, I strive to be funny and edgy. My “sensitivity readers” call me out when my jokes aren’t funny, not because they might offend someone. They are offended by boring stuff that doesn’t try to push the envelope. I’m well aware I run a huge risk of someone attacking some of the stuff I wrote in my novel, but I would expect the controversy to actually help my sales. That being said, I’m sure Disney isn’t going to produce any of my stories. I’m okay with that.

Will Entrekin February 22, 2017 um 6:29 pm

The problem for him is that he’s not actually either funny or talented. There was another great article on Polygon not long before the one to which Nate linked:

Over the past few days, you’ve made the point that you’re fine with casual anti-Semitism both repeatedly and well, Mackay.

Mackay Bell February 23, 2017 um 1:21 am

Very ugly, Will. Very, very ugly. This is what happens when people start tossing around labels. Eventually, everyone will be labeled. Congrats, I learned something about daring to speak up.

Here’s a link for anyone interested in who is behind both the Pewdiepie and Milo attacks and what their purpose might be. (Little long, but if you’re curious about some of the background details.)

And here is Pewdiepie responding very well in his own words. He’s got 14 million views on this. These kind of attacks, clearly motivated by outside politics that have little to do with him or what he said, are so destructive. But they are 1990’s style political smear techniques. They don’t work anymore when someone, like Pewdiepie, can directly address his fans in his own words.

Mackay Bell February 23, 2017 um 2:04 am

Sorry about the double link. Here’s the Pewdiepie response:

Kariss February 23, 2017 um 4:57 am

He is not imploding, he is bigger then ever. He’s always had a similar sense of humour so it was strange he was picked up by Disney in the first place, he’ll just move on to somone else, whose going to turn down the biggest star on Youtube.

Mackay Bell February 23, 2017 um 2:48 pm

Here is a link to Pewdiepie’s Jewish friend defending him:

Pretty much sums it all up. Can a few YouTubers with video cameras in their basements defeat 20 mainstream media outlets with massive resources once they’ve decided to destroy someone? We shall see.

Nate Hoffelder February 23, 2017 um 7:04 pm

That as the title in the original article. I was just repeating it for effect.

Anon February 25, 2017 um 3:18 am

Here’s another link for anyone who is interested in getting a different view of the situation

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