YouTube has announced new features at its VidCon conference today that give creators additional ways to earn money on the platform. Most notably, YouTube is expanding a program over the next few weeks that lets creators and channel owners start their own fan clubs, where membership costs $4.99 to join and fans can pay for additional perks and exclusive content, similar to how Patreon and Twitch function. The feature was previously restricted only to YouTube Gaming channels.
There are also additional integrations for YouTube videos going forward. For instance, a blogger making a Nike branded video can now display Nike products on a “shelf” below their video. YouTubers will also be able to design their own merchandise through Teespring and sell it on a shelf under their videos.
While none of the changes reverse the subscriber count and watch time requirements YouTube introduced back in January, they do provide established creators more revenue streams. The goal is to help channel owners diversify how they make money in ways similar to artists on Patreon and influencers on Instagram. With the announcement, YouTube is rebranding the feature, previously called Subscriptions, to Channel Memberships. The only requirement now is that channel owners have at least 100,000 subscribers.
“We’re giving creators tools. With Channel Memberships, the creator then takes the product and names it what they want and customizes it,” Rohit Dhawan, who led this subscription project at YouTube, tells The Verge. For example, travel and food YouTubers Simon and Martina Stawski, who were beta testers of the Sponsorships feature, named their fan club the “Rainbow Ladder Support Team,” to represent inclusivity and building a ladder out of obstacles.
Martina designed a badge with a rainbow ladder that could also resemble a DNA helix. Compared to all the other perks the two prepared, choosing the badge was the most time-consuming, because as it is now, you’re not allowed to change the badge once it’s uploaded.
In an interview, Martina describes how she came upon the perfect idea. First, she thought of a piece of nigiri sushi to represent how the couple moved from Bucheon, South Korea to Tokyo, Japan in 2015 and changed their channel name from EatYourKimchi to EatYourSushi. (The channel is now simply called Simon and Martina.) “But then I felt, ‘What if we moved again?’ So instead, we went for the rainbow ladder. It means everybody is welcome. It could represent people, or DNA, or any [sexual] orientation you want.”
The other perks Simon and Martina offered up to members of the Rainbow Ladder Support Team were less time-consuming and were actually easy to incorporate into their weekly production schedule. They have a lot of archival video to work off of, and were also able to revive old segments they had retired, like the EatYourSushi videos that were fan favorites in the past.
Martina estimates that editing the Rainbow Ladder Support video that they send out every month takes about two hours. They include old footage from when they lived in South Korea, behind-the-scenes footage, and new footage that they weren’t able to fit into their regular videos. They also send out a newsletter twice a month to members, which takes about an hour to put together. “We have a little haiku that goes in the postcard, as well,” says Simon. “It’s super corny and we love it.”
So far, Simon and Martina have kept discussion of the memberships reserved to their live streams, where they’ve designed over 15 custom emoji for use in the chat. “If you watch our channel, we don’t want to talk about it a lot, because I still feel like we don’t want to tell people every week, ‘Hey, did you know we got sponsorships?’” says Martina. Mentioning it more often may net more sponsors, but the duo have shied away from aggressive self-promotion.
“We agree to this model because it feels like, for our audience, if they want to be able to show support or their thanks, they can. They can’t out-buy our love, they can’t outbid our attention from other people,” says Simon. “This is just a small way they can show their support, without getting something that’s completely different that the rest of our audience doesn’t get.”
Amy Shira Teitel, who runs the space history channel Vintage Space, has tailored her membership perks more readily to her needs. One such perk provides exclusive access to her chat during live streams, which gives Teitel more robust moderation tools. Although she hasn’t begun to provide the perk yet, she envisions it will be a way to filter out hateful language in the live stream chat.
“If someone’s going to pay $4.99 to be a member, they’re not going to pay $4.99 a month to call me — and please excuse my language — ‘a dumb lying cunt’,” Teitel says. “And if they do want to pay $5 a month to call me a dumb lying cunt, then fine. Because I have your money. The idea is to stop the rage-y hate on the internet.”
Teitel agrees with Simon and Martina that providing all the different perks listed on Patreon can be exhausting for creators. But Amy points out that not everyone can pay $5 a month. Some can only afford a dollar, and others would love to donate a lot more. That’s one of the ways that Patreon still suceeds over something like YouTube’s new Channel Memberships, which is feedback Teitel has provided to YouTube. “From a monetary perspective, I don’t want people to leave Patreon for YouTube if they’re going to go from being a $20 to a $5 sponsor,” Teitel explains.
YouTube says it will expand tiers beyond the $4.99 flat fee, to perhaps include a $1 tier and a $20 tier. The $20 tier could come with a reward like a personal phone call, while the $1 tier would be digital membership into the club, but no additional perks. The details have not been worked out yet.
Teitel also got to test out the merchandise integration with Teespring, selling T-shirts and mugs with several designs. The merchandise tool lets you display customized goods under a video, and creators with at least 10,000 subscribers can use the feature and create up to 20 items. Creators with 100,000 or more subscribers can specifically work with Teespring on designs. She found that few people purchased the items and that the website wouldn’t tell her what specific pieces sold, but only gave her a total amount earned. “But what I loved about it was that I didn’t have to deal with merchandise,” Teitel says. (The merchandise tool is live today.)
That’s the common refrain for a lot of these new YouTube features — they’re mostly convenient. They provide Patreon- and Twitch-like features like emojis and exclusive chat access, and even Instagram-like merchandizing features, all on a single platform. “YouTube Sponsorships keep you on the page,” says Teitel. “It’s keeping you in the ecosystem, as opposed to a Patreon link in the description box, which leads you to another page and becomes a little complicated.”
But the question remains whether convenience is enough to convince people to take their money off platforms like Patreon and Twitch and move them to YouTube subscriptions, or to share the wealth between multiple platforms. On YouTube, video output is often inconsistent between channels and may rely on a blend of live streamed and pre-recorded content, which could complicate how viewers respond to a one-size-fits-all monthly fee. Going forward, it seems like YouTube will have to diversify the feature further if it wants to stay competitive, especially as other platforms grow more appealing to creators with specific needs.