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How do YouTubers Get Paid if YouTube is Free?

Great question! As a fellow gaming and streaming enthusiast, I used to wonder the same thing. The short answer is – through ads. But there are actually many different ways YouTubers can earn money, even though we viewers don‘t pay a cent to watch their videos. Let me walk you through the main options:

Advertising Revenue

The number one source of income for most YouTubers is advertising revenue. This works through YouTube‘s Partner Program, which allows channels to monetize their content through ads.

To qualify, YouTubers need:

  • At least 1,000 subscribers
  • 4,000 public watch hours in the past 12 months

Once accepted into the program, creators can toggle monetization on their videos. When ads play on those videos, advertisers pay YouTube, and YouTube shares a cut with the video creator.

According to YouTube, they pay millions of dollars each month to creators through ad revenue sharing. The more views and watch time a channel generates, the more money they stand to make.

There are a few common ad formats YouTubers can enable:

Display Ads – These appear beside the video player as rectangles or banners. YouTubers make money when viewers watch the full ad or click on it.

Overlay Ads – These are semi-transparent small ads that play at the bottom of the video. Creators only earn money if viewers click to expand the overlay.

Skippable Video Ads – These 5-30 second video ads play before the main video, but viewers can skip them after 5 seconds. YouTubers get paid as long as the viewer watches at least 30 seconds or engages with the ad before skipping.

Non-Skippable Video Ads – Viewers can‘t skip these 15-20 second ads. They play before the video and the YouTuber earns money every time one is shown.

According to data from CreatorInsider, the average YouTuber makes between $3-$5 per 1,000 video views. Of course, rates vary widely depending on factors like:

  • Video length – longer videos can fit more ads
  • Viewer demographics – advertisers pay more to reach certain ages
  • Seasonality – demand fluctuates throughout the year

Top creators optimize their content to maximize advertising income. But most YouTubers make the bulk of their earnings through a combination of monetization options.

YouTube Super Chat

During live streams, fans can pay to highlight their comments using Super Chat. Viewers spend anywhere from $1 to $500 to pin their messages at the top of the chat feed.

YouTube takes 30% of Super Chat revenue and creators get the remaining 70%. The feature has become an important income stream for gamers, vloggers, and creators who do live Q&A‘s.

Fans will often pay to ask pressing questions or share words of support. When they know their chat will stand out, they are willing to pay up!

Some YouTubers hold special "super chat only" live streams as well, where they promise to answer every paid question. Besides the revenue, it helps build a closer connection with viewers.

Channel Memberships

With channel memberships, fans can pay a monthly fee of $4.99 to get special perks from their favorite YouTubers. These perks may include:

  • Custom emoji packs to use in comments
  • Exclusive videos and livestreams
  • Members-only community tab posts
  • Membership badge displayed in comments
  • Shout-outs from the YouTuber

Creators get to keep 70% of membership proceeds after YouTube‘s standard 30% platform fee. Memberships provide a predictable, recurring revenue stream from a YouTuber‘s most engaged fans.

Gaming channels will sometimes offer members access to play matches with the YouTuber. And reviewers may give paying members exclusive sneak peaks at upcoming reviews.

Selling Merchandise

Merch gives fans a tangible way to support their favorite YouTubers. Top creators design T-shirts, hoodies, mugs, phone cases and other items to sell to their audience.

YouTubers partner with vendors to handle manufacturing and order fulfillment. When fans place orders, the YouTuber earns a royalty on each sale.

The most successful merchandise features signature sayings, inside jokes or characters from the channel. Items promote a sense of community between creators and their loyal viewers.

According to a report by Makerly, YouTubers earn 20-50% royalties on merchandise. Top creators make anywhere from $5k-$50k per month on merch alone!

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate programs allow YouTubers to earn commissions by promoting products and services.

When viewers click the YouTuber‘s affiliate link to make a purchase, they get a small percentage of that sale as a commission. Rates range from 1-20% depending on the retailer.

Review channels naturally make affiliate income by recommending the products they feature. For example:

  • A tech YouTuber can link to cameras they review on Amazon
  • A gaming channel can promote a gaming chair brand with an affiliate code
  • A fashion vlogger can link to makeup/clothes featured in hauls

Under FTC rules, YouTubers must disclose when affiliate links are used. But affiliate marketing provides a nice revenue boost at no extra cost to the viewer.

Paid Sponsorships

Lucrative brand sponsorships allow YouTubers to collaborate with advertisers. Companies will pay popular channels big bucks to:

  • Mention or feature their product in a video
  • Create co-branded content
  • Promote sponsored giveaways/contests
  • Post ads the YouTuber stars in

Rates vary greatly, but according to Mediakix, top YouTubers can charge over $100,000 for a single dedicated sponsored video. The most popular creators work with their managers to secure six and seven-figure sponsorship deals.

But even smaller channels with engaged niche audiences can earn hundreds or thousands per sponsored post. Over time, sponsorships often become a reliable income source.

Fan Funding

YouTubers also generate supplemental "fan funding" through crowdfunding campaigns, tips, and donations.

Streamers focused on gaming or live events rely on supportive viewers to send voluntary tips and donations. Special third-party apps like StreamLabs let fans tip with cheers, stickers, and custom comments.

And crowdfunding on sites like Patreon or GoFundMe allows YouTubers to raise money for special projects, trips, or causes. Fans "pledge" monthly donations to join a channel‘s patron community and access exclusive content and perks.

While fan funding is a smaller portion of revenue for most, every bit helps YouTubers earn and diversify their income. Top creators make an effort to thank big tippers and donors to show appreciation.

So in summary, YouTubers have numerous options to get paid, even though YouTube doesn‘t charge us viewers a dime. Clever creators combine multiple monetization models to earn a living doing what they love! It takes work, but where there‘s a will (and quality content), there‘s a way.