YouTube offers its stars the option to sell subscriptions

YouTube has stripped advertising from many channels to placate companies whose ads ran in front of videos deemed inappropriate.
(Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

YouTube is doing more to keep its brightest stars happy.

The online video site is adding a feature that will enable content creators with more than 100,000 free subscribers to sell paid memberships to their fans, the company said Thursday. Loyal viewers will be able to pay a monthly fee for perks like custom emojis, exclusive content and merchandise.

Owners of popular YouTube channels like Phil DeFranco and Casey Neistat have long clamored for more ways to make money other than advertising, and the complaints have grown louder over the last year. Many channels have suffered steep declines in ad sales as YouTube — an arm of Alphabet Inc.’s Google — tinkers with which videos are eligible for publicity. YouTube has stripped advertising from many channels to placate companies whose ads ran in front of videos deemed inappropriate.

Disenchanted YouTube stars have turned to services such as Patreon for help collecting money directly from fans. Others have flirted with rivals Facebook Inc. and with Inc.’s Twitch. Many of Twitch’s most popular users already make more money from selling subscriptions than advertising.


YouTube executives have downplayed the threat from rivals, citing statistics about the growing number of people who make a living on their site. Over the past year, the number of creators earning five figures a year has increased more than 35% and the number of channels earning six figures is up more than 40%, the company said in April.

The paid-subscription feature will be one of a few new ways YouTube will enable creators to make money from a site that has long focused on advertising.

“This is a means to diversify that revenue picture,” Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan said in an interview Thursday at VidCon, an annual convention for online video, held in Anaheim. “It’s something creators have been asking for. We’ve built products hand-in-hand with them.” Mohan also announced YouTube creators would be able sell merchandise from their channel page (they already can sell event tickets this way).

Paid subscriptions also advance the goals of YouTube’s parent company Alphabet, which is trying to diversify revenue. The company is selling phones, home speakers and cloud software. YouTube just introduced a new paid music service, and it also sells a live TV service.

The paid-subscription feature is already available to some channels devoted to video games. It soon will be available to thousands of other channels.

The announcement came the day after Facebook Inc.’s Instagram unveiled a new video service, seen as a bid to grab viewers and content creators from YouTube.