Polly Riggs 15th November 2017
We’ve all been there. You sit down, innocently, to watch that funny YouTube video your friend sent you last week, and suddenly three hours have passed, it’s dark outside and you’re watching animals dubbed with human voices dance to ‘90s rap songs.
If you can get past the cat videos, though, there’s some serious money to be made from YouTube, with the top 10 highest-grossing vloggers pulling in a collective $70.5m last year. Zoella, the high priestess of YouTube with 12 million subscribers, faced controversy this week after releasing her “rip off” £50 advent calendar, which featured only 12 windows, some of them containing things like a bag of confetti or a pen. Boots has announced it is now slashing the price to £25.
Zoella defended herself to fans, saying she doesn’t set the prices. But with clothing, makeup, mobile phone cases, stickers and a seemingly endless range of merchandise, it’s clear that the multi-millionaire celebrity, real name Zoe Elizabeth Sugg, is far from a stranger to monetising the Zoella brand.
In comparison, specialist racing YouTuber Jimmy Broadbent is small fry. But with nearly 45,000 subscribers, and almost 800 videos, he’s a full-time vlogger, whose online following continues to grow rapidly.
Catching up with Broadbent, he is much the same as the floppy-haired, slightly awkward guy you see on screen. He visibly grows in confidence when talking about his work – it’s clear this is a guy who loves what he does. He says he put his first video out in 2012 and has built his channel over the last five years.
“It was super basic, and I wasn’t actually in it. It was just some footage of me playing the game, so I wasn’t too nervous at that point. The main reason I made it was just to try and get my friends interested in the game,” he says.
“Putting out my first video with commentary over it was pretty nerve-wracking though. I’ve got a lisp so I was worried people would pick up on that, but it doesn’t come up too often!”
Like most YouTubers, Broadbent started off making videos for fun, messing about and documenting his hobby.
He says the “pinch me” moment came when he realised he was making the same amount of money as he would in a conventional job.
“I’d pretty much lost hope of being able to hold down a ‘typical’ job, so finding something that I can make an income from but that still works for me was pretty emotional.”
Many assume that vloggers and other internet stars make their money solely through advertising.
“It’s actually from three different sources”, explains Broadbent. “There is the ad revenue, from adverts placed either before the videos or during live streams, but I also make money from donations and sponsorship.
“Donations are pretty much completely random. Some nights you’ll make £50, some nights I’ve come away with close to £2,000. Sponsorship is a bit more stable, that’s when a company agree to pay a fixed fee per month in exchange for certain perks or features during live streams.”
So, just how much money are we talking?
“Monthly income is so hard to pinpoint, because it’s not fixed. I can safely say that, before donations, I make about £600 a month. Then adding in donations, it’s usually around £2,000.”
Not quite the millions of the top YouTube stars, but not half bad. The idea of viewers donating money adds a different dynamic to the relationship between Broadbent and his audience, and he feels it’s important to maintain a good relationship with his fanbase.
“I like to think that I don’t put myself up on a pedestal like other creators. I have a chat server that exists solely so people can get in touch with me. I try and answer every message I get, be it personal or professional. I figure that if they took the time to write it, I should take the time to reply.
“I try to be as honest as I can with people, as it’s what I would want in return. I’m pretty open about my mental illness and my everyday life. People seem to appreciate that.”
I really struggle with mental illness, so making videos really helps to provide me an outlet
He says he never made the active choice to try and make a career out of YouTubing. “Around November last year I decided I would try to upload something everyday. I really struggle with mental illness, so making videos really helps to provide me an outlet, and it makes me feel more productive.”
Broadbent says he has had a tough time, battling depression and anxiety, which means he can struggle with everyday life and takes medication. He’s spoken in the past about experiencing self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
So often the internet is depicted as a hotbed for abuse, with social media “trolls” who are almost an accepted part of modern life. For somebody struggling already with mental health, this could be difficult to deal with.
“The internet can be a horrible place. I think that’s something that comes with the power of anonymity – people think they can say whatever they like,” Broadbent says.
“There are people who abuse this, or try to upset me just for the sake of it. Those people I just block from commenting or interacting with the live stream.”
It might seem like the dream job – earning a living in your pyjamas, from your bedroom, doing something you love, but it’s not necessarily easy, he says.
“I don’t struggle with confidence really. I think the ‘streamer/vlogger Jimmy’ is like an alter-ego, and some days I’m just not able to tap into that, so I can’t make content. On those days I just try to do behind the scenes work, but that can be fairly limiting.”
Broadbent has seemed unfazed throughout our conversation, leaning back in his chair and speaking confidently about something he’s clearly passionate about. When asked about the future, though, Broadbent falters.
“I rarely think about the future,” he says. “I just want my channel to continue to be a place where people can forget their everyday lives, and unite over a shared interest.”
In a sense, that seems the crux of his success. While the racing content is pretty niche, Broadbent, like so many others, has created a community space where people feel welcomed, accepted and liked.
The ability to do that is often underestimated and it might go some way to explaining the six-figure salaries of the very best.
Polly Riggs 15th November 2017