How YouTubers Make Money

As a YouTube creator, when thinking about YouTube and the future of the platform, there is always the question about the sustainability of a career on YouTube. Everyone wants to know how it is that YouTubers make money, especially enough money to work on the platform full time. The answer involves growing an audience and leveraging multiple revenue streams. This is easier said than done in the continually evolving competition for people’s attention, but many YouTubers have found formulas that work for them.

As more brands turn to the platform, the YouTube ecosystem will grow and thrive for both brands and YouTubers.

People always ask about how much money can actually be made on YouTube as a full-time talent. By way of example, look at Olga Kay, one of YouTube’s oldest and most prolific stars, who takes in between $100,000 – $130,000 a year from all of her revenue streams across multiple channels, by making about 10-20 videos a week with the help of an editor. Her main channel has around 750,000 subscribers, and much of what she brings in financially is invested into sustaining and improving her business.

Below are six major revenue streams for YouTubers, and they use one, some, or all of these tactics to keep their careers afloat.

AdSense/Advertisements on The Channel

YouTube splits advertising revenue with the channel, taking 45% of that, but the other 55% goes to the YouTuber.  If a channel works with an MCN, then that MCN takes a percentage of the 55% left over. What is left after that goes to the Channel. How much money made here is determined by the CPM of ad formats and how many monetize-able views the video gets. How high a CPM can get is contingent on the kind of content a channel makes, retention rate, location of the YouTuber, location of the viewers, if audiences are watching on desktop or mobile, and many other factors.

YouTube Ad Performance Report
This is a sample Ad Performance Report that Google uses as a teaching tool.

Branded Deals

These are brand deals like integrations and sponsorships, and working with a brand off of YouTube. The terms of these deals can be raised CPMs, a single sum, or any other arrangement made between the brand and the channel. Olga Kay charges a $75 CPM for product mentions in her videos. YouTube recommends that depending on the brand deal, Channels charge $75-$100 CPMs.

The Ford Fiesta Movement lent Olga Kay a Ford Fiesta while she was with that program and paid for the car’s expenses:


Since the beginning of the partner program, channels have been selling t-shirts and merchandise to subsidize their careers as YouTubers. The Vlogbrothers started selling t-shirts fairly early on in their YouTube careers. Jenna Marbles, an unsigned YouTuber has a pair of plush dogs available for purchase that are modeled after her actual dogs. Michelle Phan has her own makeup line, and Bethany Mota did a collection of clothes for Aeropostale.

Olga Kay has her own line of socks called Moosh Walks.

Olga Kay Moosh Walks

Owned and Operated Platforms

This is one route that YouTubers like Smosh or Olga Kay tend to explore successfully. YouTube drives traffic to their owned and operated web site, which gets  a much higher CPM than YouTube will give them. Smosh, in addition to their website, also has a print magazine available in places like Barnes and Noble, which is ultimately an owned and operated source of income for them.

Olga Kay
This is Olga Kay’s owned and operated web site.

Affiliate Programs

GlamLifeGuru Luvocracy
Affiliate programs are essentially turning YouTubers that already talk about products into commissioned salespeople. A case study on Sigma’s use of an affiliate program can be found here.

Amazon has a prolific affiliate program. The Amazon affiliate program gives the person sharing a link a commission not only if the item linked is purchased, but also any purchases made on Amazon during that session after having clicked the affiliate link.

Subblime is a platform designed specifically for YouTubers to share their favorite things and get commissioned on their sales. Luvocracy is a platform that many Beauty Gurus use, similar to Pinterest, to post the items they mention in videos, and if someone purchases an item from Luvocracy, the poster gets a commission.

Crowdfunding and Patronage

subbable logo
These can be anywhere from grants, to Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, Patreon, or Subbable. Subbable is a platform built by the Vlogbrothers to facilitate regular donations for the creation of serialized programming. They use this to continue funding their educational programs on YouTube, namely Crash Course and SciShow, along with the serialized content of other YouTubers.


Get future posts delivered to your inbox

  • Matias Gonua

    good article