YouTube burnout is real. Creators are struggling to cope
At one point, she was uploading videos five times per week while maintaining her day job as a therapist. When balancing the two became too tiring, the 36-year-old quit her job to focus on YouTube full time (though she still has a small private practice). That helped for awhile, but then the exhaustion came back. She felt irritable, tearful and on edge — all of which she realized were signs she wasn’t taking care of herself.
In January 2018, she decided to take a one-month break from YouTube. She spent it at her mother’s house watching movies, relaxing and sleeping.
Last month, YouTube creator Alex Wassabi told his 11.5 million subscribers that he would take a week off. “Recently, I have not been happy. I’ve been sad, confused, flustered,” he said in a video. “But most of all, burnt out.” He now uploads two videos a week rather than three as he did before.
The dark side of the influencer economy
But there is a dark side: These creators face a constant pressure to put out an endless stream of content to satisfy their fans and, some fear, YouTube’s algorithms. It’s an issue that extends well beyond YouTube to the entire nascent world of the influencer economy.
“All I was doing was creating content. You get burnt out,” Collins, now 23, told CNN Business. “I had more money than I could spend — and I was super depressed. I had to quit everything and take a break for two years.”
Collins might sound like an extreme, but he’s not. “You can shoot a video in the morning and it could be posted that afternoon or even faster. So often times what [attracts] the audience for the creator is their pretty regular [pace] of putting content out there, so then that audience comes to expect that,” said Stu Smith, VP of talent at Fullscreen, an influencer marketing firm, which is owned by CNN’s parent company, WarnerMedia.
But he said maintaining that level of content for years can take a toll.
For YouTube creators, in particular, attempts to cope with the burden of a seemingly limitless demand for content can lead to a different kind of stress. YouTubers fear that not uploading videos consistently could disappoint their fans or potentially hurt their chances of being recommended by YouTube’s algorithm. Others feel the need to keep creating new content in order to, hopefully, earn more money.
“There is so much content out there and competition,” said Evan Asano, CEO of influencer marketing company Mediakix. “Everybody’s fear and anxiety is that they’re going to lose their fans, that taking a break means they could essentially go away as a YouTube star. People will forget about them.”
To take breaks or not to take breaks
“I’ve heard some creators say they feel like they can’t take a break from filming because they’re concerned their channel will suffer,” Wojcicki wrote in the letter. “If you need to take some time off, your fans will understand. After all, they tune into your channel because of you.”
Wojcicki also said YouTube’s product team looked over data from the last six years. Across “millions” of channels and “hundreds” of different time frames for breaks, the team found that on average, channels had more views when they returned than they had right before they left.
“YouTube is a treadmill,” McWhorter said. “If you stop for a second, you’re dead.”
Asano believes this problem puts YouTube in a “tricky” position. “At one point, YouTube did really push for frequency and length of content,” he said. “They don’t want to tell everyone to take a month break… but they also don’t want to be faulted for a huge amount of YouTube burnout.”
YouTube pushed back on fears that its algorithm punishes creators for not uploading as often.
“We want to reassure creators that our systems do not take upload frequency or past video performance into account when recommending new videos to users,” a YouTube spokesperson told CNN Business. “There is no pattern that leads to success on YouTube, but creating engaging content should always take priority over producing a certain volume of content.”
Indeed, some YouTubers said breaks didn’t cause their channel to suffer, including Morton, who has scaled back to uploading one video a week. There are even creators who appear to be thriving with this approach — at least creatively.
Wassabi told his fans that his new reduced upload schedule will allow him to create better videos. As a way to encourage fans to keep coming back to his channel, he said he may upload surprise videos sometimes on Fridays.
YouTubers use platform to broadcast their concerns about burnout
Experts in the influencer marketing space recommend that creators focus on higher-quality videos over quantity, establish set working hours for themselves, and schedule time off, even if it’s just a small break during the day.
But some YouTubers appear to believe part of the solution to dealing with burnout on the platform is more YouTube. Creators are now using the platform as a support group of sorts, McWhorter, for example, talks about mental health on his community chat tab. And YouTube as a company makes videos on the topic and offers courses on its “creator academy” website.
“You need to build trust with your audience and they need to know that they’re going to come every week and be able to see a video from you,” Mills said in the video. “Once you gain that community and that trust, then I think that’s when you’re able to be a little looser with your upload schedule.”
But even Mills said she tries not to take too much time away from YouTube.
“I try to refrain from taking too many breaks because then people are less forgiving,” she said. “Every once in a while, they’re like ‘OK we get it, it’s been a lot’ but if you keep on taking too many breaks, then I feel like the loyalty starts to fade.”
As for McWhorter, he stays on YouTube in part because he feels a responsibility to his audience. But he still struggles with being a YouTuber.
“I’m so sick of this career,” McWhorter said. “I would love to do literally anything else, but I’ve invested so much time and energy into this that it’s the only career path that I have any real skill in. I’d have to start all over again.”