Near the tail end of 2018, I shared some of my thoughts on the upkeep of a YouTube channel and whether I should continue my efforts there. See: The Mass Exodus Away from YouTube.
What I decided was to work on a six-part video lecture series to post on my YouTube channel and use the series for a social experiment. I told myself I would invest the effort, time, and dedication to craft this video series, put it out there, and study the public response to the series for making my determination on how I want to go forward.
I was never going to publicize any of this private data-keeping or air to anyone at all how I was feeling. But I follow Jessi Huntenburg on YouTube and she recently posted a provocative video, “Money Shadows in the Witchcraft Community.” Watching her video made me decide, yah, this is going up. Because she’s so right. And I feel my data confirms every point Jessi made.
But then it also made me feel like crap, because as a creator you want to be the kind of good-hearted person who puts out content for free and not expect anything in return, but then after you put out the content for free and actually not get anything in return, oh now suddenly I’m not happy with that? What happened to “I don’t expect anything in return”? And of course you’re smart enough to realize your own hypocrisy, so now on top of feeling bad, you feel guilt and shame. Because apparently, you’re not as good-hearted as you thought you were.
The data I started keeping as soon as Video 1 went live was to help me decide whether or not it was worth it for me to continue my YouTube channel, which is in a nutshell, a lot of hard work, energy, research, and sacrifice of time that could be spent on far more profitable endeavors.
Keep in mind that whatever I put in to creating this totally free– and ad-free– YouTube content is time, energy, and resources I am taking away from other endeavors, often endeavors that would yield so much more profit, personal gains, and glory for me.
So I wanted to see if in some way, any way at all, even intangible, it didn’t even need to be dollars… Do I receive in return what I give and put out?
That was the question I presented to myself and what I hoped the data-keeping would help me answer.
Throughout the video series, I did the following:
- A call to voluntarily donate money to me via PayPal or by Amazon gift cards
- A call to subscribe to my channel
- Advertising my paid online courses, and I mentioned very specific ones so I could track those specific courses over time and see whether this video series made any positive impact on sales
- Shout-outs to my published book and then tracking AuthorCentral and Nielsen sales logs to see whether the video series would bump up my sales during the periods the videos went live
If everything I invested in to the video series yielded substantial gains in any of the aforementioned avenues, i.e., getting donations commensurate to what I would have earned if this video series was a paid course, or hike in subscription counts, or boosts in sales of my other products, then I could convince myself that my YouTube channel was worth it.
Right before posting Video 1, I checked my total subscriber count on YouTube for the baseline: 6,662.
I took the PowerPoint I created for my 2018 talk at PantheaCon and expanded on it to create this video series, so I won’t be counting the number of hours I worked in 2018 to put the original talk together. I estimate it took around 30 to 35 hours to put together the original talk outline and PowerPoint. Everything I mention from now on is in addition to those initial 30-35 hours.
Videos 1 & 2
It took me in total 35 hours (added on to the 30-35 hours I worked last year to produce the work product I was starting this project with) to make these two videos. I managed that by doing a little here, doing a little there, over the course of many months (in fact, I first started working on this video series back in 2018).
Unfortunately for production value, if you listen closely to the audio of the videos, you can tell. The pacing, tonality, volume of speaking, etc. are varied from section to section, and that’s revealing of me recording on different days in different spaces.
Videos 1 and 2 were posted on the same day (new moon in Capricorn, during a partial solar eclipse, fun enough), within a few hours of each other.
Let’s look at a reporting of total donations, comments, and views. Why are we looking at the comments and views, too?
Because of course they’re currency. If you know anything about what motivates YouTubers, then you know that comments and views are currency.
|Video 1||Video 2||Video 1||Video 2|
Within the first 24 hours of both videos posting, I received a $10 Amazon gift card, another $10 from a name I recognize, and $30 from a name I recognize.
And then for the next 6 days, I got nothing. $0. Zero.
That’s another thing I want to mention. It’s always the same 1% of folks who are generous, kind, giving, and selfless. The rest of the 99% just take and take, without remorse or shame, and don’t even feel any sense of obligation to give back.
I also promoted my I Ching course. Any significant hike in sales of that course? Nope. It remained at its same old steady stream. No noticeable blip one way or the other.
Plus, given the amount of work invested and what I feel like is otherwise very difficult substantive content to come– and for free no less– the view count was low. I don’t have to put in this much effort for that same view count– I can click the “record” button on my laptop, talk out of my ass, upload, and get the same exact view count. So to that regard, my labor and toil also felt wasted.
What about my subscriber count? Did the introduction of this video series do anything for my subscriber count?
75 hours of work gained me 119 new subscribers in 7 days. Even if we assume I worked minimum wage for those 75 hours, which is $11 per hour where I live, then I in effect paid $825 for 119 new subscribers.
Admittedly, the big flaw with these number reports is I cannot verify causation. I can only look at the proximity of timing and make educated inferences.
Also, I’m not counting the folks who watched these videos and then were motivated to purchase other courses I offer or in gratitude for the series, decided to support me by pre-ordering my tarot deck, or anything else I might not have explicitly promoted in the videos. Since I have no way of even inferring causation, that was just something I couldn’t keep track of at all.
The third installment took me 20 hours to complete, start to finish (finish meaning uploaded and published).
There’s another toll my labor and time working on these videos take on me: my health and wellbeing. I work full-time in a highly demanding profession where statistically the attrition rate for women after 3 years on this career track is 44%, and think about that– this is after investing 3 years of their lives to law school and $150,000 in tuition (if not more). I’m also writing a book, working on a tarot deck, still do professional tarot and astrology readings for others, still taking on pro bono legal cases, and still attending to domestic matters on the home-front. To siphon any droplet of free time out of my day, daily, to invest in this totally free work product– how unreasonably selfish am I really being for saying to myself, I deserve to get something in return for all this?
Anyway, back to Video 3.
Video 3 was posted on Day 5 after Videos 1 and 2 went live. While Videos 1 and 2 were published on a weekend (Saturday afternoon and evening, respectively), Video 3 was published on a weekday (Thursday morning). I had made a call-out for donations in the first videos, but for Video 3 I didn’t.
Instead, I made an explicit call to leave a comment and tell me what you think of the series. I wanted to see what impact that would make So, does making an explicit call to leave comments result in more comments?
Video 3 received the least number of views in its first 24 hours and despite the call-out to leave comments, also received the least number of comments.
On the other hand, I also speculate that posting on a Thursday morning rather than a weekend afternoon or evening could have had an effect as well. Maybe there are less eyes on YouTube videos in the pagan community on weekdays than on weekends?
Ballpark approximation, Video 3 received 40% less comments than Video 1, despite the explicit call for comment.
Those of you who’ve watched these videos will have seen that I kinda promoted the heck out of the I Ching course I offer in every video so far. Well then, how did my I Ching course sales fare as a result? Surely the enormous investment of my time and thought into this free video series will have caused a spike in my I Ching course sales?
Zero measurable difference from the ordinary stream of orders I was getting before the series went live.
The fourth installment also took me 20 hours to produce. By this time I stopped logging subscription, view count, and donations data because I was just sorely disappointed at how little I felt like I was getting in return for the enormous amount of work.
Also, by now I could check AuthorCentral’s BookScan data to see how book sales for Tao of Craft did in the month of January compared to its prior history.
The book has been out since 2016, so I have 3 years of history to compare to. I promoted the book in every single video. So? How did I do?
No meaningful difference.
Among the comments on the videos, many folks mentioned going out to buy my Tao of Craft book as a direct result of watching the video series and I am so, so happy and grateful for each one of those folks. Reading those comments tickled me thrilled. Yet somehow my BookScan sales data showed negligible overall impact.
Okay, that’s fine. How about other forms of energy return?
Positive comments are still a form of currency and when you feel like you’ve been the catalyst for active engagement from the community, that’s a form of energy you’re receiving and getting enriched by. That’s compensation for your efforts.
So even if I didn’t earn any significant financial profit from this undertaking, if I felt like I had been some sort of a catalyst inspiring active engagement, then that would be more than enough to fuel me forward. Did that happen for me?
The comments for the four videos in the series up so far were overwhelmingly positive and each one filled me with joy.
What I found happening to myself, however, is feeling set back and stung whenever I was still getting really negative and hostile comments to past videos I’d posted (my opinion pieces). So while the pool of comments coming directly out of this video series brought me happiness, much older, unrelated videos still generating negative comments would chip away at that happiness. It made me think: maybe I should take down all my old YouTube videos for the sake of my own mental wellness.
The net result still left me feeling unfulfilled after all the work.
I’m also compelled to raise the issue of this one particular comment. I guess ultimately it was still positive. Or was intended to be.
Let’s walk through it:
This video is so fascinating, but it’s not anything I’d ever practice for myself. Nonetheless, I love learning about other cultures, so I’m loving this video series!
I’m curious how you feel about someone leaving such a comment.
Is it my hypersensitivity? Or does that comment come across just a smidge passive-aggressive, implying whatever this person practices, he/she thinks it’s superior to what I’m sharing? What I can only assume was a comment left in good faith, intended to be positive, ended up coming across just a touch… condescending.
The extra effort you have to go through to leave the comment, “aww, good for you and your cute little ways, but this spiritual path is not for me” implies whatever you’ve got going on already is superior to what I’ve got going on, but what a funny little practice I’ve shared–you’re glad I’ve managed to entertain you. No matter what you’d say your intentions were, that’s the implication I’m left with.
See, it may very well be completely true that my path isn’t this person’s path. Just like how there are a hundred million spiritual paths out there that are not mine. I don’t go onto those folks YouTube channels and be like, “Ya know, this is fascinating, so thanks for that, but this is totally not my own cup of tea. I would personally never practice any of these beliefs that you practice.”
Why would I never leave such a comment? Because no good can come out of that comment. It is a self-serving remark. Those words do not in any way enrich anybody, except maybe to make myself feel self-righteous. Take a moment to think about it. What is the true ulterior point of vocalizing aloud to someone else on their channel, “That’s cool, but this isn’t for me. I’d never do it this way.” It’s not enough justification to say, “Well it’s the truth.” You have to ask yourself: What is your purpose? What is your motive for expending your energy in that way, which ends up resulting in someone on the other end, a total stranger, feeling bad?
My mother always taught me when you visit somebody else’s place of worship, you need to worship their god or gods with them, genuinely, in a heartfelt way, and observe all the practices the members of that church or temple observe while you’re there (unless part of the religion is you’re not allowed to, in which case, yah, don’t, just do as instructed by the members).
That comment– irrational, I know– reminded me bitterly of when I was in Japan and observing Caucasian tourists being obnoxious and disrespectful at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. Or in China and Taiwan when they’d wear their dirty shoes straight into the places of a monastery clearly marked “please take off your shoes” and then act as if they were deeply offended when a monk asked them to please take off their shoes. Or even the simple ignorance of how they should behave around shi fu, our most venerated masters. They’d be taking martial arts lessons from a decorated master and treating him like their BFF and call him by his first name. The decorated master, trying to accommodate to Western culture, will oblige, but meanwhile us native Asians are like, wtf? You know I would have gotten beaten to a bloody pulp if I had called my shi fu by his first name?
Oh by the way? In case you were wondering, that’s exactly why Asian occult traditions are so reluctant to share anything with the Western Christianized world.
Direct Ads > Free Content
I also have a few hard-learned takeaways for the entrepreneur. Direct ads, meaning you just go ahead and get straight to talking about what you’re selling, works better than giving away free content and hoping people will be so taken by the free content that they immediately buy what you’re also selling.
When I take 60 seconds to post a picture on Instagram promoting one of my online courses, I get a much bigger and more significant spike in sales of that online course than I get from the crazy number of hours and toil I expend on these videos thinking the videos will somehow promote my online courses.
When I send out a newsletter announcing the sale of something, it brings in a good flood of sales. When I upload a video that’s nothing more than, “Hey, check out my new product! This is a feature, and this is a feature…” that video will generate great sales. When I upload an educational series like this one and insert a few nudges to look at my paid stuff, nada.
The consumer public needs a direct call to action. Direct. You need to spell it out. “Buy this” or “order this now.” You wish I was making this up. I wish I was making this up. It’s the most disappointing lesson learned about humanity in all this.
The public is basically telling me I’m better off being smarmy and punching out hard-sell Instagram photos marketing my wares than trying to produce educational content in hopes that education will inspire people to seek out more of my work and compensate me for that work.
I’m sad that hard sells work better than putting everything you’ve got out there for free public consumption and then just hoping people will voluntarily do right by you. I’m sad that they rarely voluntarily do right by you, but then if you get smart, do the hard sell, because clearly that’s what people want– that’s where their money is going– you get vilified for showing any iota of regular business logic.
Paid Courses = More Appreciation
Free Courses = People Assume You Slapped This Work Together and It Was Effortless For You
You spend 50 hours of your time laboring away to produce something you give out for free and only 1% of the people appreciate what you’ve done while the rest– crickets or just a quick and light, “Aw, gee thanks!”
You spend 50 hours of your time laboring away to produce something exactly the same– exactly— but now you charge $30 for it and suddenly 99% of the people who gave you the $30 appreciate what you’ve done and laud you to no end for it. “Best $30 I ever spent… I learned so much… This is incredible content… Seriously thank you so much for putting this together…This has totally stepped up my game–I’m better now because of this course!”
To continue to work for free instead of charging the $30 (if not even more) you could otherwise charge for that work means you are an idiot.
To step up and charge $30 for your work means you get vilified as a money-grubbing, greedy, un-spiritual, un-evolved hypocrite. How can you possibly claim to be compassionate and spiritual and still have the gall to charge $30 for educational content instead of putting it out for free, from the goodness of your own heart? Unless there is no goodness in your heart and you’re just a money-grubbing greedy hypocrite?
Where I’m Left at Now
I get a lot of messages asking me when I’ll be releasing Videos 5 and 6. Honestly, I don’t know. I’m not sure if there’s anything motivating me to produce them.
And even if I do, since I already have a lot of the content for Videos 5 and 6 put together, is it going to be free? Am I going to put it behind a pay wall and, like every single other pagan, tarot, or witchy YouTuber who decides to stand up for him or herself and go on Patreon, get hated on by members of the community for demanding some financial compensation for all the work that goes in to producing videos?
I reviewed the average view count for the four videos over the last month: on average each video got 1,508 views. Speculate that only about half would be willing to pay $1 (one dollar!) per video, so now that’s down to 754. Multiply by 4 videos and that’s $3,016.00.
Even if half the average view count those videos received would be willing to pay me $1 per video for a total of $4 as just a little thank you tip, I would have received $3,016.00.
That’s why Jessi’s video hit home.
Instead I got $50 on Day 1 only and from people whose names I already recognize and so they shouldn’t be donating anyway because I already feel their love and appreciation, and then crickets from the masses for the rest of the month.
Ultimately, this isn’t about the public or anything a monolithic public did to me. It’s about me and what I do to myself.
I need to take a really hard and difficult look at my own motivations, the darkest among them, and figure out what the hell is going on with me. Like Jessi notes, it’s money shadows, though we each need to then as individuals figure out the exact form that money shadow is taking in our lives.
I want to give back to a community that has as a collective blessed me with so much. I feel obligated to give back for all that I have received. But then I have to wonder: am I going about this the right way? Here I assumed that putting out free courses like this one so that people who possess an eagerness to learn but not the financial means to pay for entry can still have open access to esoteric content. And by contributing these free courses to the general public, I was doing my part for the community.
I wanted that to be enough for me. But I’m not as spiritually evolved as I would like to idealize myself as being.
I hope after you read this, your takeaway isn’t that I’m mad no one compensated me financially for something I voluntarily initiated and put out into the world as free stuff. That was not the point of this post at all.
My point was to be open and honest with you that right now, I feel like I am not receiving from my YouTube channel what I am giving to my YouTube channel and it’s nobody’s fault but my own. That’s all that this post was about.
I made the rookie mistake beginner tarot pros make, and that is not keeping the energy balance in check.
I hope I made clear that I’m not mad at the 99%, especially if a segment of that 99% are people who can’t afford to pay. The whole reason I started the free courses series was– as I’ve said over and over throughout– to do my part to level the playing field of access.