If you've hopped on YouTube lately, you might've noticed a trend: there are a lot of YouTubers retiring. Like a lot. And not just smaller channels, either. YouTubers of all sizes, from tens of thousands of subscribers to tens of millions.
Some are calling it quits for the foreseeable future, while others are passing their channel on to different personalities on the team. Others are saying they don't really know what the future holds, but it won't be more YouTube videos for at least a little while. And others are committing to a major change from their status quo.
Why Are So Many YouTubers Retiring?
There are myriad reasons major YouTubers are taking a step back, refactoring their channel, or leaving entirely. And we'll discuss some of the main ones in a bit more depth (and perhaps theorize a bit further) in a moment. But there is an overarching theme to many of the major retirement announcements: burnout.
YouTubers are tired. Even very successful ones who have made a decent living for themselves and others. And that's because unlike other industries where success is like a set of stone steps laid one upon the other, success on a platform like YouTube is more like a false staircase in a video game. You may have made it quite a ways up, but the steps are constantly falling out from under you, and one wrong step could send you sliding way back.
But the concept of burnout or simply being tired isn't in and of itself a great explanation. Because one of the other overarching themes from these YouTubers? Gratitude. Nearly all of them express in their retirement videos how grateful they are to the people who watch them and how running a YouTube channel for a living really was a dream job.
One Big Key To Burnout: You're Never *Not* Working
In his video, Tom Scott (whose channel has over 6.4 million subscribers) starts by saying, "This isn't the standard YouTuber burnout apology video." And he's right — there's nothing standard about it. You should watch until the end if you've got a few minutes, because it's very well done.
But in a way, it is a standard video, because Scott ultimately settles on a familiar motif: being a YouTuber in 2024 requires you to always be on. And when you're always working on the next video, you're missing out on a lot of other things, like family time or just simply being "normal" for a day. "That would make a good video" is something just about every circle of content creators has found themselves saying. With YouTube, it's practically nonstop. (It's worth noting that Tom Scott changed the name of his video to better reflect his intentions).
However, there's another big theme in these videos, including Scott's: it's not really about the work. Because as many of these creators note, they've still got a ton of projects going on. Many of them weekly, like podcasts, secondary channels, educational courses, product development, and more. Which brings us to a second component of the burnout.
The YouTube Juice Is Getting Less and Less Worth The Squeeze
In his video "It's time for a change," Caleb Pike of DSLR Video Shooter noted that on YouTube, input does not equal output. In other words, you could spend an entire week working on a video, spend hours crafting what you think is the perfect thumbnail, worry about metadata and tags, and still end up with a piece of content that only reaches 5 percent of your audience and makes you a few hundred dollars.
So it's not just that you're always working. It's that the realized value of that work is also always changing.
Yes, every piece of content is an asset that theoretically keeps earning you money into perpetuity. But the reality is, this game has shifted a ton. Pike also notes that in the first decade or so of his channel, he saw growth every year. He also worked harder and did more. But in the past few years, he's seen a huge drop in the financial return of his channel, despite working just as hard (or harder).
Of course that's not to say there aren't many great monetization opportunities on YouTube (and Pike notes that he's financially ok, thanks no doubt in no small part to the other ways he's monetized his audience off the platform by selling guides and other digital goods). But when you've spent years giving the audience and the platform exactly what they want, it's incredibly stressful to think your revenue can drop so significantly and there's not really anything you can do about it. There are plenty of YouTubers retiring simply because they know how much their time is worth and they've found more reliable ways
YouTube Is Changing
But what's new? Every platform changes. And YouTube is no exception. But the degree to which YouTube is changing has really left some of its biggest creators in the dark.
In the past year or two, YouTube has changed more than it has probably since at least a decade ago. In its first five to 10 years, YouTube was the type of place where simple videos could go viral. Musicians could upload webcam covers and build an audience. People could just try silly or creative things to see what sticks. People like Casey Neistat could film their lives and just...see what happened.
Then, YouTube introduced serious monetization and became the type of place where people went for education. News, tutorials, insights, gear reviews — while these are still technically second to music videos in terms of overall views on YouTube, this type of medium-length, high quality content is what countless creators built brands and businesses off of. Let social media have its memes and influencers and "three to five posts per day." YouTube is for professionals to create thoughtful, high quality content a few times per month.
Until suddenly, it wasn't.
YouTube has been trying to adopt more and more social media-esque features, including handles and the Shorts feed. The value of YouTube Subscribers has dwindled as the app's home page starts putting more and more content it thinks you want over content you've already told it you wanted. Is there a science to this? Does data that suggests it's what we really want, even if we say we don't?
But it's certainly harmful for creators who spent years doing all the "right" things for YouTube — picking a niche, developing a community, focusing on consistency, etc. It definitely feels like YouTube has started to serve the content more than the creator, a strategy that has rendered metrics like subscribers less and less indicative of content success. on platforms like TikTok. YouTube was always a unique mix of "top of funnel" (think, the "YouTube rabbit hole") and middle of funnel (think, "When I post something, my subscribers will know about it and likely engage with it").
Now that it feels more and more like a social media feed, all the effort it takes to put on a professional channel certainly feels wasted when a 30-second short can earn you thousands of (now devalued) subscribers over a video you spent a week on that only gets a few thousand views.
So who wouldn't get discouraged and decide it's time for a change?
So What Does It Mean?
Well, on an obvious note, the significant amount of YouTubers retiring certainly isn't a good look for the platform. And as a company that cares deeply about content creators, we can only hope YouTube takes a moment to talk to these creators and better understand how the platform's changes are leading to the type of mental fatigue and burnout that drives some of its top creators away.
But as Heraclitus said, "The only thing that is constant is change." The game will always change.
And this moment provides creators a chance to decide to not play that game. Don't try to "ride the YouTube wave," as some say. And certainly don't try to give more to a platform than it will ever give back.
This of course has different implications for different types of creators. There are some YouTubers who will find a lot of success on the platform adapting their Instagram Reels or TikTok strategies for Shorts. But there's no guarantee that strategy will be fruitful in the future.
The only guarantee is that when you focus on your audience, you'll build a brand that sustains you. It's more important than ever to try and build relationships with the people who interact with your content before worrying about how to reach more. And of course, find ways to connect with them off the platform so if YouTube randomly decides not to show them your content anymore, you can still communicate with them. The less you financially rely on YouTube, the more you protect yourself from an unhealthy relationship with your content.
Most importantly, create what you love and be willing to embrace change. Give yourself grace and don't let these platforms dictate what success means to you. It can be easy for creators with smaller channels to scratch their heads and wonder what would cause somebody to "give up" a channel with hundreds of thousands or even millions of subscribers. But the truth is, the problems you have when you're successful are just the problems you had before you were successful, but amplified.
Fortunately, much of the YouTube community is rallying around the message these creators are sending. Because one other overarching theme in these retirement videos? The comment sections are filled with people who understand and support the creator for their decision.