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Millions of views on YouTube won’t even earn you enough to make rent

If you’re starting a YouTube channel, don’t expect to get rich quickly — or at all. The world of video blogging may look easy and glamorous to outsiders watching polished videos of relatable makeup tutorials and funny animals, but it’s exhausting work. A new study found that even the most successful YouTube stars are not earning enough to break even from views alone.

Study: Top YouTubers are only earning about $16,800 a year

The odds of you making it as a full-time YouTube are low. Analyzing ten years of YouTube uploads and views, Mathias Bärtl, an applied sciences professor in Germany, found that the overwhelming majority — 96.5% — will not generate enough money from advertising revenue to break past the U.S. poverty line, which is $12,140 for a single-person household. In fact, even the most successful YouTube stars are not earning millions from their millions of views.

In an analysis for Bloomberg News, Bärtl calculated that the top 3% of the most-viewed YouTube channels, which generate more than a million views a month, are only earning their owners about $16,800 a year. The famous performers on YouTube are likely earning more money through sponsorships and other deals.

Children view YouTube as a top career choice

These dispiriting numbers should be a reality check for the many hopeful dreaming of YouTube stardom. Right now, being a YouTube star is a top career ambition for children. One in three U.K. children said they wanted to be a full-time YouTuber, a number that eclipsed the number of children wanting to be doctors or pop stars.

If you want to launch a YouTube channel, have fun. Just don’t quit your day job right away. Popular YouTube vloggers have backed up Bärtl’s research, disclosing their struggle to financially support themselves. In “Get Rich or Die Vlogging,” YouTuber Gaby Dunn cautioned aspiring stars about the economics of internet fame, noting that “the humiliation of not making a living wage when fans believe you’re famous can add an extra layer of silence.”

“Aspiring vloggers may want to think about getting business degrees, because that’s what being famous online is: It’s protecting your assets, budgeting, figuring out production costs, and rationing out money to employees—whether that’s yourself or a camera crew,” Dunn wrote. “The numbers on your social media accounts may never match those in your bank account.”

Monica Torres is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at mtorres@theladders.com.