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How do YouTubers get paid if YouTube is free?

Excellent question! As a fellow content creator, I completely understand the confusion around how YouTubers can earn money on a free platform. Let me walk you through the various ways we can generate income, even though regular viewers don‘t pay a cent to enjoy our videos.

YouTube makes money by showing ads – and shares revenue with creators

YouTube is free for users, but it relies on advertising revenue to keep things running. Companies pay YouTube to display ads on videos. When viewers watch these ads, it generates money for YouTube.

A chunk of this ad money actually trickles down to video creators through YouTube‘s Partner Program. So as your channel grows and your videos get more views, you can start making a share of the advertising dollars through this program.

It‘s a win-win – viewers enjoy free content, creators earn from their work, and advertisers get to reach relevant audiences.

You can join the YouTube Partner Program once you hit the eligibility criteria

To join the YouTube Partner Program, you need:

  • 1,000 subscribers – This shows YouTube you have an established audience.

  • 4,000 valid public watch hours in the past 12 months – This qualifies you based on regular viewership.

  • AdSense account – This is where your earnings from YouTube ads will be posted.

Once you meet these numbers and enable monetization, suitable ads will start playing on your videos. And you‘ll start seeing steady earnings from AdSense as your viewership and content library grows.

According to YouTube, the majority of revenue from the ads comes from CPM or cost per thousand impressions. This means advertisers pay for every 1,000 ad impressions on videos.

As your viewership increases, so will your CPM earnings. Top creators make several thousand dollars from YouTube‘s ad share alone.

Affiliate links are another great income source for YouTubers

In addition to YouTube ads, affiliate marketing is a popular way for YouTubers to monetize videos.

This simply means promoting relevant products/services and earning commissions when viewers make purchases through your special links.

For example, as a gaming channel you can recommend the best gaming gears like headphones, keyboards, chairs etc. When viewers click your affiliate links and buy, you‘ll get a cut of the sale as commission.

Affiliate earnings can range from a few cents to over $100 per transaction depending on the product/service. Some YouTubers easily make thousands a month through affiliate income.

Most major companies offer affiliate programs, so you‘ll have no shortage of options – Amazon, Walmart, BestBuy, Apple, Samsung, Udemy etc.

Some creators even develop their own affiliate programs by creating online courses, merchandise stores etc. This allows them to earn 100% commission without splits.

Sponsorships are hugely beneficial for monetizing YouTube channels

Sponsorships involve brands paying you to promote their products/services in your videos. These promotional videos or segments are another great money maker.

Your earnings from sponsorships can vary greatly:

  • Smaller YouTubers can get $100 – $500 per sponsorship video.

  • Channels with 100k+ subscribers usually charge $1000 – $3000 per video.

  • Top creators with millions of subscribers can charge $10,000 – $100,000 per sponsorship!

The key is finding sponsors relevant to your audience and seamlessly integrating the brand mention in your content without being overly promotional.

Gaming channels may work with gaming accessory brands. Food channels can promote kitchen tools and ingredients. Fashion YouTubers often get sponsored by clothing labels and cosmetic companies.

With a large and engaged following on YouTube, you‘ll get plenty of sponsorship opportunities to monetize your influence.

YouTube channel memberships let fans pay for exclusive perks

Over the past few years, YouTube channel memberships have emerged as a new revenue stream for creators.

It works just like memberships on Twitch – your loyal viewers pay a monthly fee (usually $4.99) to support your work and gain access to exclusive perks you offer.

As a member they may get:

  • Custom emoji and badges in live chat

  • Members-only community posts

  • Exclusive videos, live streams, discounts etc.

  • Shoutouts from you and other VIP benefits

YouTube takes a small cut, but you get to keep the bulk of membership revenue. Top creators easily make tens of thousands a month through channel memberships.

It‘s a great way to get predictable, monthly income from your most engaged subscribers who want to see your channel grow.

Merch gives fans a way to support you and rep your brand

Merchandise is hugely popular among YouTubers as a way to generate additional income from their brand.

By selling apparel, accessories and other items decked out with your YouTube channel logo and graphics, you can convert viewers into proud customers.

Some popular YouTuber merch includes:

  • T-shirts
  • Hoodies
  • Snapbacks
  • Beanies
  • Backpacks
  • Phone cases
  • Mugs
  • Pop sockets
  • Posters
  • Stickers
  • Socks

You can find print-on-demand merch companies that handle product fulfillment so you only have to focus on design and marketing.

Top creators make anywhere from thousands to over a million dollars a year through their merchandise alone!

Fans pay to highlight their comments with Super Chats & Super Stickers

Super Chats and Super Stickers allow your viewers to pay a fee during live streams to pin their comment so it stands out in chat.

Super Chats are text comments highlighted in bright colors. Super Stickers are colorful animations and images.

Prices range from 99 cents to $500, with the majority being just a few dollars. YouTube takes 30% and you earn the rest.

While each Super Chat/Sticker amounts to a few bucks, popular streams can rack up hundreds of them, leading to significant earnings. Top creators can make over $50,000 a month through Super Chats alone!

It‘s a fun way for you to interact with fans, let them grab your attention and get paid at the same time.

Ad rates, watch time, niche and more also impact YouTube earnings

While the above methods form the core monetization strategy, your earnings also depend on parameters like:

  • Watch time – Longer videos and higher total watch time will result in more ad revenue. Aim for 8-12 minute videos.

  • Ad rates – Advertisers pay more in certain countries. U.S. and Canadian YouTubers tend to have higher CPM.

  • Niche – Lucrative niches like finance and gaming attract bigger ads compared to vlogs or crafts.

  • Engagement – More likes, comments boost your content in the algorithm, resulting in more earnings long-term.

In addition, platform revenue like YouTube Red subscriber share, YT shorts bonus payments also contribute slightly to your income.

But the majority of earnings come from YouTube ads, sponsorships, affiliate marketing and other methods discussed earlier in this post.

You can start earning real income through YouTube with consistency and persistence

I hope this detailed breakdown gives you a good picture of how YouTubers actually make money from videos despite YouTube being free for regular users.

While it takes time and effort to build up your channel, the monetization potential is huge. With 1 million loyal subscribers and solid viewership, you can make $3000 a day or over $100k a month from ads, affiliates and sponsors alone!

By providing value to viewers for free, we build influence and trust. This allows us to eventually monetize our audience through the various options covered in this guide.

Stay consistent, keep optimizing your content, collaborate with brands, engage with your community and the money will come.

I wish you the very best as you grow your YouTube channel and join the ranks of top creators earning a full-time income doing what we love! Feel free to reach out if you need any tips.



Michael Reddy is a tech enthusiast, entertainment buff, and avid traveler who loves exploring Linux and sharing unique insights with readers.