The Output Imperative: Productivity and precarity on YouTube

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Research into the video platform YouTube has argued that so-called creators are faced with difficult working circumstances, much like those in the rest of the cultural industries. Stories of ‘YouTuber burnout’ have circulated, indicating the consequences of trying to keep up with demands. This article demonstrates the existence of increasing pressures to produce fresh content on the platform, the output imperative, and offers tentative explanations. The article draws on analyses of the cultural industries, digital entrepreneurship, and organizational ecology to deliver a longitudinal analysis of the productivity of YouTube channels. Our sample contains data from app. 22,000 channels and their activities from 2008 to 2019. We focus on three productivity parameters, i.e., the number of videos uploaded, average video length, and total output produced. A series of quantitative analyses demonstrate both general and specific tendencies towards increased productivity during this period. Parts of the channel population saw relatively small changes, but some of the more productive strata of the population saw productivity increases above 800% over 10 years. We show that these developments have been driven primarily by new channels joining the platform and that existing channels tend to follow the benchmarks set by newcomers. This indicates the existence of steadily increasing demands for increased output to stay competitive. Our analyses thus demonstrate the existence of considerable production pressures on YouTube and we argue that this has exacerbated the already precarious position of creators on the video platform.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInformation, Communication & Society
Volume24
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)432-451
ISSN1369-118X
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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