writing

Why high quality content doesn’t get views

If you’re like me, you like looking at how content performs — your own or others. Why did this one post get only a few likes but this other one many more? Why does a video that took hours and hours to make and involves a really well researched script get fewer views than someone’s vlog?

I’ll use YouTubers as an example to show what I’m talking about and get some answers to these questions.

Look at Vox’s view to subscriber count on YouTube (about 1:12):

compared with, say, Gus Johnson’s view to subscriber count on YouTube (about 2:3):

The baffling thing here is that Gus Johnson’s content is mostly improvised comedy videos getting about 2 views for every 3 subscribers, while Vox’s informative videos get about 1 view for every 12 subscribers.

Vox’s videos are more visually impressive (including fancy motion graphics), have far better information, and are usually longer than Gus Johnson videos. In terms of objective quality (time and intellectual energy spent making the content), Vox videos rank higher. (By the way, I am subscribed to both channels and don’t have anything against Gus Johnson, it’s just a good channel to illustrate the point).

There are a number of different factors that go into the reasoning for this — why quality content doesn’t do as well as quicker made content. One is just plain emotional relatability. If you’re a young American male immersed in white culture who enjoys comedy, Gus Johnson (young American male immersed in white culture) will instinctively appeal to you. Vox makes a variety of different content about objects, random people, and events — which probably don’t relate directly to your personality.

We know that what we consume is a reflection of ourselves — the reason I don’t click on “This goofy bird vs. the fossil fuel industry” (Vox) is because birds and fossil fuels don’t relate to my identity. If someone makes a channel with a presenter whose personality is similar to mine, they’ll have a more dedicated viewer base with similar demographics to the channel — fair skinned women who like make up would perhaps subscribe to Tati.

Tati’s view to subscriber ratio these days doesn’t look as good — mainly due to competition in a very crowded beauty field

So, yeah. Personality relatability is more important than journalistic quality. But this still doesn’t really answer the question as to why a higher quality video would still get fewer views.

The answer lies in socioeconomic demographics.

While Vox may be appealing to subscribe to for a plainly motivational standpoint — “I want to learn, and subscribing is easy and free,” — actually sitting through a video will appeal to only a certain demographic, most likely the types who appreciate random journalism. Usually wealthier individuals with more access to education, who in turn can relate educational content to their personalities. This is not the case for most people.

Gus Johnson’s videos are quicker, but require much less brainpower to watch. They’re easy, you don’t really have to think too hard, etc. The highly educated person may not find the content relatable, but the average (demo: some college) person may find it extremely relatable and interesting.

Put another way: the extremely high quality book Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace is going to appeal to only a certain audience: prolific fiction readers with enough time and desire to read a book over 1,000 pages. I tried, but I am not much of a fiction reader and had to DNF a few chapter in. Starting a big book like that is one thing, but actually getting through the book is what matters in terms of defining the audience. Vox falls short the same way: while a lot of people might want to watch educational content, when push comes to shove they’ll click on something else that relates to their world first — Gus Johnson for example.

When you’re making content, remember that what you like does not necessarily mean other people will like it. What took you many hours to make will not necessarily be received proportionally better than something that took you a few minutes to make. It all depends on the demographic of an audience you’re going for. Extremely low quality and extremely high quality content aren’t really going to appeal to the average person.

Besides: one average person might have a bunch of different interests compared to another average person. If one man likes fishing, average fishing content is going to be way more appealing to that man compared to insanely high quality content of something he doesn’t care about, say horseback riding. If there are more people who like fishing than who like horseback riding, there will be more viewers of a piece of average fishing content than of a piece of high quality horseback riding content, given that those two pieces are your only options.

In the end, it’s all about demographics.

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