The YouTube Power Law, and My Favourite Subscriptions

When blogs were new and all the rage, Clay Shirky published something called the “Power Law” that said the popularity of blogs followed an exponential “power curve” that looked like a curved hockey stick — Y=mXb. That meant that 1% of the blogs got over 80% of the views, and most blogs were in the ‘long tail’ that got almost no views. The same curve seems to apply to twitter followers, Substack and Medium platforms, and music streaming service ‘plays’.

That means that, like professional athletes, a handful of musicians (or more likely their agents) are making obscene amounts of money, while the vast majority of musicians are starving. (It doesn’t have to be that way; little-known musicians could get more per play, and famous ones less per play, but that would require a little imagination on the part of the industry.)

So I’m not surprised that the same power law applies when it comes to YouTube. A very small proportion of content providers may be able to make a living just posting new content; the vast majority of providers will never see more than a handful of views.

The table above shows the 15 YouTube video channels I subscribe to, and the average number of views per video for each. As you can see, it’s a power law — I had to use a logarithmic scale because otherwise half of the bars would be invisible. The top and bottom bars are averages of a number of content providers in that category; the rest are single channels (easy to find on YouTube if you google them, should you want to check them out).

They’re an eclectic mix, but what they have in common is solid production values, and no really lame videos. Most of the providers have a great sense of humour. And all of them use the medium well — without the video they just wouldn’t be the same. And despite the 1000-fold differences in popularity, I am just about equally inclined to watch a new video on any of these channels.

Do you have a favourite YouTube channel? Is there one that you find so compelling that you pretty much watch it as soon as the notification comes in?

And how about best-kept secrets — a channel producing really good videos that almost no one subscribes to?


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2 Responses to The YouTube Power Law, and My Favourite Subscriptions

  1. FamousDrScanlon says:

    This is my philosophy guy Martin Butler. Blog & YouTube.

    True crime podcasts are all the rage. I just started listening-watching some of them.

    I like this guy Kevin because he is the only true crime pod-caster I’ve found who does not moralize.

    Just Thought Lounge

    There are loads of first rate musicians who we would never know exist unless you stumble across them or a friend shares a link.

    I stumbled across this talented lady a few years back.

    Mean Mary – Iron Horse

    Canadian scientist who explains climate processes so anyone can understand.

    Paul Beckwith

    I have more links, but I need to go to my moms & shovel her driveway, sidewalks, steps & porch. BIG, ongoing snow dump last night here in Metro Vancouver. My back’s sore just thinking about shoveling.

  2. Dave Pollard says:

    Thanks Dr. Great list.

    Any commenters should note that comments with 2 or more links in them get held in a WordPress pending file for approval. I’ll approve them, but they won’t appear instantly like most comments.

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