John Green On Downsides Of Growth: ‘I Want An Awesome Audience, Not A Huge One’

By 06/23/2016
John Green On Downsides Of Growth: ‘I Want An Awesome Audience, Not A Huge One’

In his opening remarks at the seventh annual VidCon gathering this morning here in Anaheim, Calif., the event’s co-founder, John Green, delivered a fascinating — and seemingly counterintuitive — thesis: going viral and amassing subscribers and views, he said, isn’t necessarily a good thing. “We’ve all heard the business maxim that if you aren’t growing, you’re dying,” he said. “But for my career and with our audience, growth has not always been good news.”

He described several downsides to the moment nine years ago when his vlogbrothers channel was featured on YouTube’s homepage — back when it wasn’t algorithmically generated — and he and his brother, Hank, started gaining serious steam. With virality, Green said, comments can devolve into nastiness, and engagement tends to wane. “In comments, our viewers are far more likely to refer to me as ‘John’ these days — whereas when we had fewer viewers, they almost referred to me as ‘you’ because they were talking to me instead of talking about me.”

Green also measures this waning engagement because, even as subscribers and views continue to skyrocket, the amount of fans that support the vlogbrothers’s other projects, including its Project For Awesome charity initiative, has not grown in step. “In 2010, we sold on average one T-shirt for every 2,000 views our videos got. Today, we sell one T-shirt for every 8,000 views.”


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“I want an awesome audience,” Green declared, “not a huge one.”

He added that it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that one of YouTube’s key values as a medium is that it enables viewers to experience a diversity of voices across the globe, and that it helps people feel less alone. To this end, Green feels a ‘contraction’ of sorts within the space is both necessary and imminent — and that a focus needs to be placed on metrics other than growth. “It would give us the opportunity to focus on what actually matters, which is not maximizing profit,” he said. “Creative projects do not exist to create revenue. Revenue exists to fund creative projects.”

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