Author/Creator John Green On Subbable And The Future Of YouTube Advertising [INTERVIEW]

It should be said from the start that Subbable is not a YouTube competitor. And while it may share similarities to crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, Subbable creators John and Hank Green seem focused on more than pledges and fundraising.

“Advertisers just want the most views, not the most engaged views. We fear this might turn the Internet into the Great Distractor.” reads the Subbable About page, which adds: “Subbable seeks to connect content creators not to advertisers but to their communities.” The problem as the Greens see it resides within the fact that online video as a whole, but YouTube especially, must rely on advertising to keep it (and its creators) running.


With an advertising-based YouTube economy, of course, comes the undeniable truth that those buying ad time couldn’t care less about the artistic or cultural value of the content said ads are running before. The larger the audience, the more an ad will be viewed; it’s common sense and it often leaves smaller, niche content creators struggling to stay afloat.

This is where Subbable, the brainchild of popular YouTube creators Hank and John Green comes into the equation. Acting as a way to support specialized channels and projects, Subbable allows members to donate funds to creators, thus freeing them from the icy grip of advertisers while giving them the funds to stay in business. Paying Subbable subscribers (you can also subscribe for free) will in turn receive a variety of perks or products based on their monthly donations.

Subbable is an ambitious project, but the Greens seem more than capable of pulling it off — these are the guys who created VidCon, the world’s largest YouTube convention, after all. NMR recently caught up with one-half of the Green Brother combo, John Green, to find out if and how Subbable will change the digital video community forever.

What is Subbable?

John Green: Subbable is a voluntary subscription system designed to connect creators with their audiences in new ways. It’s kind of a mix of the NPR funding model and the Kickstarter funding model but for internet content.

Is this a way for creators to wean themselves off of YouTube’s ad-based revenue model?

Well, not necessarily. But I certainly think that ads fail to adequately value a lot of online video content. There is a lot of niche content and high production value educational content that just is not well served by an advertiser-driven funding model because it is content that people feel very strongly about but it is not content that necessarily reaches the most possible viewers; it’s out to accomplish something else.

In general, Hank and I think that the definition of success shouldn’t be how many people watch you, but also the quality of the engagement and the quality of the relationship with the community that is built up around the stuff that is made. We are trying to build a funding model that represents those values.

Is this something you have experienced with your own channels? Looking at your views and subscribers, your own channels are very successful.

We are very successful according to fund metrics, right? I mean “Crash Course” gets 50 million views a year; that seems like a lot of views, but in fact, that’s not nearly enough views to pay for “Crash Course.” We have to hire educators to write and fact-check “Crash Course,” we have to hire animators and illustrators to make it visually compelling, we have to work with curriculum development specialists to make sure that it is going to be useful.

It is just a very different project from, for instance, Vlogbrothers, which was just filmed in our basement where we were editing the videos ourselves. If you have high production value content, it just doesn’t work unless you get hundreds of millions of views. “Crash Course” is designed to be useful to people, not get a million views.

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