YouTube FAQ

Button Poetry has been paying artists for their high-performing videos on the Button YouTube channel since 2013. We remain committed to finding the fairest way to pay the greatest number of artists for their work.

We know folks wonder about what goes on behind the scenes at Button, from how videos are selected to where the money from YouTube ads goes. In the pursuit of transparency, we’re excited to offer some more information around how all of that works!

Paying Artists

Paying artists for books or other physical products is relatively simple — we work with the artist to put the thing out in the world, someone buys the thing, and the artist gets a portion of the profit from the thing. YouTube ad revenue, on the other hand, has always been inconsistent and unreliable. Two videos with the same number of views might earn wildly different amounts of ad revenue.

And now it’s more complicated than ever — within the last year, YouTube has begun blocking many videos from monetizing at all due to pressure from advertisers. We refuse to be beholden to commercial ideas of what’s “safe”.

We believe that great art deserves compensation regardless of what advertisers think of the content. Because of this, we are switching to a new, transparent, view-based system for payout on YouTube.

Click here for the details of the new system.

Click here for an explanation of how videos are selected for Button.

The Basics of YouTube Payout

YouTube pays 55% of ad revenue on any video to the channel that video is run on. On Button, that 55% cut has historically averaged around $1.50-$2.00 per thousand views, though this varies WIDELY from video to video.

At the end of each year, we will review the year’s view counts for all videos on the YouTube platform, including videos from prior years.

For all YouTube videos with over 250,000 views in that calendar year (total views from January 1st through December 31st), we will pay the artist $250.

For all YouTube videos with over 100,000 views but less than 250,000 views in that calendar year (total views from January 1st through December 31st), we will pay the artist $100.

An artist may earn from multiple YouTube videos in the same year, and the same YouTube video may earn in multiple different years, including non-consecutive years, as long as it meets one of the view thresholds in each of those years.

Example Cases

Video A is published on February 1st. By December 31st, it has 275,000 views. The artist will be paid $250 for the year.

Video B is published on June 31st. By December 31st, it has 130,000 views. The artist will be paid $100 for the year.

Video C is published on November 15th. By December 31st, it’s been viewed 30,000 times. It does not meet any earnings threshold for that year.

The next year, that same Video C starts at 30,000 views on January 1st, and on December 31st has 150,000 views. As the video has 120,000 views for Year 2, the artist will be paid out $100 for Year 2.


We believe this system should cover most high-performing videos on the channel. Most videos have a big initial boom and then declining traffic over time. We know that this system doesn’t account for a video that, for example, slowly accrues 500,000 views over 10 years. We will do our best to be tracking exceptions like these and trying to come up with a system to address them and compensate additional artists.

Payment Calendar

At the beginning of each year, Button staff will confirm the videos that reached each threshold in the previous year. Poets will be contacted in the first couple months of the year, and payments should go out in March.


Frequently Asked Questions

We know that no system like this can be perfect, but we’re striving to create the best one we can. We’ll be testing out this system for the foreseeable future, but are very open to suggestions of how it could improve!

We’re also still building this FAQ, so if you have questions that aren’t answered here or elsewhere on the site, or have suggestions, please get in touch at!

• Where else does YouTube revenue go besides artists?

Most of Button’s YouTube revenue goes toward paying camera operators, editors, curators, and the other staff who help create the final videos you see on our platform.

• Do all Button YouTube videos make money?

While most videos generate at least a little bit of revenue, some cannot be monetized at all due to pressure from advertisers around what content is “appropriate” to advertise on.

In terms of profit (not just revenue): each Button video costs ~$75-100 to produce (paying staff at a living wage) and the median monetized video will make back ~$60* over its lifetime, based on data from videos run in 2016. So most videos on Button break even at best.

*This is an estimate because ad revenues are very inconsistent.
• If a video makes any profit, couldn’t it be split with the artist?

For videos that make small profits, tracking and sending small payments would cost more than the original profit being made, thus making it unsustainable.

Additionally, an individual video making a small profit is generally balanced by another video making a small loss.

We also increasingly believe it’s out of line with our values to base payment off what advertisers thought about the content, as opposed to what viewers thought.

• How will payout work for group pieces, short films, etc.?

Group pieces or other works involving multiple artists will be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

• How did payment used to work?

Historically, we paid out 50 percent of earnings to artists for videos on YouTube that reached a certain threshold of ad earnings. The new system will allow us to pay more artists overall and more new artists each year. Our old system averaged 10 new artists receiving payment each year, and the new system will allow us to pay 55 artists just for 2017.

How Videos Are Selected for Button

We get lots of questions from poets and fans about how videos end up being broadcast by Button Poetry. We thought it would be helpful to have a public resource available!

Historically, almost everything on Button’s channel was a video filmed by Button. We traveled around the country, recording videos at various poetry tournaments and events, and curated a small selection of what we filmed for broadcasting online.

These days, videos you see on Button primarily come from live shows we run in the Twin Cities (such as Button Poetry Live), from our published authors, or from our open-submission video contests, which allow folks from anywhere in the world to submit content for our consideration.

Whatever the source, videos are reviewed by our amazing team of volunteer Curators, a rigorously tested group of fans, poets, and scholars from the U.S. and abroad, whose notes and ratings are compiled to determine what ultimately runs on our platform. We are currently accepting new volunteers. If you’d like to take the test, please click here.

Due to the sheer quantity of performances we film and that are submitted to us, we only run a very small fraction. While this can be frustrating for poets, know that it means that very good work is often curated out.


If you’re interested in getting a video in front of Button, keep an eye on our submission page to see updates on open submission periods, and sign up for our mailing list to make sure you don’t miss any!



YouTube Membership



The YouTube Membership and paywall is an experiment Button has been exploring for the last year. YouTube gave us access to a beta ‘membership’ tool in late 2019 and we have been experimenting with it since. The most recent experiment began in April and involved making a limited number of videos from 2016 and prior available via membership.

Historically Button has taken down some of our older videos every year and we thought keeping those videos available through a ‘Members Only’ category could be an interesting experiment to keep old videos relevant and generate extra revenue while maintaining the focus on new and emerging work. Because the Button YouTube channel costs more to operate than it generates in revenue every year, any opportunity for additional revenue is something we must consider in the interest of keeping the channel sustainable.

The vast majority of videos that we have taken down have been for a lower quality video or audio or other technical concerns. In some cases, especially during this year’s experiments we have also utilized a number of criteria including but not limited to: 

  • lower than average technical quality combined with multiple videos per author
  • lack of audience interest in the video for more than 18 months 
  • authors with above average numbers of videos (particularly 10+)
  • very high interest in a particularly old video with tech concerns 
  • old videos of varying quality and traffic that we’ve filmed a newer performance of 
  • old videos we’ve noticed poets are performing with new texts

At this time all paywall experiments have been tabled while we assess the project in light of cogent critique of our communication & impact.

While we made efforts to communicate with the authors of affected poems and did successfully communicate with a number of authors about the program in positive fashions – our attempts to communicate with authors were inadequate and the positive interactions we had with folks we spoke to were not necessarily representative of the larger impact of the project. We are currently communicating with affected authors and gathering information before announcing next steps.

If you want to know more about this project, how we chose which videos would be included, or have any other questions please email