You Need Money to Make Money as a PC Building Star on YouTube

A thread of indulgence runs through PC building YouTube channels.
January 29, 2017, 5:00pm
Image: Austin Evans/YouTube

They all start the same—with the camera pulling away from a tight shot on a stack of garish boxes. Build budget or ultimate dream rig, it's like a right of passage into PC building on YouTube. Evocative of Christmas morning, the parts shot builds anticipation, putting the sheer amount of stuff at the forefront.

PC building is an expensive hobby. Building PCs monthly for a YouTube audience is even more costly. YouTube creators in this niche need money to make money: If you don't have a PC to build, you have nothing to show. And if you don't have money, you need a name. It's a cycle of capitalism—and indulgence—that spreads through the community, creeping up like dust behind your motherboard.

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"It's a status symbol, in a way," Joanne Chiang of YouTube channel JoanneTechLover said. "Just like anything else, like luxury cars."

Chiang started building custom computers on her YouTube channel in 2014 after stint in creating content for hardware retailer Newegg. Over those three years, she's amassed a lot of PC components—more than enough to fill out the four or five computers she's built for her channel. Chiang is not your average consumer, however: Many of the pieces she uses for her PC builds are sent to her from the manufacturer, unlike YouTube creator

Austin Evans

, who buys most of the parts for his monthly PC builds himself.

It's easy to forget that YouTube creators are running businesses. The excess in their PC buying habits isn't just for that status. Evans—who started his tech-focused YouTube channel in 2009—and Chiang have built their careers around informing viewers on the best of the best while maintaining a personable relationship. The business of it all is supposed to be set aside. To connect with their audiences, both have to be seen as the friend who's got it all. Their lifestyle is aspirational for their viewers.

But they aren't like us: Having and reviewing the best PC components is their job. There was a point where it wasn't, though—when they were just like us, craving each and every new piece of hardware heading to market. "If vendors don't know who you are, they aren't going to help you out," Chiang said. "They have so many people to send products to, why do they have to single you out?" They don't. Chiang was lucky because of the contacts she made at Newegg, she said. Out of the five PC builds Chiang has put together for her YouTube channel, the majority of the parts were sent to her by the manufacturer.

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Even when JoanneTechLover wasn't making Chiang much money, she still had that status. And it's that status that allowed her to continue racking up contacts, with more and more vendors clamouring to have her showcase their hardware. "It was a very big gamble," Chiang added.

Evans gamble was similar, though much more pricey. He buys the majority of his PC parts himself, he said, partly because the industry moves so fast. The latest and greatest of this month will likely be replaced with something even better before the video even goes up. "From time to time, a graphics card will show up from a company, but most builds I buy everything," he said.

Getting to the point where he couldafford to buy each and every part took a few years. Though Evans began his channel in 2009, he wasn't building PCs monthly until about 2014. Mostly, he was creating videos of him talking aboutthe parts he'd put in these hypothetical builds—not actually buying parts and building computers. It's a much more manageable way to put these sorts of videos together, but it's something anyone could do. Evans wanted that status: So he bought it.

Which is not to say Evans' success in not earned. But he was willing—and able—to take the financial dive into his YouTube channel, pairing his incredible knowledge with his newly bought status to create a channel that had it all.

"That was a huge driver of traffic for my channel," he said. Evans' builds are not always the aspirational, you-can-never-afford-this builds. In fact, they're mostly budget PCs—something that Evans sort of fell into. "I learned really quickly that the $300 builds were really popular," he said. "The ones that were really much more reasonable, people could actually buy them."

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Those builds don't translate into a loss of status for Evans, though. The sheer numberof builds he puts up rightly earns him that title. Evans is able to buy all these PC parts that'll eventually end up sitting in a storage locker somewhere, though. Still, Evans tries to reuse things when he can.

But what if you're just starting out? What if you don't have the contacts?

Caitlin Buckshaw is trying to do that. By day, she works in IT, but by night, she's bedazzling PCs on camera. With a channel just three videos old—and one PC build down—Buckshaw's got three weeks of YouTube creating logged. As an introduction, she put together a new gaming PC for herself. She doesn't think it's sustainable to keep replacing it often with self-financed rigs, but she needs content. Buckshaw is hoping to first fill her channel with builds for clients—maybe friends or family—as she gets started.

"I kind of just like building computers, but unfortunately it's a very expensive hobby," Buckshaw said. "It's not something I can really do on a regular basis, but I'm building the next one for a friend."

It's still a hobby for Buckshaw, an indulgence. And that's part of the fun in building your own PC—showing it off. "When I was first building computers we had these tiny plastic side panels where you could barely see inside the case," she said. "Now cases are next level with tempered glass. You really want to show off what's inside."

And in the age of YouTube, there is no shortage of folks who want to peek inside Chiang, Evans, or Buckshaw's PCs. "It's like kids watching other kids opening toys on YouTube," Buckshaw added. "It's the same thing, but for adults."