Why Do People Keep Making Videos When They're So Low in Information Density?

I've always been puzzled by why content creators on platforms like YouTube or Bilibili, like Ali Abdaal or MoneyXYZ, are incredibly popular and earn a lot of money. In my view, videos are a particularly poor tool for learning.

First off, you can't speed-read a video. With books, you can skim through and still get the gist of what’s being said. Videos don't allow that. Then there's the issue of searching for specific content. Books and articles are inherently searchable through search engines, pinpointing exactly the section you need. Videos lack this capability significantly. Lastly, it's tough to quickly jump to the exact part of a video you want. Say you're reading an article and suddenly want to refer back to something mentioned a few pages ago—you can flip back and find it within seconds and continue your train of thought. With videos, you have to fumble around to find the right spot, completely disrupting your flow. Essentially, these creators’ videos often involve someone just talking at the screen, maybe adding some titles or subtitles. You could turn off the screen and just listen or read the subtitles, and the information would be virtually the same.

I keep wondering, why don't these creators just write articles? Why must they force-feed us, stretching what could be a 3-minute read into a 15-minute video? Then I have to turn on subtitles, speed up the playback twice, and use long-press to fast forward four times just to get back to a 3-minute read. I'm not saying these creators are dumb—they are masters of communication and human nature, or they wouldn’t have millions of followers. But it baffles me. It's like when your girlfriend asks you what you did wrong. You know you messed up but can't pinpoint what exactly.

It wasn't until I heard Ali mention he makes ten million dollars a year on YouTube that it clicked. I've never heard anyone say they made millions from writing on Zhihu, Substack, or Zsxq. Writing articles just doesn’t pay the bills! There's a fundamental difference between videos and articles. In articles, the "author" hides behind their thoughts. You see their reasoning and their written output, but you rarely think about the "author" themselves. Videos are the complete opposite, with a real person right there talking to you. So despite their inherent disadvantages in density and searchability, videos naturally bring the "author" concept to the forefront, making them more tangible. Thus, it’s easier for viewers to feel admiration or gratitude, lowering the barrier to paying.

But then again, is there a medium that combines high information density with profitability? I immediately think of movies. Or, scaling it down, creators like Moe Moe Team or 3Blue1Brown who focus on scientific content. Their videos primarily consist of informative animations, so they truly contain valuable information—not just someone talking. Turning off the screen during their videos means missing out on essential information. Plus, their content is highly distinctive, easily recognizable as their work, which helps viewers form an emotional connection. However, these animations are incredibly professional and time-consuming, requiring skills and effort far beyond simple talking. The return on investment is also lower compared to straightforward talking.

So now I understand what I was missing. But I still think there’s significant room for improvement in the current style of straightforward talking videos. Video as a medium should have a higher potential than articles, but right now, the mainstream on YouTube still revolves around spoon-feeding viewers for profit. Maybe there will be a new way to make videos that are easy to produce, informative, and profitable?

Finally, a quick survey: Do you speed up videos? Do you find the information density in videos to be particularly low?