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Top Vtuber in China Allegedly Only Paid 10 Cents per $20 Subscription

By Cecil Gao
May. 12, 2022 updated 12:58

Since its launch in December 2020, A-SOUL has been arguably the most popular VTuber idol group in China, with 4.22 million subscribers on Bilibili and a wide range of characters; they host concerts and perform in live shows, appear in commercials, etc.

However, while the group is a massive success, the actors behind these virtual characters see only a tiny fraction of that amount.

A recent dispute between the group and one of its actors revealed some horrendous business practices, including long work hours, terrible copyright laws, and that the actors are only paid 10 cents for each of their $20 subscriptions.

On May 10th, A-SOUL, released a statement that its member Carol will go on an indefinite hiatus due to her "health" and "study" issues.

On the other side, things are clearly not so simple. Carol, or rather the actor behind this virtual character, began complaining about workplace bullying and an unreasonable salary on her private social media account. This quickly caused an uproar on social media in China, with tons of fans angrily demanding that A-SOUL's parent company, ByteDance, disclose the Vtuber's detailed salary and thoroughly investigate the workplace bullying accusations.

As the most popular Vtuber group in China, all five members of A-SOUL have more than 1,000 membership subscribers, generating more than $50,000 in Superchat donations every month.

A-SOUL’s month revenue compares to other Chinese Vtuber groups in November, 2021A-SOUL’s month revenue compares to other Chinese Vtuber groups in November, 2021

Vtuber companies would usually share their revenue with actors by a 40-60 split or 50-50 on some rare occasions. This means actors in A-SOUL should be making around $25,000 to $30,000 a month, which was the assumption for most A-SOUL fans.

It’s not hard to imagine the rage fans felt when Carol’s actor claimed she’s only paid an abysmal base salary and a laughable revenue share, not 50%, not 30%, or even 10% or 1%. 

A-SOUL operates on Bilibili, the largest UGC video platform in China. Bilibili takes 50% of all streamer grossing, including donations and subscriptions. According to the source, A-Soul takes 99% of the rest, which would mean that for each $20 monthly subscription, Carol’s actor is paid 10 cents or a mere 0.5% 

Carol’s base salary is rumored to be around $2000, and according to this calculation, her monthly revenue share was only $500-$600, far less than the speculated figure. 

During her birthday live on November 2nd, Carol gained more than 12,000 new subs in a single day. That alone means more than $320,000 in grossing and $160,000 in her company’s pocket. However, Carol's actor said this record-breaking event only resulted in a one-time $1,600 bonus. The next month after the event, her subscriber counts dropped back to normal.

Money was just a part of the problem. Carol once had a severe injury during a stream, and her thigh got cut by a mocap device. She was still forced to finish the livestream, and A-SOUL officials denied that there was anything suspicious about the injury.

Carol took a break and was off-air for a month in May 2021. During that time, rumors of her trying to expand her career and become an idol, in reality, had been circulating. That rumor was used by A-SOUL management to verbally abuse Carol, commenting on her appearance and threatening to kick her out "and see if she can make it as a real idol" if her livestreaming revenue was too low.

In early April, Carol stated on her account that she was worried about her privacy and safety, claiming “someone is going to sabotage me very soon”. Less than two weeks later, her personal information, including pictures and videos from real life, was leaked on the internet.

Carol claims that she is already suffering from hearing loss and vocal cord damage from long working hours and that the verbal and physical abuse in the workplace made her suicidal.

As of now, a large number of fans have signed a protest letter demanding that ByteDance thoroughly investigate A-SOUL's working conditions and salaries and provide a reasonable solution. A-SOUL officials issued an urgent statement at 2 am, claiming that the news circulating about salaries and workplace bullying is false and that they will take appropriate action to sue people who spread them. The real answer to these questions will not be known; as A-SOUL says, for now, they cannot disclose the information because of privacy.

Update: Last night, A-SOUL conducted a surprise Livestream to appease angry fans at 8 pm. Carol, who had already announced that she would go on hiatus, reappeared to explain her decision to retire and clarify fans' suspicions about A-SOUL's workplace bullying. However, the stream did not go as smoothly as A-SOUL officials had expected. A large number of fans began to angrily ask the direct leader of A-SOUL to come and clarify all the things Carol complained about. After a short talk that lasted less than an hour, Carol ended her final stream in chaos. In the later stream, the other four A-SOUL Vtubers tried to continue to provide answers to fans' suspicions. Still, the fans believed that the members had all been threatened or warned, so they intended to continue to protest until things were resolved. At the moment, A-SOUL has still not released any statement or further explanation.