August 30, 2012 -- People getting rich from posting videos on YouTube isn't news. It's the rate at which it's happening.
"We have thousands of people, now, making six-figure incomes," says Bing Chen, one of the managers of YouTube's Partner Program, which helps amateur video-makers become prosporous. "It's enough for them to create a sustainable business."
A year ago, Chen says, the number of people was just a few hundred. Income earned by YouTube partners, he says, has doubled every year for the past four years. And all kinds of people are cashing in—Pilates instructors, musicians, dog trainers, comedians, chefs and cosmeticians.
He cites as a prime example Michelle Phan, 25, whose videos instruct women how to shop for and use cosmetics. While Phan was still an art school student, Chen says, she began uploading videos as a hobby. Today she has more than two million YouTube subscribers. Her videos have earned 624 million views.
Not only is she making money, she has become, says Chen , "a global brand—the premier destination for makeup tutorials." Cosmetics company Lancome has hired her as its official "video makeup artist."
YouTube's partners make money several ways, says Chen. Once their following grows above a certain threshold (the number differs according to each partner, Chen says), they start to get a percentage of the revenue YouTube owner Google gets from selling ads to run beside the partner's video.
Eric Letendre, The Amazing Dog Training Man, makes videos on such topics as "shedding" and "secrets of leash walking" that have earned 9.2 million views. He gets $300 to $500 a month, he says, from ads that Google sells. But he makes "a lot more" by using his YouTube channel to sell his books and services.
Blogilates, the channel for fitness- and Pilates-instructor Cassey Ho (16 million views), has an e-commerce feature through which she sells her own line of Pilates clothes and gym bags. The revenue she gets from Google's ads, she says, varies depending on the number of views and the number of followers she attracts. Is Ho making a six-figure income? "Oh, absolutely," Ho says. "Sometimes I can't believe it!"
Not every YouTube partner views ad income and product sales as the measure of success. Actors Kim Robillard and Lorna Scott post spoofs of movie reviews, impersonating a hillbilly couple named the Ricketts. With only 33 subscribers and only 3,600 views, they haven't yet crossed the threshold above which they would start to get a cut of Google's advertising. They make their videos in hopes that somebody in Hollywood will see their work and offer them, say, a full-fledged TV show. What Schwab's Drug Store once was for actors in the '30s (a place to be 'discovered'), YouTube is for them today.
"The great thing about YouTube," says Robillard, "is there isn't any gatekeeper. There isn't any conference room full of executives deciding if your video is worthy."
What's the secret to YouTube success?
Brothers Rafi and Benny Fine have created some of the all-time most popular videos posted on the site. Their work has earned them in excess of 360 million views and an income Rafi prefers not to specify. He will say, however, that they now employ 10 people to help produce their torrent of videos, which currently include a four-episode-a-week sitcom ('My Music') and a hit series called "Kids React," in which kids and other people react to stuff plucked from popular culture.
Rafi says success-seekers have to find new ways to engage viewers. He and Benny, for example, have started asking their audience to suggest new things for the kids in "Kids React" to react to. "Every new episode," says Rafi, "is now the result of a suggestion by the audience."
Internet consultant Andrew Broadbent says that consistency is important: To build a regular following, the novice video maker must consistently produce new work. That keeps curiosity seekers coming back to see what's new. It's important, too, he says, for novices to name their video in such a way that somebody searching for its subject matter is sure to come upon it. Broadbent's firm, VAB Media, helps clients do that.