Making real money from YouTube

SARAH CATHERALL
Last updated 13:00 04/02/2013
Corey Harris
FAIRFAX NZ

MONEY MAKER: Corey Harris has paid for a new computer and will fund his university studies using money he made on YouTube.

Andrew Strugnell
ANDREA O'NEILL/Fairfax NZ
ANDREW STRUGNELL: All you need is a high-definition camera... [and] to be good with social media to promote yourself.

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Corey Harris is a 16-year-old high school pupil in Kerikeri who likes hanging out with his mates, gaming, photography and spending time on his computer.

The bright-eyed teen with spiky hair is also New Zealand's most successful YouTuber.

Forget getting a paper run or an after-school job - Corey makes enough money each month to save for his university studies and buy everything a guy his age needs. Corey has his own YouTube channel, posting videos about using Photoshop and other technologies. He is one of a few hundred Kiwis who have been signed up by the video- sharing website to make money out of their regular contributions.

There's a whole world of YouTuber partners out there, some of them online celebrities, complete with staff and six-figure incomes.

One of those is Michelle Phan, of Los Angeles, YouTube's No 1 beauty and makeup blogger and second-most popular blogger overall.

Corey hopes that one day he will be that big too, and his Sony Vegas and Photoshop videos and tutorials may make him an internet star. Two years ago, he was making these tutorials for himself and videoing them. The tech-savvy kid who got his first computer at 10 put a couple on YouTube, and drew a following. His subscribers then began asking him to cover certain topics, and he now has 50,000 subscribers who follow his updates.

His audience was big enough for YouTube to sign him up, effectively paying him via the advertising on his pages. Corey now has 40 videos on YouTube, averaging 100,000 views each. Most of his audience lives in the United States, Brazil and Germany, with a growing number in the Philippines. "About 20 to 30 per cent of my audience are people my age, and the rest of them are older, up to 65-plus."

At Kerikeri High School, Corey has a following too - some pupils use his tutorials and teachers use them in class. While he is not allowed to reveal how much he is earning, Corey says: "It's enough to pay for my university fees when I finish high school. It's a passive income though, and I don't have to work for my channel to still get views.

"When someone clicks on an ad [on one of my videos], I get a share of that. Apparently 3 per cent of people click on an ad."

Corey's custom-built computer, with three monitors, was paid for with his YouTube earnings. While he doesn't plan to make a career out of this, he will study web and interactive design when he leaves school. And his channel, AquuL, has already opened doors. He was paid US$2500 (about NZ$3000) by an American businessman who viewed one of Corey's posts and asked him to make a video about his company.

Corey has his own YouTube heroes whose channels he follows. One is Iceslow Studios, which posts similar videos to Corey's, but has about 200,000 subscribers and its own staff.

"I don't have a numbers goal but it would be pretty cool to be like that in the future," Corey says. "I make about one video a month which takes me a few hours a week."

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A big part of being a YouTube star is promoting yourself on Facebook and Twitter. Corey has 11,000-plus likes on Facebook. "I really think YouTube is the future of TV," he says.

In Wellington, Andrew Strugnell has his ideal job, producing videos for the Salvation Army and, as an aside, making videos about his travels, which he posts on YouTube.

While he doesn't have quite the same YouTube following as Corey, Strugnell is having a lot of fun. In November 2010, the 23-year-old got enough views on his channel, strugsnotdrugs, to apply to become a YouTube partner, and he now has 1300 subscribers to his travel channel. "It's pretty small, but I've got a good platform to start with."

Strugnell trained as a film-maker and he is getting to use his skills. Better still, he won a travel video competition last year which sponsored a 3 ½-month trip around the United States. "My YouTube channel helped me get sponsorship from Canon for the trip too, because I had a captive audience. Canon gave me all this gear that I was able to showcase."

YouTube has given him permission to run a travel series from that trip, and he will show a series of 55 videos. Most of his audience is based in the US, but his channel has grown in Taiwan and Britain recently.

And if guys like Strugnell and Corey make it look easy, that's because it really is. "All you need is a high-definition camera because that's the level of quality that people are now used to," Strugnell says. "You also need to be good with social media to promote yourself."

An Australian friend of Strugnell's has a channel, CakesByChoppA, on which the former kindergarten teacher shows subscribers how to make novelty cakes. "He has made enough money to finish his day job. He's good at what he does and everyone wants to know how to make a good cake."

Strugnell has also embraced the YouTube community and he helps connect New Zealand-based partners through technology - of course. When he met Your Weekend, he was hosting a Google-plus hangout that weekend to bring 10 YouTubers together online. In June, he attended the VidCom conference in Los Angeles, which brought 7000 YouTubers together. "There were the biggest names there in the YouTube world. My dream is to be a fulltime YouTuber."

Grace Conley doesn't have quite the same aspirations, but she is New Zealand's mini-Michelle Phan, because her beauty videos have struck a chord among young fans.

The 16-year-old Rangiruru College pupil is pretty and photogenic, a must when you're showing young women how to apply lipstick and eyeliner.

Grace's back-to-school fashion video, showing how to prepare simple hair and makeup for school, has almost 14,000 views.

The video, shot in her bedroom, is low-key and of schoolgirl quality. But Grace takes her time making videos, and each can take several hours of recording and editing.

She lived in Chicago for five years, where friends introduced her to YouTube makeup tutorials. She returned to Christchurch aged 14, arriving just after the September 2010 earthquake. Her school was shut temporarily so, to keep busy, she began making beauty videos on her laptop and putting them on YouTube. Her American friends and other bloggers spotted them, and gave her "shout-outs" - promoting them to other beauty subscribers. "Because they helped me, things took off pretty quickly and I became a YouTube partner two months later."

She works at a clothing shop after school "but YouTube is way more fun and it's so flexible too. I can make $200 a month, which is pretty good when you're a 16-year-old. It's like a hobby of mine anyway and a bonus is that I get paid for it."

While other parents are not comfortable about their children being so exposed on the internet, Grace says: "My parents have been really supportive. The only thing they tell me is to keep personal information to myself."

Phan has become a global internet sensation since she started posting videos on YouTube six years ago. With a cult following around the world, the American-Vietnamese beauty star has 2.5-million YouTube subscribers and her easy-to-follow makeup videos have been viewed more than 635m times.

Phan also has 1.1m Facebook likes. She is now so popular and loved by the beauty brands that her YouTube channel is loaded with giveaways.

Last year, Phan attended Wellington Fashion Week; a video of the event got 60,000 views.

She grew up wanting to be an artist, but her mother, a Vietnamese immigrant, hoped she would be a doctor. Eventually majoring in illustration, she says: "I support my family and my mother doesn't work anymore, which is all I wanted. Mum came to the United States with no money and she wanted to give us a better life."

Before her YouTube career began, the 25-year-old applied for a job at a Lancome beauty counter but was turned down. In 2010, the same cosmetics giant hired her as a beauty ambassador, aware of her global appeal, especially in the growing beauty market in China.

Both an internet star and an entrepreneur, Phan now has staff and a professional recording studio and her empire is expanding. But she still personally makes her own videos - which are nonetheless highly polished, looking like professional advertisements or TV programmes - using the software iMovie. She uploads her videos in her living room, editing everything on her laptop.

Annie Baxter, an expat Kiwi who works for YouTube as a communications manager, says the key to international YouTube stardom is regular posting of high-quality videos, along with knowing your audience and what they want to learn.

"YouTube allows anyone to make a business by sharing their passion with people around the world," she says. "It's very different to passively sitting back and watching a TV programme."

With about a million people becoming YouTube partners since the programme began in 2007, Baxter says thousands of channels are now generating six-figure incomes.

Many YouTube stars live in Los Angeles.

Hollywood has become ground zero for YouTube, she says. "But the big difference with YouTube is that the stars say their audiences feel like they know them."

Popular channels are fashion, makeup and comedy. Baxter says one of the biggest growth areas has been "how to" video channels like Corey's. "How to understand complicated software, how to change a tyre, that kind of thing.

"There's also been a huge growth of crafts. If you're a New Zealander with a passion for crochet, through YouTube you could potentially have a global broadcast audience of millions."

- The Dominion Post

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