The #1 question I get from readers of this blog is usually “What camera do you use?” This is quickly followed up by a question about how to make money with a web series or if it’s even possible. The quick answers are: “a Canon 60D” and “Yes it’s possible, but it’s complicated.”
All “make money online” questions are tricky to answer because there are no clear-cut answers that work for every project. If somebody tells you they have a magic bullet, they are lying. Unless you are already backed by a company with lots of money, the topic of monetizing internet video content is something we’ll all be exploring for some time. I’ll tell you upfront that all the projects I’m currently working on are completely boot-strapped and self-financed. There are no investors and we have zero outside financial backing.
I have a long-term strategy for these projects so I’m not looking for any get-rich-quick or shady solutions. Instead, I want to figure out as many possible income streams (even if some of them are tiny) and make sure all of them build brand equity.
There’s a Swedish proverb that says something along the lines of “Many Small Streams will form a large river.” I like this a lot and it has guided the big picture direction of what I’m doing with these brands.
With at that in mind, here are 5 ways you can definitely make money with a web series. These are things that definitely work and that are a core part of what I’m doing now. None of these are all that sexy or exciting and all of them require actual work.
This is the first and easiest way to get an income stream going, however unless you have a lot of views on a regular basis it’s going to be a tiny trickle.
On YouTube, monetization is available for everybody now. You just turn on the monetization option. The amount you’ll make is based on CPM (cost per thousand). The CPM will vary greatly depending on your niche and where your videos are being watched. If you have long-term plans for your show (or brand), I wouldn’t recommend this until you are getting at least a thousand views on a daily basis. In the early days, you should concentrate on building an audience and the small amount of money you might make from ads aren’t worth the potential turn-off.
Blip also offers a very easy monetization option and from what I hear, they have a much higher CPM. My current shows don’t do all that great on Blip so it’s not a significant income stream. Right now, review shows with a geek angle (particularly gaming) seem to be hitting big on Blip right now. If you have something in that niche, I would definitely suggest trying it out.
Once you have an audience that is engaging with your brand, you should start thinking about developing and selling products. There are a lot of different ways to do this. You’ve probably seen tons of CafePress stores selling t-shirts for various websites and shows. I’m sure this works great for some brands, but I’m way too OCD and I haven’t been impressed with the quality of the products.
For Hilah Cooking, we started selling eBooks. Cookbooks seemed like a natural evolution of our brand and in 2011, I was heavily influenced by what “internet marketers” were doing at the time. e-Books were all the rage in 2011.
Our first eBook version of Learn To Cook, did really well – it was a PDF but had a lot of great content and I was really proud of it. But even people who bought and loved it wanted a print book. So, last year, we took the eBook version off sale and completely revised and updated it. We re-designed it for Print-on-Demand and set it up with Createspace. This allowed us to do a print book without up-front costs and without the overhead of storing and shipping hundreds of books ourselves. The launch of the book went really well, the reader feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and we continue to sell copies every day. Once the book was set-up, publishing through Createspace has actually been less day-to-day work than the eBook. There are no customer service issues or e-Commerce issues to deal with and we get a direct deposit at the end of each month.
We’ve also had quite a bit of success with small Kindle titles sold through Amazon.com. These are priced at $2.99 and even at that price point, they have made enough money to justify the energy we put into them. It’s not a major amount of income, but it’s a healthy recurring income stream.
3. Direct Ad Sales (and Product Placement)
Once you have an audience and a consistent number of views, you can start building direct relationships with other brands. This can be WAY more profitable that the low CPM you might be getting from video distribution sites. There will be a lot more work involved and back-and-forth with the client because you’ll have to cultivate the relationships and even do some old-school cold calling. But, if you set your rates appropriately can be more than worth it.
4. Syndication & Licensing
We’ve done a few deals where a company wants to syndicate our content for display on their site or service. Some of them have been pretty straightforward and others have been kind of weird (such as services for mobile phones in other countries). Make sure to read the fine print and sweat the details. Also, make sure that the distribution points are helping your brand and not diluting your brand equity. If your content is in too many places, you’ll end up fighting against yourself in the search engine rankings. Ultimately you still want to drive as many people as possible into your main hub.
You could also repackage your content for sale via DVD or as a pay per download with extra features. This works particularly well if you’re creating scripted content.
5. Production Deals
Once you have built an audience and have a reputation for creating great content, companies will start to approach you to create original content for them. With the recent influx of cash into the YouTube ecosystem, this is happening on a much more frequent basis. These offers can range from awesome and lucrative to insulting and annoying.
However if you manage to put together the right deal, it can lead to not only a significant amount of money, but a great expansion of (and promotion for) your core brand. I’m just starting to explore this area, but I this is going to be big for us in 2013.
I’m still figuring out this crazy business as I go and I don’t pretend to have all the answers.
I’d love to hear what I’m missing. Are you monetizing your web shows with things that aren’t on this list? Let me know in the comments below!