I’ve recently become obsessed with YouTube. In particular, I’ve been watching people who are creating mini-media brands by reviewing products in very specific niches. Before I dig into the videos themselves, I want to share why I am so enamored with them.
An entire generation is growing with the content, marketing, sales, and technical skills to run their own media companies, and to be their own publishers.
I am not just talking about the ability to setup a free blog on WordPress.com. I am talking about creating compelling content over the course of years, of learning how to market their content, how to engage with a larger community within the market they cover, and how to evolve with the technology as it changes. Their skillsets are varied, and they are not learning them in isolation, they are in the real world, getting constant feedback on what works and what doesn’t.
What effect will this have on our culture and the future of publishing & media? Here are a few:
- They Learn How to Build Something
When I see people creating their own branded channel on YouTube, I see them as entrepreneurs, just as someone would open up a store in my town, or launch a magazine startup. Why? Because inherent in this experience are small failures, dashed expectations, huge surprises, the benefit of iterating their product, growing their skills, and getting real-time feedback from their market. For some of the younger people building channels on YouTube, this experience is wildly more instructive than working at a local fast food restaurant, filling burritos with guacamole from a plastic tube.
- They Experience the Value of Sticking With Something Over Time
A lot of people who are serious about their YouTube channels have been creating videos for months or years, and you can see how their “brand” evolved as they discovered the cumulative value of their efforts. I’ve seen this with social media, and I think it applies here: when you stick with something over a long period of time, the value of the experience you receive is exponential. You’ll see what I mean in the examples below, some of these people in very niche areas have millions of views and thousands of subscribers.
- Hobbies are Now Media Entities
Most people have hobbies and collect things. Maybe it’s a shelf of NASCAR cars, vintage Leica cameras, scrapbooking supplies, vintage sunglasses, etc. Now, these personal hobbies are no longer just displayed in a 12′ x 12′ room in your home, they are the basis for your own media channel. That is what I am seeing. People reviewing each object in their collection as if they are reviewing it for their own media entity – as if they are a niche magazine covering that market. They are also sharing video from events, and sharing news and history on their little industry. People are turning their personal passions into public media entities.
- The Value of Partners
Inherently, I notice that many of these people start off as isolated obsessives, and end up replying to comments, referencing like-minded reviewers on YouTube, and partnering with others to expand the value and reach of what they do. I love this because it is the basis for creating a community of experts, of those whose passion is rare and hard to find.
- How to Shape a Community
Taking that theme a step further, these folks are also learning that they are valuable contributors to these communities, and are able to have a profound effect on the market they serve. From a basic self-esteem point of view, that is huge. But from a media perspective, suddenly one realizes that they have the power to shape the world that they care most about. If they don’t work for a major media brand, that isn’t a problem. They can still have a voice, have an effect on the world that matters to them.
- Connecting Offline to Online and Vice Versa.
Sometimes you see these reviewers meetup with fellow reviewers and do videos together. You see them attending events in the markets they cover, and otherwise connecting their online media to the offline world. Likewise, the very nature of these videos involves taking a physical object and turning it into online media by reviewing it. This is not a subtle thing – especially as large media companies still struggle to understand how they take their print-based organizations and give them the ability to create online products.
- Marketing as a Core Part of Creation
This is not about “social media” it is about identity, about connecting an idea to other people. When I grew up, most everyone I knew had creative ideas for videos, music, art, businesses, etc. And those ideas were born and died inside our own heads. Even for those we acted on, they existed for a brief moment, within a very tiny group of people. To scale beyond that would have cost a fortune, and required extreme dedication to one thing. For the people creating channels on YouTube, many of have multiple call-outs to “subscribe” to their videos, and do giveaways to entice new subscribers and reward existing fans. Inherent in the process is them learning how to grow a fan base and grow the viability of their idea by attracting an audience.
- The Ability to Create Compelling Content
Many of these people are creating branded names, logos, video intro’s, and multimedia experiences with music, voiceovers, and the like. And that’s before we get into the reviews themselves! You are seeing professional quality stuff here, as the reviews create very detailed videos covering every aspect of the products they cover. Check out some examples below.
All this sounds pretty impressive right? Well, let’s give it some context. For kicks, I’m going to focus on toy reviews. I’ve always loved toys, and even married a toy designer. Unbelievably, my wife actually has her degree in Toy Design, and worked in the industry until she became an art teacher.
So here is the first example of someone doing product reviews online:
What’s amazing is he has 376 uploads, many of them in the exact same style as the one above.
So maybe you are thinking: “Dan, why do I care about some kid reviewing Star Wars toys? What does this have to do with me?” Well, let’s see the effect of all of his effort:
- 7,671,926 views to his videos
- 8,678 subscribers
- He is now a guest reviewer for AFTimes.com
- Age: 19
I actually reached out to this reviewer, his name is Steve I learned. He answered a few questions I had about his experiences with these reviews:
“I do these reviews because I have a passion for collecting. I’ve never had any close friends that share my hobby & after stumbling across another reviewer here on YouTube I decided it would be cool to share my hobby online. It has brought many benefits, the most notable of which is being a YouTube partner, in which I gain a small amount of revenue from advertisements placed in my videos. I have been contacted by other collectable websites asking me to contribute to them, which I do & am sometimes awarded free goodies which is always a plus & it also enables me to meet people from across the world. I don’t actually see my reviews going any further than they already have, but I do hope my design skills are noticed by the work I do for my channel, as a trainee graphic designer I’ve gained quite a bit of experience doing design work for other YouTubers which again, is always a plus, so hopefully yes, in some way or another it will affect my career.”
His answer is really compelling because it speaks to the difference between creating a media entity for commerce, and creating one for passion. He doesn’t view this as a stepping stone to revenue, he sees it as an opportunity to share his passion with like-minded people.
Let’s look at another example. How about this guy, who ONLY reviews 1980’s GI Joe toys:
Look at all his videos. You can see how methodical he is in creating video after video that has a similar style, and how he reviews every aspect of the toy.
Or this kid (I think he’s still in High School) who reviews LEGO Star Wars toys under the monicker legoboy12345678:
Actually, he seems to be taking this VERY seriously:
- 2 YouTube Channels (here and here)
- 150+ video uploads
- 9,500,000+ video views
- He creates custom sets and sells them
- He does stop-motion animation using LEGO
- He has more than 8,000 subscribers
Think about this: when you were 15, and you had some silly hobby, did you have nearly 8,000 people interested in subscribing to it? Were you able to start a business around it? Did you have millions and millions of people viewing what you do?
This really is the future.
When I was 20 years old, I published my own fanzine. I give a brief history (with photos!) here. Basically, my friend and I contacted record labels, reviewed albums, interviewed bands, and went to shows. I took photos, wrote articles, coordinated contributors, laid out the magazine, printed it, distributed it, and got into loads and loads of debt with it.
Do you know how many people saw that magazine? (And I’m talking about besides my mom and dad) Maybe a few hundred over the course of two years. They would see an issue, glance at it, throw it out, and likely never get another copy.
This is not to belittle my efforts at the time, just to give a comparison of how these efforts scaled back then, and how they do today. If you have a passion today, the tools are available to build a mini media empire at almost no cost. At the time I published the magazine, the opportunity seemed unbelievable: I had contacts at every major record label; I interviewed nearly all of my favorite bands; and I got tons of free CDs each week. And that is what drove me to spend thousands of dollars on printing costs at a time that I earned about $5 an hour during college.
So here I am in the middle of my career, working in media and publishing. And I have to ask myself, what if I had the experience that legoboy12345678 (referenced above) had. What if, when I was 15 years old, I had mastered these tools, learned marketing in the wild, produced dozens of videos, had millions of viewers, thousands of subscribers, and a growing community that I interacted with?
Because people like him are the future leaders of the media & publishing worlds, and of all business in fact. The legoboy12345678’s of the world. Is it a silly username on YouTube? Sure. Is there a lot he can teach us about the future of publishing and media? Definitely.
If you think I can help you grow your publishing & media skills, let me know: @DanBlank, 973-981-8882 or firstname.lastname@example.org.