The next time you find yourself "wasting" hours going through clips on Google's (GOOG) YouTube -- or criticizing someone for doing just that -- start thinking about the ways that you could make money through online videos.
Obviously, there's not a lot of cash to be made consuming the eye candy: There aren't too many job openings for couch potatoes who want to moonlight as viral video critics. However, there's definitely some profit to be had for the enterprising souls who actually make the videos that are uploaded to YouTube.
I'm doing it. Why can't you?
The Birth of Moonpies
How is YouTube like a law firm? It pays to become a partner.
When I began uploading YouTube videos in 2006, I certainly wasn't thinking about money. I had things that I wanted to share, and YouTube was a free and casual platform that was booming in popularity. A year later, YouTube launched YouTube Partners, a program where some of its more visible contributors could share the revenue generated from ads that appear on their videos and channel pages.
I was too small to qualify, but that didn't stop me and my Moonpies channel from trying. After a couple of initial rejections and a newfound commitment on my part to uploading regular content, Moonpies was accepted as a YouTube Partner in the spring of 2009.
The qualifications haven't changed much during the four years that the program has been available. Potential partners must create original videos that are suitable for online streaming on the family-friendly website. You have to have express permission for all of the audio and video in the clip. The final stipulation is that the applicant regularly uploads videos that are viewed by thousands of users.
These aren't easy hurdles to clear, especially right away. It takes time to cultivate a following. Moonpies now has 7,647 subscribers, amassing more than 3.3 million views along the way. After posting infrequently during my early days, I now have at least one weekly Tube Tuesday upload offering tips to increase one's visibility on YouTube itself.
YouTube has asked its partners not to reveal the exact amount of money that they're making, and I'm going to respect that. Let's just say that I am not making enough to quit my day job, but it's enough welcome revenue to bankroll a few family getaways every now and then.
Beyond the Partnership
There are limitations to the partnership program. It is not available in all countries. It is run through Google's AdSense program, so you have to be at least 18 years old to apply (or have a parent or guardian willing to take on the taxable implications of doing so).
Google is also pretty strict about the program. If you try to game the system you're out for good. If your plan is to upload The Simpsons clips and Foo Fighters videos you missed the point about posting original videos to qualify in the first place.
If you find a subject that you are passionate about -- whether it's photography, magic tricks, or cooking -- you may very well be on your way if you can generate quality videos and promote your presence without running afoul of YouTube's guidelines.
It's widely believed that there are now tens of thousands of partners on YouTube, but it's obviously not the only way to turn videos into money.
After all, realtors use YouTube to promote video walkthroughs of homes that they are trying to sell. Indie musicians post their music to draw a following, but also to lead them to third-party sites where they can buy or stream the music. There's no shortage of people in multi-level marketing programs trying to get folks to sign up under them.
However, there are a few other crafty ways to make money through YouTube.
- There are plenty of affiliate marketing programs out there. If you find one offering a product that you can get behind, create a genuine review video and put a commission-generating link to the product in the video description.
- If you're selling something on eBay (EBAY) or through Craigslist, making a video will help you attract new potential buyers. Take advantage of the "tags" feature in the description to make your video stand out.
- If you're handy in arts and crafts, make a video of the creation process. Offer to sell the finished product to your viewers.
Catching Something Viral
All of this pales in comparison to landing a single hot viral video. Remember that "David After Dentist" clip where a kid in the backseat -- still feeling the effects of anesthesia -- asks if this is real life? That family generated six figures in ad revenue from that single timely upload. You just never know when your pet or nephew will do something amazing, so just keep rolling.
YouTube has also served as the launching pad for teen heartthrob Justin Bieber, comedian Bo Burnham, and the ever-grating Fred. If you're not celebrity material, maybe it's time to help a family member who may very well be.
First things first, though. You're recording this, right?
Longtime Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz does not own shares in any of the stocks in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares of Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of eBay and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have also recommended writing puts in eBay.