So my son Alexander, a.k.a. Xander, got bitten in the katushka by a typical post-teenager bonehead move not long ago. He had a job all neatly lined up to deliver pizzas this summer. Problem was, he'd forgotten to pay a $10 ticket some time back, and the great State of Wisconsin eventually suspended his driver's license.
That got his attention, and he quickly paid the fine and got his license reinstated. Unfortunately, the pizza chain he planned to work for doesn't allow anyone to drive for them who has ever had their license suspended for any reason. So there went that. Very frustrating for him.
Apart from that, there's basically only one option for a 3-month full-time job in our area: fast food, for minimum wage.
So Xander got a bright idea.
Over the previous two years he's posted 11 videos to YouTube. Much to his surprise, one of the first ones, a little video about making a tiny motorcycle from cigarette lighter parts, has gotten almost 57,000 views, and he's earned a nice tidy little clump of cash from it.
So he pitched an idea to me. Would I allow him to spend his summer making videos instead of working?
The equation is as follows. A minimum-wage job would earn $290 a week before deductions. Minus deductions (not counting the taxes he'd get back) and times 11 weeks, the amount he could expect to earn flipping burgers full time for the whole summer would be about $2,900.
He fully expects to make less than that from his videos this summer. The interesting part of the calculation is that the videos will continue to make money into the future, even after he's back at school.
So he figured if he can make somewhere between 30 and 60 new videos during the summer, his income from the YouTube channel by May 2015 would exceed the amount he would have made selling his time for the summer months. And they wouldn't suddenly stop earning money in May 2015, either.
Plus there are the synergistic elements of a YouTube channel to take into account. He has 442 subscribers now, but each new video brings in a few dozen more subscribers. And each new video increases the views on the older ones.
He's been studying and learning a lot about promotion and how to get views and links, too. (Maybe even spending more time on that than on the videos themselves.) And the other day he landed his first affiliation—to Audible.com, the purveyor of spoken-word books owned by Amazon. He gets paid whenever one of his viewers downloads a free sample spoken-word book. That's me boy.
The videos are mostly short how-tos. Here's the latest:
This was posted two days ago. It's just a little over a minute and a half, versus a leisurely 12:40 for the LighterCycle video of two years ago.
A video called "Never Lose Keys Again" is my favorite. Very simple idea, but clever. And even shorter than the one above. And now I know where all my refrigerator magnets have been going.
Two more things are happening. He studied some successful YouTubers and copied the speed and "patter" of their deliveries so he could mimic what seems to work best. Here's an example that kinda surprised me—I didn't really know he could talk that fast. And his production values are getting better bit by bit, as he learns more about it. The old LighterCycle video is crude—a single-position continuous shot made with his cellphone. Now he's got a Panasonic V550 camcorder and he has the use of a swell carbon-fiber Gitzo tripod borrowed from a certain superannuated and mentally decrepit paternal progenitor.
I'll admit that I bought the Panasonic camcorder, and that I have an ulterior motive—sometime before the summer is over I'm hoping Xander's YouTube channel will feature just a few videos about things like pool, coffee, and cameras, and not necessarily in that order.
Should be an interesting summer for him. And if it doesn't work as planned, well, what better time to experiment with entrepreneurship than when you're 21 and home from college for the summer? It beats toiling at McDonald's.
"Open Mike" is the weekly Op-Ed page of TOP, written by Yr. Hmbl. Ed. and frequently off-topic. It appears only, but not always, on Sundays.
ADDENDUM: Several people have noted that working at McDonald's would have given Xander some work experience and some experience working with others. I thought I should mention that he already has some of that. His senior year in high school he worked as a waiter at a sushi restaurant, and then after graduation he worked full time for a year and a half before starting college. His longest job was changing oil at a Valvoline 60 hours a week. He also unloaded trucks at Target in the middle of the night and, as a temp, put in a stint at a factory job (Wisconsin Coil).
I didn't push him to go to college—I just waited until (or if) the motivation would come from him. My only condition was that he either had to work full time or go to school, one or the other. He got himself into UW Oshkosh (where his girlfriend goes—he found out about it through visiting her there) and will start his fourth semester there in the Fall. —Mike
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Featured Comments from:
Charles: "One gets paid for YouTube videos? Who knew? Good for him."
Mike replies: Sure, with all those annoying little ads that pop up at the bottom. He gets a certain amount for views of the video, and more if someone clicks on the ad. Google "Google AdSense" if you'd like more of an explanation.
I haven't seen verification of this, but according to articles I've read, Dane Boe of "The Annoying Orange" earned $288,000 from his entire "channel" (i.e., all his videos) in 2012, and Army vet Marquese Scott earned more than $100,000 for the famous "Pumped Up Kicks | Dubstep" video alone. (Note the number of views those videos have gotten, though.)
Bill Tyler: "As a dad myself, I really like Xander's plan, provided you and he can afford the risk that it might pay less than you estimate. (Of course, it might also pay more.) It's perfectly respectable to work making and serving fast food. But you learn nothing beyond how to perform in a dead-end job. The video project, on the other hand, is both money-earning and valuable learning in an area that presumably Xander is interested in pursuing in future. Sounds like a win all around to me."
Mike replies: If it doesn't pay off there's a further option—working while he's in school. His girlfriend works for Target and just switches stores depending on whether she's in school or at home. He could do something like that during the year if he needs to.