YouTube automation is sprouting a cottage industry that promises a quick buck

Scott Mitchell became convinced that YouTube would make him rich.

Mr Mitchell, 33, came up with the idea for videos last year that promoted courses on how to create so-called cash cow channels, which are often created through a process called YouTube automation.

So he bought one course, then another and yet another. He also paid for mentoring services. Mr Mitchell spent around $15,000 on his YouTube business, encountering obstacles at every step – courses that taught him little, freelancers who stole content and audience growth tactics that caused him pain. trouble with YouTube.

“I tried three courses and one expert on the side, and the only thing I got out of it was an empty wallet,” Mr Mitchell said.

YouTube automation has led to a cottage industry with online influencers offering tutorials and quick money opportunities. But, as is often the case with promises of quick fortunes in online businesses, YouTube’s automation process can be a money pit for aspiring internet entrepreneurs and a magnet for posers selling useless services.

It’s not hard to find a video that fits YouTube’s automation model, although it’s hard to say for sure how many of them have been made. They usually have an invisible narrator and a catchy title. They share news, explain a subject or offer a Top 10 on celebrities or athletes. They often bundle material like video clips and photos from other sources. Sometimes they run into problems with copyright rules.

The term “YouTube automation” is a bit of a misnomer. This usually means outsourcing the work to freelancers rather than relying on an automated process. This is not a new idea and yet one that has recently become more popular. Outsourcing work allows people to operate multiple channels, without the tedious tasks of writing scripts, recording voiceovers, or editing video. And the process is often touted as a surefire way to make money. To get started, you just need money – for hands-on lessons and video producers.

The courses ask people to find video topics that viewers crave. They are told to hire freelancers from online marketplaces where independent contractors, like Fiverr and Upwork, offer to run their channels and produce videos that cost from under $30 to over $100, depending on the rates of the freelancers. And this is where a lot of people run into trouble.

Cash cow channels with large audiences can reap tens of thousands of dollars in monthly ad revenue, while unpopular channels can earn nothing. YouTube shares ad revenue with a channel’s owner after a channel reaches 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 watch hours. Monetized channels get 55% of the money their videos generate, that is, if they manage to eliminate that much interest. YouTube declined to comment on the automation process.

Last summer, Mr. Mitchell paid $500 for a course called “Tube Mastery and Monetization” taught by Matt Par, who said he was making $30,000 a month on YouTube. He said successful students earned $20,000 a month.

The course featured videos on different aspects of YouTube automation, including choosing the most lucrative topic, outsourcing the work, and using keywords to make videos easier to find on YouTube. Mr. Par also explained how YouTube’s algorithms work.

But Mr Mitchell said the course had shortcomings – it lacked information on making high-quality videos with good scripts. He and other students also complained in a private Facebook group that Mr Par’s course content was available for free on his YouTube page.

“It’s basically selling dreams,” Mr. Mitchell said. Mr. Par did not respond to a request for comment.

Mr Mitchell, who asked The New York Times not to reveal where he lives, launched his first channel, Bounty Lux, about wealth and celebrities, last fall. He paid a freelancer he found on Fiverr $2,000 for 20 videos. YouTube removed one of those videos, about Dwayne Johnson, which featured stolen content from another channel, sparking a dispute with the freelancer. Bounty Lux didn’t make any money and struggled for viewers, so Mr. Mitchell gave it up.

He later bought a $1,500 course and spent over $3,000 to learn from an influencer at Pivotal Media, Victor Catrina. He paid an additional $3,000 to have Mr. Catrina’s team make videos, but, he said, the ideas and scripts were pulled from other channels.

After his freelancer disappeared for five days, Mr Mitchell decided to stop investing in the non-profit channel. Mr. Catrina said that if he found any of his teams paraphrasing other people’s scripts, he would replace them.

“I’m far from perfect, and neither is the program,” Mr. Catrina said. “And I openly and happily sent refunds to those who were struggling financially or felt the program didn’t live up to their expectations.”

Alexandra Fasulo of Fort Myers, Florida and her cousin spent $20,000 on a Caleb Boxx YouTube automation program in March 2021. In exchange, Mr. Boxx’s team ran a celebrity channel for Ms. Fasulo , 29, and has been producing videos for over six months. But there were quality issues, she said, and the videos failed to attract many viewers. Mr. Boxx did not respond to a request for comment. The channel was making less than $10 a day, so when it was time to pay for a new batch of videos, they dropped it.

“That’s what makes automation not worth it — you’re putting a lot of money up front,” Ms. Fasulo said.

Dave Nick, a Serbian creator whose real name is Dejan Nikolic, has been promoting YouTube automation since 2019. Mr. Nikolic, 20, appears on camera on three channels, and he said he has four channels with invisible narrators and 12 on YouTube Shorts, a fast clip competitor to TikTok.

Mr Nikolic said he earned $1.4 million in 2021, including for his own lessons and hands-on services, and he had already racked up $1 million this year. The key was his $995 course, responsible for 70% of his earnings.

“Not many people have made more than a few million a year with YouTube automation,” he said. Online business services are “how you get to eight figures”.

He said a number of his students made five figures a month on YouTube, but he didn’t have an exact tally of how many.

Mr Nikolic’s YouTube videos highlight the money he has earned and how much viewers can expect to earn themselves. His Instagram account features travel destinations, a Rolex and Porsches as well as bits about starting a YouTube business. But Mr Nikolic said his life was “not just glamorous”.

“I spend almost 15 hours a day on my computer,” he said.

One of the keys to making money from automated YouTube videos is feeding the internet’s obsession with tech billionaire Elon Musk.

Jelline Brands of Urk, the Netherlands launched the Elon Musk Rewind channel last fall. Some of its content is incorrect, such as a recent video proclaiming the introduction of a Tesla smartphone. Still, Ms Brands said he had made $250,000 since the start. (The Times was unable to verify the figure.) His channel included, alongside news, rumors and speculation about upcoming Tesla products.

She also offers a hands-on class, and many students in her class also started Musk Channels, even though she asked them not to. She even rivals her sister, who has a channel devoted to the billionaire.

The business model “is declining because the competition is so fierce,” said Noah Morris, coach of Ms Brands’ course, Cash Cow Academy Netherlands.

Ms Brands began offering lessons in December 2020, months after paying $1,000 for a YouTube tutorial that she later learned was just a four-page document. She had 1,700 students, most of whom paid 1,000 euros for her course, she said. Between 100 and 200 of them told him that they made money on YouTube.

“I love my job,” she said. “I don’t even consider it a job. It’s like a hobby for me. It’s like a game.”

However, she is not immune to the vagaries of YouTube’s algorithms. She said her Musk Channel brought in €7,500 a month, up from €50,000, or about $50,000, in November. Her former students have also seen their income drop, she said. Recently, she created 16 channels in a single week to stabilize her business.

The harsh landscape has even prompted some of Ms. Brands’ students to offer their own courses.

Youri van Hofwegen, a 21-year-old Dutch creator known online as Youri Automation, said some people have unrealistic expectations for YouTube’s success.

“They want to pay $200 and make $20,000 by next week,” he said. “There is no secret, magic strategy. It’s just about getting to work.

The courts created problems for Mr. Mitchell. A freelancer in a guru’s Facebook group told him to buy lucrative channels from a company that was hoarding fake viewers through bots. Mr. Mitchell gave the freelancer $5,000 to produce around 60 crypto videos and make money online.

YouTube quickly stripped one of the channels of its ability to make money. The other struggled for months to find an audience before someone uploaded three pirated videos. YouTube removed the channel for copyright infringement. The freelancer claimed someone else posted the videos in an act of sabotage.

But Mr Mitchell is still considering a loan to buy a $30,000 YouTube channel.

“It’s my last strategy,” he said. “I just need a little more time.” And Mr. Mitchell can offer his own course or manual, when he knows what to teach.

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