How gadget reviewer Lon Seidman amassed 290,000 subscribers and 89 million views on YouTube

He ignored the flashy gadgets and focused on everyday tech products like printers and modems.

Lon Seidman didn’t launch on YouTube with the goal of becoming a top gadget reviewer. In fact, he stumbled upon that aspect of his career while struggling to run a video local news startup in Connecticut. Almost on a whim, he recorded a video review about one of the cameras he bought for his startup, and to his surprise, the video blew up.

Flash forward a decade, and Lon now has tens of millions of views across YouTube and Amazon. He managed to carve out a niche among a crowded field of gadget reviewers, and he’s now making a pretty good living through a mixture of YouTube advertising, affiliate sales, and Patreon subscriptions. We walked through how he accomplished all this in our interview.

To listen to the interview, subscribe to The Business of Content on your favorite podcast player. If you scroll down you’ll also find some transcribed highlights from the interview.

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This transcript has been edited for clarity.

How Lon’s YouTube success grew out of a failed local news project

Back in 2009, Lon had the idea that he could take the model for local TV news and replicate it online. “The cost of the equipment had dropped dramatically. We went from having these really expensive HD camcorders to something you could pick up back then for $700 or $800 that recorded to an SD card in HD. It was mind blowing, and the cost of the computers to edit came down tremendously. I was buying refurbished Macs. All the equipment together would cost about $1,500. This was around the time that we were going through the Great Recession, and a lot of the local reporters that I knew were finding themselves out of work.”

Lon called a good friend of his who worked in TV news and asked her what it would cost to put a reporter out in the field. “And we gave it a shot. We went out and had these young reporters cover local news in West Hartford, Connecticut. It got a lot of attention. I think people liked watching it, but I think we were ahead of our time in the sense that there wasn't a large audience for it. We would get 300 or 400 views per video, which for one town was unbelievably good, but we were up against TV stations that were delivering statewide to an audience of hundreds of thousands of people.  It was also very difficult to get advertising. It ended up costing more to produce the ad than it did to run it. And none of our potential clients had video to offer us as an advertisement. And so it didn’t really work out.” 

The startup eventually folded, but Lon still had all these cameras he had purchased. “I've always been a tech nerd, and I’ve been into video cameras since a young age when most of my friends were not. I had all this equipment around here and I said, ‘you know what? I like to review products.’ At the time I was starting the new startup, I was buying a lot of these bleeding edge, cheap consumer HD cameras. So I was reviewing them on Amazon, just with written reviews. Amazon has a program called the Amazon Vine program. And around the time that I was buying up all these camcorders, I was reviewing them and getting a lot of helpful nods on my reviews. And Amazon invited me into this Vine program, which is basically they hand pick reviewers that they think provide real value to the platform. You get the product for free, and Amazon finds value in this because they know the reviewers that are getting this product  are trusted on their platform. They've kind of vetted them first. So I started reviewing these products with video, initially with my iPhone.”

Eventually, Lon started reposting some of those videos to his YouTube channel. “And I discovered one day when I logged into my YouTube account that a few of these videos were getting a lot of views. And one of them in particular was monetized by YouTube. They basically would look at videos that were performing well, and they would give you the ability to monetize the videos.”

Building out a content strategy

Clearly, Lon was on to something, and so he needed to figure out to scale up his YouTube channel. “One of the high-performing videos was about an external hard drive that was like $80. For whatever reason that video got like 20,000 or 30,000 views. And most of the views were from India. And as I was kind of diving into the data and trying to figure out why this was being so successful, it hit me that in India, an $80 hard drive is a greater percentage of income than it would be here in the U.S., so you're going to do more research on it before purchasing.” Lon realized then that he could differentiate himself from other tech reviewers by focusing on “non-sexy” gadgets. While others all rushed to cover the latest iPhone or drone, he’d devote the majority of his time on things like printers, modems, and other common tech appliances. 

While Lon started out filming the videos with a simple iPhone, he eventually moved on to a more elaborate production setup. “I had a couple of those cameras left over from the news effort, and I set up a little studio in my basement, and I started doing product reviews, live to disk. I wasn't streaming them, but I was basically recording it live to the hard drive on the desk and switching the cameras as I went. And it turned out this model really worked well because I could very efficiently record a video. I didn't have to record B roll of what I was handling, because I could switch to a camera with my hands holding the gadget I was reviewing. Because of this, the editing was very, very quick and easy because the editing was done while I was shooting.”

Monetizing the videos

There are several ways Lon monetizes his video reviews. One is by uploading the videos to Amazon directly. “There is an onsite video program you have to apply for. Amazon has been building out a lot of influencer programs on its platform.” If someone watches one of Lon’s videos on Amazon and then purchases the product he reviews, he then gets a cut of that sale. 

He’s also a member of the YouTube partner program, of course, which populates his videos with preroll and midroll ads, giving him a cut of the revenue. “October, November, December -- that’s the key shopping season. That delivers a good chunk of my YouTube revenue. Day-to-day, I do much better CPMs, I think, than others do, because I'm each video is focused on a single product most of the time, and believe it or not, what delivers the most revenue for me are printers, because they're boring and nobody else wants to review printers.”

Affiliate links drive a significant portion of Lon’s revenue. He places them in the descriptions of his videos and gets a cut every time a viewer clicks through and buys the product he reviewed. “Actually the best thing about affiliate revenue streams is that the manufacturers tend to be pretty open to even small creators setting up affiliate accounts. And the reason is it doesn't cost them anything. So it's something that I would suggest for every creator who’s reviewing products. Look at the products you're reviewing, especially the name brands that are getting a lot of traffic, and just Google the company name and affiliate program. And you'll find that a lot of them have some kind of affiliate program. Generally you'll get into it, and sometimes you'll get rejected, but if you go and just conduct a LinkedIn search of who's in charge of it at the company, oftentimes you can get around that and get in.” 

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Simon Owens is a tech and media journalist living in Washington, DC. Follow him on TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn. Email him at simonowens@gmail.com. For a full bio, go here.