The shallow branding of shortform video
PLUS: Why don’t publishers use affiliate links for their subscription products?
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The shallow branding of shortform video
The finance YouTuber Nate O'Brien tweeted out a great observation on the value of video views: “As a creator, 10,000 long-form views are more valuable than 10 million short-form views. This is a hill that I’m willing to die on”
In a follow-up tweet he explained his reasoning: “The difference in impact between long vs short-form videos became apparent while at Vidcon this year. My long-form creator friends with 100k followers were getting swarmed by fans, while TikTokers with 20+ million followers struggled to attract an audience while speaking on stage.”
This rings true to me. The rising popularity of short video — leveraged most effectively by platforms like TikTok, Instagram Reels, and YouTube shorts — has resulted in a veritable explosion in both views and subscribers. It’s now much more common for a single creator to rack up hundreds of millions of views per month, whereas five years ago only a handful of YouTubers could generate those sorts of numbers.
But as O’Brien observed, those shortform creators have a more shallow relationship with their viewers. It’s just simply difficult to connect to a person when you’re spending less than 60 seconds with their content. Longform YouTubers and podcasters, on the other hand, are spending upwards of a half hour or longer with their audience. One of my favorite podcasts, The Filmcast, regularly puts out episodes that are two hours long. That means I’ve spent a collective 100 hours in the last year with their voices feeding directly into my ears. Suffice it to say that I’ve developed a parasocial relationship with the hosts despite never meeting any of them.
You just don’t have that sort of connection with most shortform video creators, hence why many of the newly-minted TikTok stars are trying to develop longform content for YouTube. While shortform video is a great way for a new creator to break out and build an initial audience, it’s not very effective for brand longevity and monetization.
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How Stacked Marketer grew to over $600k in revenue
By the time Emanuel Cinca launched his Stacked Marketer newsletter around five years ago, he already had a successful affiliate marketing business, but that business was largely dependent on the whims of other platforms like Facebook and Google. He wanted to build a product that he could monetize directly, and by that point he had grown to admire daily digest newsletters like Morning Brew and The Hustle.
So Emanuel decided to niche down and launch a newsletter geared toward the marketing industry. To grow the newsletter, he leveraged his skills in paid media and marketing, and today it has over 30,000 subscribers. In 2022, it generated over half a million dollars through a mixture of paid subscriptions and sponsorships.
In my interview with Emanuel, we went deep on how he designed the newsletter, his growth strategy, and how he approached monetization.
Watch our interview in the video embedded below:
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YouTube's new music licensing policies are a big deal for the Creator Economy
One of the biggest pain points for YouTubers over the last decade was the platform’s approach to music copyright. Tired of facing constant lawsuits around misuses of music IP, YouTube developed a sophisticated algorithm that could detect whether an unlicensed song was being used in a video. Not only that, but it gave the option to the rightsholder as to whether to pull down the video entirely or simply redirect the advertising revenue share back to the music artist.
This was genuinely good for the music industry, since there were tons of YouTube channels that existed for no other reason than to rip off copyrighted work. YouTube’s redirection of ad revenue to the rights holders was ingenious and generated billions of dollars in additional annual revenue for the industry.
But the tool was also a blunt object that unfairly punished lots of creators. A YouTuber could be demonetized for using even a tiny snippet of a song. Guitar tutorial channels and creators who specialized in music criticism — all of which arguably falls under fair use since it’s transformative work — were shit out of luck. There were also plenty of outright abuses of the copyright tool; the comedian Gus Johnson, for instance, expressed extreme frustration when a video mentioning the song “Bohemian Rhapsody” was demonetized despite the fact that he didn’t actually play a single second of the song.
Professional YouTubers were forced to become extremely disciplined about their use of sounds. Some consulted libraries of copyright-free music, while others used subscription services where they could legally license work. YouTube made the task a little easier when it created a tool that automatically scans every file for copyright issues so the creator can fix them before publishing a video.
None of this changed the fact that the vast majority of popular songs were unusable to creators — even those who had the money to license them. The entire policy just seemed manifestly unfair: if a song only contributed a portion of the creative work that went into making a video, why did its rights holder deserve 100% of the revenue generated from that video?
You could also argue that this was bad for music rightsholders as well; many of YouTube’s biggest creators were refraining from using their songs, which meant that music artists were missing out on additional revenue and marketing opportunities.
This is why I’m extremely excited about new policies YouTube is rolling out that makes it much easier for creators to utilize copyrighted music.
Its first iteration came to YouTube Shorts, which recently launched a robust revenue sharing program for creators. While its method for calculating revenue sharing is quite complicated — watch this excellent Digiday video to see a detailed breakdown of how it works — suffice it to say that Shorts creators can incorporate copyrighted music and still receive payouts from YouTube.
The company is also testing out licensing solutions for longform videos as well. As Insider explained:
The new Creator Music feature the platform is beta testing allows influencers to either pay upfront to use a track in a video or split future ad revenue with a song's rights holders once the video starts earning payouts through Google's AdSense program.
As with the YouTube Shorts revenue share, the method for calculating licensing costs is quite complicated and based partly on the size of the YouTube channel in question. Some creators who have been given early access to the program expressed sticker shock at the song prices — some of which cost upwards of $18,000.
It’s too early to tell what effect this will have for the Creator Economy and musical artists, but my guess is it’ll be a major boon for both industries. While copyright has always been a great tool for ensuring artists get paid for their work, it’s also been unnecessarily difficult to navigate — to such an extent that it actually hinders innovation. I’m extremely excited to see what kinds of creativity are unleashed as a result of these new policies.
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Why don’t publishers use affiliate links for their subscription products?
Let’s say I purchase a new vacuum and am really impressed with its quality. So I decide to write up a review of it and post it to my blog. Somewhere on my post I’ll include a link to where people can buy the vacuum, but rather than just pasting in the publicly-available Amazon link, I log into my Amazon affiliate account and grab a customized link that will give me credit for whenever someone clicks on it and purchases the vacuum. Every time that happens, I get a small percentage of the sale.
What I’m describing is nothing novel; affiliate marketing has existed for over two decades and has provided a fantastic way for e-retailers and manufacturers to incentivize content creators into driving sales to their platforms. It’s so effective that many mainstream publishers have launched product-review verticals in an effort to capture this revenue.
So here’s a question: why haven’t those same publishers utilized affiliate marketing to drive sales of their own subscription products?
Let’s imagine another scenario: I read an article in The New York Times that’s relevant to my newsletter readers. Rather than simply grabbing the link from the address bar, I hit a button that generates a custom affiliate link so that when someone clicks on my link and converts into a paid subscriber of NYT, then I get some sort of payout.
Think of the incentives that would generate for creators, influencers, and other media companies to link out to high-quality subscription content. Right now, whenever a big story breaks, it’s often reblogged and aggregated on lower-quality news sites. That results in a lot of social media users sharing a HuffPost article that’s basically summarizing a NYT scoop. This new policy would incentivize them to hunt down the original journalism and link directly to it. It would also incentivize the HuffPosts of the world to display links more prominently and actually drive more of their readers back to the original source material.
Systems like this already exist in the newsletter space. Platforms like Paved, Swapstack, and Sparkloop launched marketplaces where any newsletter can list a price they’re willing to pay for each new subscriber; then any participating creator can grab that affiliate link, recommend the newsletter, and then get paid for every time someone signs up.
But this system is mostly dedicated to free signups to newsletters — not paid subscriptions — and it hasn’t been widely adopted by mainstream outlets. Out of curiosity, I googled around for publisher affiliate programs and came across a few platforms I’d never heard of before. But overall, I don’t think any major publishers are offering the ability to create affiliate links to individual articles, which is still the best way to drive paid subscriptions.
Is it just me, or is this a major missed opportunity?
The next generation of sports broadcasters probably won't get their start on TV or radio. [LA Times]
The Information launched a higher-priced subscription tier that gives subscribers access to its proprietary databases. [The Information]
A long profile of The Ankler, one of the most successful newsletters on Substack. [Vanity Fair]
A great case study on how an author leveraged her newsletter to drive 25,000 purchases of her book. [Substack]
FASCINATING: An editor for a magazine specializing in short fiction says he's seen a huge spike in AI-generated story submissions, and as a result he's had to shut his site off from open submissions. [Neil Clarke]
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Simon Owens is a tech and media journalist living in Washington, DC. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For a full bio, go here.