When viral content doesn’t generate much revenue

While a viral piece of content might induce an adrenaline rush for the person who posted it, it’s unlikely to deliver significant financial benefits on its own.

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When viral content doesn’t generate much revenue

BuzzFeed News interviewed a creator named Kevin Parry who talked about his experience of creating a viral video (75 million views) that generated no direct revenue:

The other issue is that it's common for Instagram or Twitter meme accounts to upload his work without permission. In this case, the page that got him another 30 million views did have permission from him. He said most meme pages are good about tagging, so he doesn't personally pursue copyright notices.

This is a common problem for creators; they’re generally limited in how they can capitalize on content virality. Part of it stems from the fact that it’s difficult to predict when a particular piece of content will achieve viral liftoff, but it also has to do with the lack of access to programmatic advertising.

When a piece of content goes viral on a news website, that outlet is able to monetize that virality with programmatic display advertising, even if it’s selling low CPM remainder ads.

Most solo creators, on the other hand, monetize either through sponsored posts or some kind of paid product — neither of which benefit much from virality. The main exception to this rule is YouTube, which is one of the few platforms that regularly shares programmatic advertising revenue with creators.

Because of this dynamic, creators have little recourse other than trying to optimize viral posts to get more users into their content funnel — which they can then leverage for future monetization. For me, it’s getting more people to sign up for my free newsletter, but others might try to convert the drive-by audience into social media followers or some other kind of return visitor.

The problem is that a very tiny portion of a viral audience will convert into longtime followers, and so creators are under intense pressure to consistently generate more viral content. That kind of reward system is what leads to frustration and depression when a creator encounters a slow period in which their content struggles to gain much traction.

Some platforms have gotten better about following in YouTube’s revenue-sharing footsteps, but for the most part they keep the lion’s share of advertising revenue to themselves. A few have launched “creator funds” that will pay out some amount to the highest-performing users, but their accounting system is opaque and arbitrary.

So while a video, image, or tweet going viral might induce an adrenaline rush for the person who posted it, it’s unlikely to deliver significant financial benefits on its own — at least to the person who created it. Instead, just about all the monetary value flows directly to the platform itself, at least for now.

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Quick hits

This writer of serialized fiction makes $30k a month just on Patreon alone. [The Novelleist]

A deep dive into the harsh economics of trying to become a full-time fiction writer. [The Novelleist]

It used to be that studios waited until a movie succeeded at the box office before ordering a sequel, but Amazon is trying to build a cinematic universe from scratch, shooting several series/movies simultaneously before the franchise has even launched. [Bloomberg]

Yet another media outlet was acquired by Recurrent Ventures. A few months ago this private equity firm was barely on anyone's radar. [Daily Beast]

The New York Times is beefing up the staff on its secret newsletter project, but details are still scarce as to what it’ll look like. [Insider]

“Citizen pays New Yorkers $25 an hour to livestream crime scenes.” [NY Post] “New York field team members stand to make $200 per day for eight-hour shifts, while workers in Los Angeles are offered $250 per day for 10-hour shifts. Citizen plans to expand its field team to ‘other top 10 markets’ soon, the listing said.”

A deep dive into Kindle Unlimited — Amazon’s subscription-based ebook platform — and how one author built a six-figure income on it. [The Novelleist]

From the interview:

I really, really wish Amazon would release more reader data, but I guess there are issues with privacy and stuff? I mean, I’d LOVE to know if like 60 percent of readers finish a book, or like if 13 percent stop reading after the first chapter, or like ANYTHING—and Amazon knows, obviously. I’m sure they have good reasons for not telling us, but yeah, this is a long way of saying that authors don’t know a thing about anything at all because the data’s locked up in a big black very, very rich box. It really stinks.

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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.