Scott Mitchell became convinced that YouTube would make him rich.
Mr. Mitchell, 33, got the idea last year from videos promoting courses on how to build so-called cash cow channels, which are often created through a process called YouTube automation.
He bought a cycle and then another and another. He also paid for counseling services. Mr. Mitchell spent about $15,000 on his YouTube venture, encountering hurdles at every stage – courses that taught him the few freelancers who stole content and methods of audience growth that got him into trouble with YouTube.
“I tried three courses and one expert on the side, and the only thing that came out was an empty wallet,” said Mr. Mitchell.
YouTube automation has created a home industry with online influencers who offer lessons and opportunities to make fast money. But, as is often the case with promises to make quick fortunes in online businesses, YouTube automation can be a money pit for aspiring online entrepreneurs and a magnet for those selling unhelpful services.
It’s not hard to find a video that fits YouTube’s automation model, though it’s hard to say for sure how many videos were produced. They usually have an unseen narrator and a catchy title. They share news, explain a topic or make a list of the top 10 celebrities or athletes. They often aggregate material such as videos and images from other sources. Sometimes, they have problems with copyright rules.
The term “YouTube automation” is somewhat of a misnomer. Usually that means training the self-employed rather than relying on an automated process. It’s hardly a new idea but it has become more and more popular recently. The farming business allows people to run multiple channels, without the time-consuming tasks of writing scripts, recording voice overs, or editing video. The process is often promoted as a foolproof way to make money. To get started, you only need money – for tutorials and video producers.
Courses direct people to find the video topics that viewers crave. They are required to hire freelance translators from online marketplaces where freelance contractors, such as Fiverr and Upwork, offer to manage their channels and produce videos that cost from under $30 to over $100, depending on the freelance rates. This is where a lot of people get into trouble.
Cash cow channels with large audiences can make tens of thousands of dollars in monthly advertising revenue, while unpopular channels can achieve nothing. YouTube shares the advertising revenue with the channel owner after the channel gets 1000 subscribers and 4000 watch hours. The monetizing channels get 55 percent of the money their videos generate — that is, if they can get away with that much attention. YouTube declined to comment on the automation process.
Last summer, Mr. Mitchell paid $500 for a course called “Mastering the Tube and Monetizing” taught by Matt Barr, who said he earns $30,000 a month on YouTube. He said successful students earn $20,000 a month.
The course included videos on various aspects of YouTube automation, including choosing the most profitable topic, outsourcing work, and using keywords to make YouTube videos easier to find. Mr. Barr also explained how YouTube’s algorithms work.
But Mr. Mitchell said the course has loopholes – it lacks information on creating high-quality videos with good scripts. He and other students in a private Facebook group also complained that the contents of Mr. Par is available for free on his YouTube page.
“It basically sells dreams,” Mr. Mitchell said. Mr. Barr did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Mitchell, who asked the New York Times not to reveal his whereabouts, started his first channel, Bounty Locks, about wealth and celebrity, last fall. He paid a freelancer who found him on Fiverr $2000 for 20 videos. YouTube removed one of these videos, about Dwayne Johnson, that showed content stolen from another channel, leading to a dispute with the freelance journalist. Bounty Locks didn’t make money and struggled for viewers, so Mr. Mitchell abandoned it.
He later bought a $1,500 course and spent over $3,000 learning from Pivotal Media influencer Victor Katrina. He paid another $3,000 to Katrina’s team to make videos, but said the ideas and scripts were from other channels.
After his freelance work went missing for five days, Mr. Mitchell decided to stop investing in the nonprofit channel. Mr. Katrina said that if he found out any of his teams were paraphrasing others, he would take their place.
“I am far from perfect, and neither is the program,” said Mr. Katrina. “And I have gladly and openly sent refunds to those who have experienced financial hardship or deemed the program to fall short of their standards.”
Alexandra Fasulo of Fort Myers, Florida and her cousin spent $20,000 on Caleb Boxx’s YouTube automation software in March 2021. In turn, Mr. Boxx’s team ran the celebrity channel of Ms. Fasulo, 29, and produced videos for more than 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 earned less than $10 a day, so when it came time to pay for a new batch of videos, I dropped it.
“This is what makes automation so not worth it – I invested a lot of money up front,” Ms Fasulo said.
Dave Nick, a Serbian content creator whose real name is Dejan Nikolic, has been promoting automation on YouTube since 2019. Mr. Nikolic, 20, appears on camera on three channels, and said he has four channels with unseen narrators And 12 YouTube Shorts, a quick clip contender for TikTok.
Mr. Nikolic said he made $1.4 million in 2021, including his training and services, and that he has already raised $1 million this year. The key was the $995 course, which was responsible for 70 percent of his income.
“Not a lot of people over 2 million a year do YouTube automation,” he said. Online Business Services is How to Get Eight Numbers.
He said a number of his students got five numbers a month on YouTube, but he didn’t have an exact number of them.
Nikolic’s YouTube videos highlight the money he made and how much viewers can expect to earn themselves. His Instagram account shows travel destinations, Rolex and Porsche as well as clips about building a business on YouTube. But Mr Nikolic said his life “hasn’t been all a witch”.
“I spend nearly 15 hours a day on my computer,” he said.
One of the keys to making money from YouTube bot videos is feeding the internet’s obsession with Elon Musk, a tech billionaire.
Dutch company Jelline Brands of Urk launched Elon Musk Rewind last fall. Some of its content is incorrect, such as a recent video announcing the presentation of a Tesla smartphone. However, Ms. Brands said she has made $250,000 since her debut. (The Times was unable to verify the number.) Her channel included, along with news, rumors, and speculation about upcoming Tesla products.
They also offer an educational course, and many of the course’s students have started Musk Channels as well, although she asked them not to. She even rivals her sister who has a channel dedicated to the billionaire.
Noah Morris, trainer for the Mrs. Brands course at Cash Kao Academy in the Netherlands, said the business model “is going downhill because the competition is so fierce”.
Ms. Brands began offering the courses in December 2020, after months of paying $1,000 for a YouTube tutorial, which I later learned was just a four-page document. She said she had 1,700 students, most of whom paid 1,000 euros for her studies. Between 100 and 200 of them told her that they make money on YouTube.
She said, “I love my job.” “I don’t even consider it a job. It’s like a hobby to me. It’s like a game.”
However, it is not immune to the vagaries of YouTube’s algorithms. She said her Musk channel generates 7,500 euros a month, down from 50,000 euros, or about $50,000, in November. She said her former students have also seen a drop in income. Recently, she created 16 channels in one week to stabilize her business.
The challenging landscape has prompted some of Miss Brands’ students to offer their own courses.
Yuri van Hoofwegen, a 21-year-old Dutch content creator known online as Youri Automation, said that some people have unrealistic expectations about achieving success on YouTube.
“They want to pay $200 and make $20,000 by next week,” he said. “There is no secret magic strategy. It is just about putting it to work.”
The training sessions created problems for Mr. Mitchell. A freelance translator in a teacher’s group on Facebook told him to buy channels to make money from a company that collected fake viewers from bots. Mr. Mitchell gave $5,000 to an independent researcher to produce about 60 videos, about cryptocurrency and making 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 channel deleted due to copyright infringement. The freelance journalist claimed that someone else posted the videos in an act of vandalism.
But Mr. Mitchell is still considering a $30,000 loan to buy a YouTube channel.
“It’s my last strategy,” he said. “I just need more time.” And Mr. Mitchell may offer his own course or handbook, when he finds out what to teach.