YouTube automation spawns a cottage industry that promises quick money

Scott Mitchell was convinced that YouTube would make him rich.

mr. Mitchell, 33, got the idea last year from videos promoting courses on creating so-called cash cow channels, often created through a process called YouTube automation.

So he bought one course, then another and another. He also paid for mentoring services. mr. Mitchell has spent roughly $15,000 on his YouTube venture, facing stumbling blocks at every step — courses that taught him little, freelancers who stole content, and audience growth tactics because of this, he got into trouble with YouTube.

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

YouTube’s automation has created a home-based industry, with online influencers offering tutorials and quick money-making opportunities. But, as is often the case with online business promises to make fortunes quickly, YouTube’s automation process can be a money pit for aspiring internet entrepreneurs and magnet for poseurs sell useless services.

Finding videos that fit YouTube’s automation model isn’t difficult, though it’s hard to say for sure how many have been made. They usually have an invisible narrator and a catchy headline. They share news, explain a topic, or offer a list of the top 10 celebrities or athletes. They often combine materials such as video clips and photographs from other sources. Sometimes they have problems with copyright rules.

The term “YouTube automation” is a bit of a misnomer. This usually means outsourcing the work to freelancers instead of relying on an automated process. This is hardly a new idea. and yet one that has recently become more popular. Working on a farm allows people to run multiple channels without the time-consuming tasks of scripting, voice-over recording, or video editing. And this process is often touted as a reliable way to make money. To get started, you just need money – for training courses and video producers.

The courses instruct people to find video topics that viewers crave. They are told to hire freelancers from online marketplaces where independent contractors such as Fiverr and Upwork, offer to manage their channels and create videos costing between $30 and $100, depending on freelancer rates. And this is where a lot of people have problems.

Cash channels with large audiences can earn tens of thousands of dollars in monthly ad revenue, while unpopular ones can earn nothing. YouTube shares ad revenue with the channel owner after the channel reaches 1000 subscribers and 4000 watch hours. Monetized channels get 55 percent of the money their videos generate, that is, if they manage to get that much. YouTube declined to comment on the automation process.

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

The course featured 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. Par also explained how YouTube’s algorithms work.

But Mr. Mitchell said there were gaps in the course – it lacked information about making high-quality videos with good scripts. He and other students also complained on a closed Facebook group that Mr. The Par course was available for free on his YouTube page.

“Essentially, this is a dream sale. 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 wealth and celebrity channel, Bounty Lux, last fall. He paid a freelancer he found on Fiverr $2,000 for 20 videos. YouTube removed one of these Dwayne Johnson videos that used content stolen from another channel, sparking a dispute with the freelancer. Bounty Lux did not bring money and fought for viewers, so Mr. Mitchell turned it down.

He later bought the course for $1,500 and spent over $3,000 to study with Pivotal Media influencer Victor Katrina. He paid another $3,000 for Mister. Katrina’s team filmed the video, but according to him, the ideas and scripts were taken from other channels.

After his freelancer went missing for five days, Mr. Mitchell decided to stop investing in the losing channel. mr. Katrina said that if he ever found any of his teams paraphrasing other people’s scripts, he would replace them.

“I am far from perfect, and neither is the program,” Katrina said. “And I openly and happily sent refunds to those who were either experiencing financial hardship or felt the program was not up to their standards.”

Alexandra Fasulo of Fort Myers, Florida and her cousin spent $20,000 on a YouTube automation program from Caleb Box in March 2021. In exchange for Mr. Boxx team operated a celebrity channel for Mrs. Fasulo, 29 years old, and filmed the video for over six months. But there were quality issues, she said, and the videos failed to capture many viewers. mr. Boxx did not respond to a request for comment. The channel was making less than $10 a day, so when it came time to pay for a new batch of videos, she gave it up.

“That’s why automation isn’t worth it – you’re investing a lot of money up front,” says Ms. Fasulo said.

Dave Nick, a Serbian creator whose real name is Dejan Nikolic, has been pushing YouTube automation since 2019. Nikolic, 20, appears on camera on three channels and said he has four channels with unseen narrators and 12 on TikTok’s competitor YouTube Shorts.

mr. Nikolic said he earned $1.4 million in 2021, including for his own hands-on courses and services, and that he has already earned $1 million this year. The key was his $995 course, which accounted for 70 percent of his income.

“Few people have made more than a couple million dollars a year with YouTube automation,” he said. Online business services is “how to get eight figures”.

He said some of his students were earning five figures a month on YouTube, but he doesn’t know the exact amount.

mr. Nikolic’s YouTube videos talk about the money he has made and what viewers can expect to earn for themselves. His Instagram account has places to travel, Rolex and Porsche, and YouTube segments about building a business. But Mr. Nikolic said his life was “more than 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 fueling the Internet’s obsession with Elon Musk, the tech billionaire.

Last fall, Urk, Netherlands-based Jelline Brands launched the Elon Musk Rewind channel. Some of its content is incorrect, such as the recent video announcing the arrival of the Tesla smartphone. However, Miss. Brands said it has made $250,000 since its launch. (The Times was unable to verify this figure.) Her feed included, in addition to news, rumors and speculation about future Tesla products.

She also offers a hands-on course, and many students in her course have also launched Musk’s channels, even though she asked them not to. She even competes with her sister, who has a channel dedicated to the billionaire.

“The business model is going downhill because the competition is so fierce,” said Noah Morris, Ms. Coach. Brand Course, Cash Cow Academy, Netherlands.

Mrs. Brands began offering courses in December 2020, months after she paid $1,000 for a YouTube tutorial that she later learned was just a four-page document. According to her, she had 1,700 students, most of whom paid 1,000 euros for her course. Between 100 and 200 of them told her they were making money from YouTube.

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

However, it is not immune to the whims of YouTube’s algorithms. She said her channel Musk was bringing in €7,500 a month, up from €50,000, or about $50,000, in November. Her former students also faced falling incomes, she said. She recently created 16 channels in one week to stabilize her business.

The challenging landscape has even prompted some of Ms. Brands Students to offer their courses.

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

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

The courses created problems for Mr. Mitchell. A freelancer from a Facebook guru group advised him to buy lucrative channels from a company that was swindling fake viewers with bots. mr. Mitchell gave a freelancer $5,000 to create about 60 videos about crypto and making money online.

YouTube quickly removed one of the channels from making money. Another tried for months to find an audience before someone uploaded three pirated videos. Youtube removed the channel copyright infringement. The freelancer claimed that someone else posted the video in an act of sabotage.

But Mr. Mitchell is still considering taking out a $30,000 YouTube channel loan.

“This is my last strategy,” he said. “I just need a little more time.” And Mr. Mitchell can offer his own course or guidance when he decides what to teach.