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Online Fame, but No Fortune: Popular Blogs, YouTube Videos Do Not Always Earn Cash

Matt Watson, pictured February 11, 2013, lost his job at All City Coffee in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle, Washington, after launching his Bitter Barista blog. He now works at a different coffee place. (Ken Lambert/Seattle Times/MCT)

Matt Watson, pictured February 11, 2013, lost his job at All City Coffee in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle, Washington, after launching his Bitter Barista blog. He now works at a different coffee place. (Ken Lambert/Seattle Times/MCT)

Seattle — All those thousands upon thousands of clicks, all going to your website or YouTube video.

Time to cash in on that Internet fame! Or so goes the dream.

But less than a month after going viral, Seattle’s own Bitter Barista, who blogged snarky comments about customers (bitterbarista.com), is back serving coffee.

Going from local news to The Huffington Post, Gawker, London’s Daily Mail and Good Morning America, was nice, but it doesn’t pay the rent on that apartment in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood for Matt Watson, 30, and his wife.

“I had a lot of people who would tell me that, that I’d cash in,” Watson says about Internet fame. “That’s not how the world works. I never believed that.”

And the Sammamish, Wash., kid whose YouTube video went viral starting Christmas week, by now viewed more than 1.7 million times — the one in which he uses the family’s washing machine as a drum?

That got Jonathan Carollo, 11, and his dad, Dan, a mid-February trip to Chicago for the Steve Harvey show.

Plus his entire family will be flown to The Clean Show this June in New Orleans — a trade show attended by 10,000 for those in, what else, the cleaning industry. Jonathan will bang away at washing machines for an audience that truly values such an artistic endeavor.

But those aren’t paying gigs, just airfare and hotel. Other than that, says Jonathan’s dad, all those YouTube views have so far netted around $400 for ads that run before the video begins.

But it is Will Braden, of Henri, the existential cat videos that mimic French 1950s avant-garde films, who has managed to make a living off them. His videos have been viewed more than 10.6 million times. Braden got his first boost in 2007 when he was among winners of the Seattle Times’ “Three Minute Masterpiece” digital-movie contest, but it wasn’t until five years later that he hit the jackpot.

There is income from sponsors whose ads run with Henri’s YouTube videos, and there are Henri mouse pads, mugs and T-shirts. In May, a $12.99 book of Henri’s musings will be released with a printing of 25,000 copies.

And Braden also has a deal with Friskies for four YouTube videos that’ll “explore the phenomenon of cat-food boredom” and for a Friskies “Bowled Under” photo contest for cats in their most “Henri-esque” moment.

Braden wants those financial details private, although he does refer to himself as “the thieving filmmaker” and had Henri post about doing the Friskies videos. “For those complaining about my noble and selfless act of charity, I would point out Camus and Sartre both had no problems cashing checks for their work. Of course, then Camus died in a car crash and Sartre renounced literature and started doing amphetamines.”

Braden, 33 and single, says about monetizing Henri, “If I had a family and three kids, this wouldn’t support me. I don’t have a lavish lifestyle.”

A few people do make big bucks. A New York Times story says the dad who posted a video of his son coming down from dental anesthesia made more than $100,000 from YouTube ads that ran with the video.

Watson did try to follow the book route with his Bitter Barista fame, which began when he was outed as working at All City Coffee in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood while posting comments such as: “I would remember your usual drink if you were a more memorable person.”

Watson says his blog, on which he still posts, is satire. He got along well with most of his customers, he says, and thought highly of his boss, whom he had also dissed on the blog. Watson was fired.

He did sell a few Bitter Barista T-shirts and mugs, “But I didn’t push that very hard.” The “tip jar” on his website got $200, he says.

He also raised $8,500 on kickstarter.com to print a hardcover book of photos and Bitter Barista sayings. After costs, Watson figures he’ll earn $3,000. Nice, but not exactly riches.

All of which means that starting about two weeks ago, Watson began working 30 hours a week, starting at 5:30 in the morning, at a new coffee place. It’s owned by a customer he knew at All City Coffee.

Watson, who has a second life as a hip-hop artist, prefers not to name his new place of employment, just to keep things low-key and not again be outed.

Still, he says, “No regrets. This has really been fun.”

At least, says Watson, with post-Bitter Barista fame, now something like 60 to 70 percent of people open the emails he sends out about his music, when it only used to be 20 percent.

As for Jonathan Carollo, his dad made a second YouTube video of him banging on a washing machine. “Whirled Beat: Part II,” posted on Jan. 25. It hasn’t quite had the same success, with about 8,400 views as of Monday. Jonathan plans to use part of his $400 in YouTube earnings to buy a radio-controlled model airplane.

As for Will Braden, he has this advice for those of you wanting that YouTube hit:

“Don’t try to copy something. It should be unique. Otherwise it’ll get lost in the noise of thousands of people. My biggest piece of advice is keep it short. The video should be half as long as you think it should be.

“All of the Henri videos are like two minutes long. Get in, tell the joke and get out. It’s like an after-dinner mint.”

Which you could say describes lots of content in the digital age.