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How to Score with How-to Video
Niche players are resuscitating the
subscription model to make money off homemade instructional
(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- When Evan Margolin launched
SalsaBootCamp to sell instructional video clips online,
everyone he knew told him it was a crazy idea. Why would
people offer up their credit cards to him - a dance teacher
known only to his students in San Francisco - when they
could watch thousands of dance videos for free on sites like
Yet aspiring salsa dancers have signed up in droves, even
as Margolin has raised the monthly subscription price from
$9 to $37. Four months after its launch, SalsaBootCamp.com
is making $20,000 a month.
SALSA KING: Evan Margolin's
homemade online dance videos are pulling in
$20,000 a month in subscription fees - just
four months after they went on sale.
"If I wasn't watching the money roll in," Margolin says,
"I wouldn't believe it myself."
Big media companies have largely stopped selling
subscriptions for their online content, opting instead to
build traffic and cram their sites with ads. Yet the
subscription model has become a shrewd way for smaller
players to make money, especially among the super-niche
sites of the Net. There are subscription sites for
everything from online soccer lessons for kids to becoming a
personal fitness trainer.
Making a go at this, in fact, takes zero technical
knowledge and not much up-front money. The key requirement
is having a subject about which you can offer some know-how,
so you can create a service that people will willingly pay
for month after month.
Margolin, 36, found his niche a decade ago, when his big
brother dragged him to a salsa club. He eventually became a
dance teacher, although his main income has come from
various Internet marketing jobs. Margolin says he had toyed
with the idea of creating a subscription dance site off and
on since 2001 but never did it because the technology wasn't
good enough: The video was cumbersome and slow.
Then last summer one of his students began recording the
dance class on a camera phone, burning it to a CD, and
asking him to post it on a website. "I thought, 'Damn, maybe
the time is right,'" Margolin says.
So he got started. A number of online software tools now
exist to run a subscription business, and Margolin chose one
called Membergate. It costs a few thousand dollars, but it
handles everything: video support, hosting, payment methods,
and so on. He then paid a student $11 an hour to videotape
his dance moves. The quality is raw; no fancy film-editing
software needed here.
Next, Margolin spent $1,000 or so to give the site some
useful Web cred, which he says people too often mistakenly
He posted the Better Business Bureau's online seal,
allowing users to file complaints, and the TRUSTe seal,
which verifies that an e-commerce site is secure. He also
added testimonials from students. Some are written comments;
others are video clips - cheesy-looking interviews attesting
to Margolin's skills. "Hokey works if it's real," the
instructor says.(If you're starting from scratch, Margolin
suggests, offer your product for free at first and ask
people who like it to post comments.)
After a few weeks, the site was ready to go. Margolin
drove traffic by buying paid search ads on Google (Charts)
and Yahoo (Charts) and by spreading the word in online dance
communities. "If you're really passionate about the topic,"
he says, "you'll know most of the resources to turn to."
He currently has 1,000 members and is adding a few every
day. The trick now is to keep it up: keep marketing, keep
adding content. It's not a do-nothing path to riches. But if
you can land even a few hundred subscribers, you can make
some sweet, and profitable, moves.
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