Launching on Tuesday after months in private beta, Subblime is an online community that allows fans of YouTube creators to connect to them—and, more importantly, to the stuff they like via "My Favorite Things" lists. The idea is that the lists can become a source of e-commerce, resulting in revenue for YouTube creators.
Subblime arrives at a time when prominent content-generators are beginning to question YouTube's ability to make them money. Earlier this month, for example, Jason Calacanis caused an online stir when he posted a blog entry called "I Ain’t Gonna Work on YouTube’s Farm No More." In it, the Inside.com founder who has a series of shows on YouTube explained why, even though YouTube is a "great platform" to build a brand, it’s a bum deal when it comes to making money. Among his gripes: the 45-55% rev share deal that YouTube has with content creators, and the fact that YouTube doesn’t allow those creators to have "a direct relationship with advertisers."
The model for Subblime, which was founded by Winnick, Kevin Stone, and YouTube personality Elle Walker (aka WhatsUpElle), was inspired by "Oprah’s Favorite Things," an annual segment in which the queen of daytime talk gives a shout-out to products she likes. Because Oprah Winfrey is a huge influencer amongst a certain demo of women, the products she recommends get a major retail boost.
Like Winfrey, Winnick says that "YouTube content creators have a lot of authenticity."
"We’re moving away from the world of celebrity to influencer," he said, over lunch one day at Swinger’s in Santa Monica. "Influencer is about relatability, about authenticity—those two things equal trust. So if you think about YouTube having this trust graph, plus this interest graph, because it serves these niche communities, to me that’s a powerful way to drive commerce."
"My Favorite" type lists also feel more authentic, Winnick argued, then, say, a sponsored ad that a YouTube creator might make for a brand. The numbers bear this out. More than 30% of viewers will click on a Subblime link from YouTube, compared to the 2-5% that will watch a YouTuber’s sponsored ad, Winnick said.
But the end goal is to have people subscribe directly to Subblime, and have an immediate connection with the products that their favorite YouTube stars are touting. For example, by subscribing to Leviossa’s Subblime channel, fans of the tween star will be able to browse her favorite toiletries, make-up essentials, and carry-on bag items, all of which relate in some way to themes of videos she’s posted on YouTube.
"Look, I don’t want to take away from the video experience," Winnick said," cautious of how authenticity can be easily spoiled by over-commodifiation. "YouTube is looking at us in a positive light because we’re not trying to detract from the video. We don’t want to just drive commerce in every video. We want to extend the brand of these channels around a conversation, around product. By doing that, we think we can grow their business."
Winnick said his big picture view toward people who partner with Subblime is to help them grow their business, not just monetize it.
"We’re helping channels learn more about who their audience is," he said. "Learning who their audience is if they log in through Facebook. Learning what they watch if they log in through Google. And through their actions, learning what they want. It’s almost like a 360 view of their audience for these channels."
This information can then help channels form brand relationships, he said, perhaps leading to sponsored ads.
"We’re almost bringing that boutique idea back. With the rise of big retail we’ve lost that," Winnick said. The salesperson you like and know and can hang out with, who helps you buy great things. Well, where do you find that today?
"I don’t get my influence from my friends, necessarily. My friends might recommend things sometimes, but in a way, we’re letting people go straight to the source."
[Retro-future image: Flickr user x-ray delta one]