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Linus Sebastian is the face of a mini YouTube empire. His business also looks like a scaled-down version of the Gap, employing a fashion designer, logistics experts, graphic designers and “fit technicians” to sell merchandise to fans.

Sebastian is one of personalities online who have understood that putting their name or their face on products is more and more a way to profit from fame.

Sales of themed merchandise like hoodies and plush video game controllers generated approximately 32% of Sebastian’s revenue Linus Media Group in 2021, up from 3% five years earlier, he told me. Sebastian said “clothing is where really successful people like the Kardashians of the world” make their living. (Not entirely true, but you get the idea.)

Advertising, the conventional way for people to make money from online attention, accounts for just over half of Linus Media Group’s revenue. Most of the company’s videos on computers, video games and other tech gear have outlets for sponsors, and Sebastian’s company gets a cut of the revenue from the ads and subscriptions that YouTube sells.

But it’s the commodity that’s growing faster than other revenue streams and requires expertise unlike anything Sebastian has done before. “You can’t just put your label on a T-shirt and expect people to buy it,” he said.

On Tech has written a series of newsletters about the economics of internet creators, or people like Sebastian who are so good at making online videos and other content that they make a living out of it.

Sebastian offers insight into the skills needed to build a 21st century media business. It’s the general manager who is just as comfortable sawing open old cable tv boxes for 14 million video subscribers and talk with me about flawed financial measures.

Sebastian’s decade-long journey to becoming a YouTube star basically started with a challenge from his former boss. Sebastian worked for a computer retail store, and he asked her to make videos to increase sales. It’s easy to see why they hung on. Sebastian beams with pleasure in his videos even though, like me, you would never have build a solid gold video game controller.

Then he had a disagreement over strategy with a superior, who told Sebastian he could either wait in line or find another place to make videos, Sebastian said. He chose the second option. Sebastian started his own YouTube channel in 2013 and started a business with his wife just months after having their first child.

Today, Linus Media Group has about 65 employees and half a dozen YouTube channels that have a combined monthly viewership that could rival that of the Super Bowl. Staff members write scripts, produce the videos and make deals with sponsors. They too build a streaming video site make money from youtube.

About 11 people work on merchandise alone. Employees order water bottles and blank underwear from factories and contract with a local Vancouver-area printing company to personalize them. Others specialize in clothing design, customer service, or shipping products around the world. Selling merchandise is inherently more expensive than selling advertisements.

It’s not always fun to make entertainment for the finicky tastes of millions of subscribers.

“Do you think your job is stressful?” said Sebastian. “I have 10 million bosses.” (Technically, 14 million.)

But even after being a YouTube star for years, Sebastian says he still sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night excited about a goofy video idea to try.

More from On Tech on the internet creator economy:

  • Get to know Peter Thiel, the technologist who has re-emerged as a top backer for U.S. Republican political candidates, many of which are allied with the views of Donald J. Trump. My colleagues Ryan Mac and Lisa Lerer report Thiel’s apparent interest in candidates seeking to challenge the Republican establishment.

  • Sub-Saharan African contract workers who view Facebook posts describe stressful working conditions and wages as low as $1.50 an hour. A Nairobi-based employee for outsourcing company Sama said time that he had about 50 seconds to review Facebook posts that sometimes contained graphic images depicting dismemberment, murder or rape.

  • The love story behind the photos in Wikipedia’s “high five” entry. A Valentine’s heart to this tale of Tim and Tamara’s Five Minutes to Internet Fameas the publication Input reveals.

Check out these beautiful and strange pictures of polar bears who took over an abandoned weather station in the Arctic.

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