The ability to shoot, edit, distribute, and market high-quality video fairly easily has sparked an explosion of independent content creators who find an audience and earn money producing clips for YouTube, Vimeo, and other outlets. Yes, being a professional YouTuber is a thing.
Among these entrepreneurs is a telegenic, personable, and very flame-haired guy named Ethan Newberry, an actor, comedian, and graphic artist who started posting comedy videos on YouTube in its early days. Many of those videos went viral and got him attention. But in 2011 using an alter ego called the Ginger Runner, he launched a blog and YouTube channel, which garnered a smaller but more passionate audience than his comedy clips.
Ethan, 33, who grew up in Oregon and Washington State but now calls Los Angeles home, has built a sizable base of fans eager to consume his videos, tweets, blog posts and music, which chronicle his journey running road and trail races, especially marathons and ultramarathons. We're talking races that are 50 kilometers, 50 miles, and even longer.
Ethan studied digital design at the University of Washington, where he says he "found a small computer lab in the communications department that nobody ever used" and taught himself how to edit, design and do motion graphics.
He shoots, edits, and even scores his videos himself. His most popular video -- a review of two GPS sports watches -- has been viewed more than 111,000 times. His latest video is a short film called "The Squamish 50/50" that chronicles his running of a 50-mile race and a 50-kilometer race on consecutive days in Canada. Posted to YouTube on September 30, the film has nearly 34,000 views already. More than 20,000 people subscribe to his channel.
His New Year's resolution for 2014 was to make Ginger Runner a full-time job and a viable career. The income doesn't pay all his bills -- yet. But he sees the growth and knows that it isn't far off.
I spoke to Ethan about how he turned this love of running and performing into a growing business. Oh, and on November 2 he will to line up with 50,000 other folks to run from Fort Wadsworth to Sheep Meadow. As someone who has run the New York City Marathon, I had to find out if he is excited to run the biggest race in my hometown.
This is my inaugural "5 Questions for..." column. Please send me feedback and suggestions for interviewees.
1. You started Ginger Runner almost four years ago. In that time, the social space has exploded with runners who are also media creators -- bloggers, Instagrammers, Viners, YouTubers, podcasters, and so on. How have you managed to stand out and grow your audience?
Ethan: When I first got started running in general, I would constantly find myself going online researching products, trying to find out the latest trends, finding out as much information as possible about specific things -- whether it's technique, training strategy, equipment. The biggest problem that I found was that if I did find content it either wasn't engaging, it was poorly produced, or it wasn't informative enough. And coming from an entertainment background, having done improv comedy, sketch comedy, all sorts of acting -- a light bulb went off in my head: why don't I create the content that I would want to watch? I'm not an elite runner. I really wanted to create content that would appeal mid-packers, back-of-the-packers -- the regular runners that make up a majority of the sport. I wanted to entertain, I wanted to inform, and attempt to educate. That separated me and kind of pushed me apart from other people out there that might be creating content. I prided myself on having that entertainment value as well as that information, as well as the education, and the production values. By far, that has definitely helped me step up my own game.
2. What made you realize that the Ginger Runner content is what you wanted to focus on rather than your comedy and acting videos and make a go of it as a career?
Ethan: It was a really difficult decision. When I was doing comedy content, my videos got plenty of traction. But there was a moment when I realized that I am getting so much more out of creating content that benefits people's lives and helps educate people and provides them with some entertainment so people are leaving my videos with a smile on their face, a better outlook on their health and wellness. That was my ultimate goal starting Ginger Runner. And it's amazing to see that it actually worked. On the comedy videos, I would get a lot kids telling me how unfunny I was or how terrible the videos were, but I'd also get a fair share of people saying they're amazing or they're super-hilarious. But I found myself getting pigeon-holed doing content that I just didn't really believe in. And now doing the Ginger Runner, the comments are like "You just inspired me to change my life. I just lost 200 pounds." [The comments] make me emotional sometimes just talking and thinking about them because I can't believe that me, someone who never considered [himself] an athlete at all is now inspiring people to get off the couch, move their [expletive], and go do something they never thought they could do. I won't look back.
3. What's next for Ginger Runner, the brand? How do you plan to grow and earn revenue, perhaps sell downloads or DVDs of your movies?
Ethan: Putting content up on YouTube, since I've been doing it since Day 1, as a consumer you get to view all the videos for free. I'm not asking you to pay. You might have to sit through an ad, but you can also skip ads, it doesn't really matter. I want people to have that free content. I totally believe in having good content that is available for free. I know that there's a lot of other filmmakers out there, trail runner filmmakers, all sorts that will charge $4.99 or $9.99 to download or to watch their film. And a part of me totally understands the business model -- and I also think it's kind of past. It's kind of an old-school way of thinking. So I am trying to come up with new and innovative ways to continue to do the concept that I'm doing but not limit who gets to see it and not forcing people to pay for stuff. One of the main sources of income that just in the last two weeks has shown its head is merch, merchandise. The Ginger Runner buffs, the first round, sold out in under four minutes. It broke my website. And it proved there is a viable source of income in creating really cool, innovative gear that people want because it's a great way to support me but also to support the brand. It's really cool.
Ethan: It's been an absolute bucket-list item. My sister lived in New York for 15 years. I would visit New York every year, multiple times. I don't want to say [expletive] but I [expletive] love the city. I could rephrase if you need to quote it different, but I absolutely love the city. It's incredible. The energy, the spirit of that city is unparalleled. And [my sister] would constantly tell me every year "You got to come run the New York Marathon." It used to run right by her house in Brooklyn, and she would go out every year and watch the runners run, and support the runners, and said it was just the most incredible fan-supported event. I guess the spectators are 10, 15 deep in some places. The entire course, I guess, is spectated. So part of me has just always wanted to go back and run the race.
5. What is the best or most rewarding thing about creating content for the Ginger Runner?
Ethan: The most rewarding thing are the stories that I hear from people that tell me I inspire them. I [am] confused as to why I inspire people because in my mind I'm not inspiring. I'm a run-of-the-mill mid-pack hobby-jogger and I don't get how that can be inspiring to people. But what I think is inspiring is that this regular Joe is doing irregular things, and it's proving that anybody can. I get three to five a day now, of stories of people talking about struggles. Whether it's with weight or exercise or family troubles, it can be any number of things, health issues. And them telling me about how they've changed, whether from watching a film or listening to the music or watching a review and going and buying a pair of shoes for the first time. Every day I get five of these stories. By the end of the week I am ready to go for my long run because I'm running it for the people who emailed me, and it's an incredible feeling. It really is.
Want to know what Ethan's dream race is? We talked about that and more. Check out his answers to BONUS QUESTIONS on my Google+ page.
Follow Ethan on Twitter
Subscribe to his YouTube channel
Ethan's NYC Marathon charity page
Connect with me on Google+