I recently saw a top list of YouTube stars and it reminded me of a great book I read a while ago called Fans, Friends & Followers by Scott Kirsner. The book is about 18 months old but I still believe there is a lot of pertinent information in it. Even though he profiles a pretty large cross section of ‘new media’ success stories there are a number of common threads between them.
For example, many of the successful people have done it individually and not as part of a group or band. Which of course cuts down on overhead and expenses ($80,000 split one way is a nice annual income but $80,000 split across four band members is not). I also noticed that many people relied on their fan base (hence part of the book’s title) to help keep costs down. For example, a singer on tour might be able to couch surf at fans’ homes to reduce travel costs or a fan might to make/run an artist’s website for free (or for very little).
This sense of community and connectivity is certainly different from the ‘old media’ experience and can help people achieve things they otherwise wouldn’t be able to. On the flip side though, depending on the benevolence of strangers doesn’t sound like that solid of a business plan to me.