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Opinion: Internet evolution creates new wave of careers

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For one Springfieldian, an internet-era job led to a chance encounter with the former first lady of the United States.

Jesse George, who’s known as Jesse The Reader on his book-reviewing YouTube channel, interviewed Michelle Obama in February as she promoted her new book, “Becoming.” Following its March 19 release, the YouTube Originals video, “A Discussion with Michelle Obama,” featuring George and other YouTube personalities, has been viewed 1.5 million times.

Views and subscriber counts are key figures in the life of George, who’s among a new wave of entertainers using the internet for their livelihoods.

YouTube pays content creators a portion of advertising revenue – between $3 and $10 per 1,000 viewer engagements, according to an October 2018 article by business news and analysis website The Street.

Forbes reports the top-earning YouTuber of 2018 – a 7-year-old toy reviewer named Ryan, with 18.9 million subscribers – earned $22 million. You heard that right.

Other top earners make their money on a variety of topics, from boxing, pingpong trick shots and music to video games and comedy, according to Forbes, which factored advertising profits, merchandise deals and other revenue sources. Dude Perfect, which counts a viral trick shot video shot at Bass Pro Shops at the Memphis Pyramid among its hits, ranked No. 3 on the Forbes list, with its five-man team earning $20 million. Not on the Forbes list, but worth mentioning, is Good Mythical Morning, operated by two former engineers who quit their engineering jobs to run what’s now a successful comedy YouTube channel with 15.3 million subscribers.

With his more than 318,000 YouTuber subscribers, Jesse The Reader isn’t pulling in Ryan ToysReview money, but he’s doing well enough that it’s a full-time job.

“I started YouTube in college because I didn’t have a lot of friends at the time and I needed an outlet,” he told me in February. “I never imagined that it would grow to the scale that it currently is at.”

Technology’s impact on creativity is on display with YouTubers and a number of other jobs.

Social media influencers, who form a close-knit group of followers, are paid through product placements and other outlets.

On Amazon’s Twitch service, live video game streamers play titles such as “Fortnite” for the viewing pleasure of millions – who are, in turn, presented with ads that pay for the whole experience. Bloggers also rely on advertising dollars to support their work.

It’s an interesting ecosystem entirely born of the internet.

Beyond these niche occupations, internet-only jobs are more common in the day-to-day business world through work by social media strategists, web developers, search-engine optimization consultants and app developers, to name a handful.

You’ve likely interacted with these folks in your capacity in business. And if you haven’t, you probably will if statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis are any indication.

An April BEA report points to the digital economy as a “bright spot in the U.S. economy.” The digital economy made up 6.9 percent, or $1.4 trillion, of the total gross domestic product in 2017, according to the report.

While still relatively small, the digital economy is growing, albeit slowly – it was 5.9 percent of GDP in 1997 — according to the BEA. Further, the agency found in 2017, the digital economy supported 5.1 million jobs, or 3.3 percent of total U.S. employment.

As artificial intelligence renders some jobs extinct, humans will continue to look elsewhere for work.

Expect more of the digital economy to pop up as this phenomenon occurs.

Springfield Business Journal Web Editor Geoff Pickle can be reached at gpickle@sbj.net.

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