Should YouTube stars forget about CPMs, sell handbags instead?

No matter how many times we hear reports that hundreds, if not thousands, of YouTube (s GOOG) creators are making a comfortable living from their channels, recent discussions triggered by Jason Calacanis have brought up again the importance of creators pursuing more revenue streams than just the profits made from pre-roll ads on YouTube.

Those alternate revenue streams take on many forms: Live shows, direct sponsorship deals with brands, even t-shirts. New on the scene is Subblime, which bills itself as “a community where you can connect with people that inspire you and discover the things they’re crazy about.”

Recently launched, the site currently hosts pages for fewer than 20 creators, who share everything from their favorite skirts to crossfit essentials to camera equipment and electronics.

Subblime owes a clear source of inspiration to Pinterest: Not just because of its clean, image-driven layout, with a heavy emphasis on links to external products, but because of the baker’s dozen or so creators featured on Subblime, all but two are female — matching with Pinterest’s equally lady-friendly approach.

However, it’s impossible not to see the potential for other creators, gender or personal brand aside — the value of a service like this for anyone from Wil Wheaton to Epic Meal Time is quite clear — especially if they’re drawing revenue from these affiliate links.

The rise of companies like Subblime makes one look back at other strategies that have been deployed to profit off online video beyond the basic ad-supported models. As Calacanis memorably stated:

Every time you invest $1 in YouTube, you’re building their power base and leverage over you. How can you invest that $0.66 of that dollar in an asset you control? At least then you might have a fighting chance over Goliath.

So what are these alternate assets that might be controlled? This is thinking about the problem from the opposite direction, but Kickstarter, Indiegogo and other crowdfunding solutions remain a prominent part of the ecosystem. A sustainable part of the ecosystem? That remains to be seen.

Crowdfunding has clear benefits for creators — direct engagement with fans, and more importantly direct engagement with the money of fans. But enough stories are emerging about reward fulfillment issues to keep creators wary about treating these services like magic ATMs.

In addition, direct sponsorships — whether integrated into the content or the soap opera-esque “presented by…” approach — remain in play. In fact, according to Leap Year producer Wilson Cleveland via email, “Leap Year contributed to driving 35 percent of Hiscox’s total Q3’12 sales… I’d seen brands like Denny’s call out stats on ‘improved reputation’ but never bottom line stuff. Reason being, branded content is still very much under the ad agency domain…and ad agencies rarely if ever, chest-thump about the effect their expensive campaigns have on sales particularly when it comes to branded digital content.”

These other means for revenue remain nebulous enough that really, one of the most reliable means seems to be one of the very oldest: T-shirts and merchandise sales. (Just read this post by Vlogbrother John Green to see how highly the Nerdfighter empire values the diversity of its revenue streams, including the ability to sell products directly to its audience.)

Which honestly might be a sign that Subblime is on the right track — by creating a curation system for online shopping, the site allows creators the ability to get a cut of recommended products with relatively minimal effort. And the “minimal effort” angle might be key to that: YouTubers are awfully busy folk.

Image courtesy of Flickr user laurenindvik.