This article covers the pros and cons of different passive income sources available to artists. By passive income I mean generating income regularly with minimal work.
I'm writing this based on more than 10 years of experience as a creative on creating content online, internet marketing and selling stuff. Other successful artists will be listed as examples to illustrate my point. If other artists can do it, you can too, if you choose to.
All the tips, strategies and advice listed below are stuff I've told my artist friends. I'm actually writing this so that I can share this article to my friends so that I don't have to repeat ad infinitum. Sometimes I can't tell if my friends are interested in what I say about passive income, so I'll just point them to this article and if they are not interested, great, it means I don't have to waste my time going through the same things with them.
Let me get a few disclaimers out first, aka the hard truths.
1. Knowing passive income sources doesn't mean you would create them
All the tips and strategies to making money online in this article are already available with an easy search on Google. Sources for passive income are well documented. The only difference is how each artist would go about it in their own way.
I've mentioned all the strategies to my friends by none took my advice. Making some extra money each month, even if it's from passive income sources, is not a strong motivator. Let's say you can earn some extra money just by driving Uber or Grab during your free time, but would you do it?
There are no right and wrong ways to make money. The reason why my artist friends don't follow my advice is because they like to do things their own way, and they have been doing the same thing for years so why change?
If you really want to create passive income, you must meet these three criteria:
- Have discipline to follow through
- Create a habit to create
- Willingness to try, experiment, fail and learn
All the tips and strategies I've mentioned are sound, tried and tested, not only by me but by other successful artists.
If you have read any passive income articles and wonder why you have not achieved anything, ask yourself whether you have met the three criteria.
If you can only take away one lesson from this articles, it's this. You don't earn money just by knowing ways to earn money. You actually have to do the work to earn the money. Reading self help books makes you feel good, as if you have accomplished something, but in reality the only thing you've accomplished is reading a book that anyone can read. Doing what was being taught, now that's achievement.
2. Passive income is not entirely passive
Creating passive income usually means putting in the effort to build the income stream, and maintaining it.
The most difficult stage is at the beginning where you create the income stream because there is fear and doubt of whether your effort will have results. And then there's procrastination. This is why it is important to create a habit to create. If you have a habit of creating things, making stuff, whatever you do will feel natural just goes with the flow of what you usually do.
3. Be realistic. You're NOT going to make big money fast
It takes time to build something, your brand, a website, a following. This is not some quick get rich scheme.
You may not earn money for many months. Or you may just earn a few dollars each month that it feels like it's not worth the effort to continue. Many quit.
The thing is, if you can earn $1, you can earn $10 and so on. It comes down to how you can scale your operations, how you manage your time. Focus on earning that $1.
When in doubt, look at other artists and go into the past to see what they have done to bring them to where they are today.
Alright, let's start with various passive income sources that I've tried personally.
Teach online courses (difficulty level: hard)
I've around 10 online art courses and they range from 30 minutes to 3 hours+. These art courses (tutorial videos) take a lot of time and effort to create. You really have to fight through procrastination to get things done because a lot of things have to be done. There's research, recording your art making process, teaching, editing the video, marketing the video to tell people your course exists.
There are many platforms you can use to sell your art courses, and each platform comes with pros and cons.
There's the free and paid version of Gumroad. I'm using the paid version which cost US $10/month. For each sale, I have to pay 3.5% + $0.30 in fees. For the free account, the fees are 8.5% + 0.30 for each sale.
Pros and cons:
+ Earn 90 - 95% of your listed price
+ Don't have to manage payment transaction
+ Payment can be instant, or regularly, up to you
+ Can sell all sorts of digital products, video tutorials, ebooks, brush packs, etc
+ User friendly interface for management and uploading
- You have to market your own own product
Gumroad is good if you already have a following but you have to constantly market your course.
+ Earn from a royalty pool which is basically money from Skillshare student subscription
+ Your course is visible to the many students on Skillshare
+ Income can be more regular or substantial depending on popularity of your course
+ No monthly fees. Creator account is free.
- Limited analytics and data
- Getting more competitive because creators see this as an easy way to earn money
I'm pretty sure Skillshare takes a substantial cut of the earnings from the royalty pool. You do not get the 90%+ profit you can get with Gumroad. However, because your course is visible to the large number of Skillshare students, it's likely you will earn more income each month even after Skillshare's cut.
My Skillshare earning is several times my Gumroad earnings which is dismal because I don't spend the time to market my courses. Creating the course itself is difficult but once you get the course onto Skillshare, it's pretty much passive income from there onward.
Watch this video by Arleesha where she talks quite a bit on Skillshare
I don't use Udemy because the 1GB file size limit is smaller than my many videos.
Revenue share on Udemy can be 25%, 50% or 97% (of your listed price)
If you market your own courses, you'll earn 97% profit. This is kinda similar to selling on Gumroad.
For courses sold through Udemy search, you earn 50%. This is how Skillshare works but the exact revenue share % is unknown.
Lastly, you can choose more aggressive marketing where Udemy will use affiliate marketing to promote your courses. Think, Facebook or Instagram ads paid by Udemy. You only earn 25% this way.
With Udemy, you get to choose how much effort you want to spend on marketing. So Udemy is kinda like a mix of Gumroad and Skillshare.
Generally speaking, you will earn most when you sell online courses through your own website because you control the fees. But the downside of DIY selling is you have to do the marketing. Beginner artists who are not well known or have a large following will find it difficult to sell on Gumroad. But each time I make a sale on Gumroad, it feels great because I earn 90% of the listed price.
Great thing about all these platforms is you have the option to choose which suits you best. Many have complained about Skillshare taking a large cut from the royalty pool. Without Skillshare, you either sell the courses yourself, or get 0%. In which case just use Gumroad. Nice thing about Skillshare is it does the marketing so that you can spend the time saved to create more online courses.
Selling ebooks (difficulty level: moderate)
You can sell ebooks on Gumroad, Udemy and even Amazon.
The considerations are similar to selling online art courses. Do you want to market your product yourself and earn more, or leave the marketing to the platform and earn less?
Patreon (difficulty level: high)
Patreon is an online subscription service where your patrons or fans can pledge money per month/goal reached to support you. In return, you create some sort of reward for your patrons. It can be behind the scene updates, video tutorials, exclusive live stream sessions, sending postcards or stickers, or whatever reward you can think of.
Patreon works great for artists already with some following because who would want to give money to a stranger?
Here are just some of the artists doing well on Patreon and the number of patrons they have:
- Lisa Clough - 1400+
- Frannerd - 2700+
- Jason Morgan - 1300+
- Loish - 3300+
- Kirsty Partridge - 2900+
- David Revoy - 800+
David Revoy is an artist I interviewed in 2015 where he had only 200+ patrons. At the time of this article, he has 800+ patrons.
Me? I've been hovering around 200 patrons for a long time.
It takes a lot of effort to create a substantial following on patron. People are supporting you for a reason and you have to return the favour in some way. On my Patreon page, I offer tutorial videos, behind the scene updates and live streaming to my patrons.
To do well on Patreon, I suggest you study what other successful artists are doing. I'm doing fine on Patreon but it's nothing spectacular compared to what other artists have achieved.
To have people believe in you and support you with money through Patreon is incredible.
Patreon does not work well for beginners or artists with limited following. It's demoralising have a Patreon page only to see no patrons for months because no one knows who you are. Start a Patreon page later. Let your audience know who you are first and what you do.
I'm placing the difficulty level as hard because it's difficult to build a huge following that you have to then convert to patrons.
Affiliate marketing (difficult level: easy)
Affiliate marketing is earning a commission through sales generated from affiliate links placed on your website.
To earn money, you just have to sign up with an affiliate network or program, generate an affiliate link to place on your website. That's the easy part.
The difficult part is affiliate marketing is a numbers game. Out of the many people who see your content, only a few will click the affiliate link, and only a few will actually complete the purchase. So to earn consistent income each month, you need large number of people reading your blog post or watch your videos so that they have the chance to click on your affiliate links.
To do well with affiliate marketing your content has to be very relevant to your audience. For example, I've written many reviews for art books and art supplies for those interested to find out more about the books and supplies. Some of the readers may have intention to purchase and they can easily click the affiliate links to head over to, for example, Amazon to complete the purchase.
Affiliate marketing is considered a passive income source. After you write your article or create your video, you leave it up to the search engines to discover your content and recommend them to the relevant audience.
Another downside to affiliate marketing is it is incredibly competitive. There are many websites that just scraps content from other website to produce a list of products to recommend and sell. You can always identify those websites very easily because the content lack personality and are written very clearly to make a sale.
Because the cost of entry is so low, anyone can get into affiliate marketing. Anyone can copy and paste useful content from other websites and repackage as your own content. To do well with affiliate marketing you have to build your own brand and be known as the authority on a certain subject. That way in addition to getting traffic from search engines, your website or articles may also be shared by people as a resource.
If you want to start somewhere with creating passive income, I will recommend affiliate marketing because it's so easy to sign up an account and create affiliate links to add to your existing content. I don't really recommend creating content just so you can add affiliate links because, as mentioned, people can smell you selling something at a glance.
Selling prints, stickers, products (difficulty level: moderate)
You can put your art on lots of products to sell, eg. prints, t-shirts, stickers, mugs, stationery, etc. Etsy is one of many platforms to sell stuff and is known for the large number of creators and artsy products.
Selling products can only be a passive source of income if the platform handles all the logistics. For example, you can actually sell prints through Flickr or Deviantart and they will ship the prints for you.
As usual, to do well, you will need a huge following.
If you plan on shipping your products yourself, be prepare to allocate time for logistics such as collecting your goods from suppliers, buying shipping supplies, packing, handling buyers and sorting addresses, and going to the post office to mail. There is a lot of logistics involved and is definitely not considered passive.
Google Adsense and Youtube earnings (difficulty level: moderate)
You can also earn money from Google Adsense and Youtube Partner Program by running display ads on your blog or Youtube videos.
Online display ads don't earn much money. They typically earn US $1 for 1000 clicks or views. The amount earn can vary wildly depending on the subject matter you cover. Earning through online advertising is another numbers game. You need a lot of traffic to your website and videos to earn a substantial amount of money.
If you work backwards, to earn US $100 a month, your videos need to generate at least 100,000 views each month.
FYI, art-related videos don't really make money unless you're like Jazza, Vexx or ZHC who can attract millions of views each month. Their videos are created to be clickbait-y to get the views. If you just want to create drawing videos, tutorials, even Mark Crilley who has 3 million subscribers can only bring in 10K - 20K views per video which earns $10 - $20? How do you make a living off that?
Youtube however is a fantastic platform to market your work and build your brand. So you can actually build successful passive income streams off Youtube, e.g. get patrons, sell art courses, affiliate marketing. Mark Crilley has affiliate links to the many drawing tutorial books he has on Amazon in the video description of his videos.
Note that the earlier link to Mark Crilley's books on Amazon is my affiliate link. But you probably has absolutely no intention of buying his books because you're on an article talking about passive income, not to learn how to draw so why would you buy his books? That's why the intention of the audience who clicks on your link is important.
Setting up an Adsense account is easy, earning substantial amount of money is difficult.
To earn money from Youtube, there are additional criteria to meet. You need to have at least 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours watch time over the last 12 months. If you can't even meet that criteria, you won't make any substantial amount of money anyway.
Everything adds up
It's good to have multiple passive income streams because you don't want to have all your eggs in the same basket.
When one passive income stream dries up, other streams can serve as backup.
For example, if you rely on internet marketing to sell your art courses, and you want to take a vacation, it means you still have income coming in even though you are not actively selling your products. Making money from Adense and Youtube definitely needs some maintenance, ie you need to put out content consistently, or put out evergreen content that is fresh even in years to come.
I can talk non-stop about passive income and making money online because there are so many possibilities. But note that whatever method or platform you choose, it has to suit you or the type of work you create. Don't do things a certain way just because you think it will make money. It may make money but in the long run it's going to leave you disgruntled and unsatisfied, and then you'll quit. I used to have a blog that reviews camera lens but I stopped very quickly because my passion just wasn't there even though the blog has potential to make money. I started that camera lens review blog just to make money and that type of content is just not the type of content I would like to create.
Making money online is possible. Many artists have done it. If you don't even try, then you won't even know if you will enjoy the process. I'm still passionate about art books and making art, and after I started my Youtube channel, I found out that I really love to make art videos to share art with more people. But I didn't know that about myself until I started making art videos.
There are so many resources regarding passive income online.
I recommend you do your research regarding passive income on Youtube. Look at videos from actual creators whose work are visible. Why I say this is because there are many people who just rewrite what others have already written without adding anything new. On Youtube, you have to know what you're talking about or people will call you out on your bullshit.
Here are some good videos to start watching to learn more about making money online as an artist:
How to NOT be a Starving Artist | Interview with Jenna Rainey
Artists don't make any Money
Make MONEY as an ARTIST in 2020!