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YouTube Celebrities Try a New Gig: Selling Stuff

This holiday season, some YouTube stars are looking to cash in on their popularity.
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This holiday season, some YouTube stars are looking to cash in on their popularity.

YouTube creators who have millions of subscribers are looking to sell stuff to them. Those content creators, and the networks who back them, are teaming up with retailers to sell a slew of products.

YouTube network Awesomeness TV, which is owned by Dreamworks Animation, launched a holiday pop-up store in West Hollywood, California, featuring products inspired by its online stars. The store is organized by the YouTube creators who inspired the various merchandise, which ranges from Ugg boots, to smartphone cases, to dresses and T-shirts.

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It's part of Awesomeness' push to take stars' direct relationship with fans, and translate it into new revenue. In September AwesomenessTV teamed up with Kohl's to launch S.o. R.a.d, a limited-edition juniors fashion line, which debuted along with a four-season YouTube series featuring teen influencers.

"Basically what we are is a licensing and brand development agency," said Jim Fielding, a veteran of Disney's consumer products division who was hired by Awesomeness TV. "We license intellectual property—either the intellectual property of our own brand, our TV series, our movies, titles, or talent. And then we go out and find manufacturer partners, and we also maintain retail relationships.

Sawyer Hartman, who has nearly 2 million followers, has two clothing lines—apparel and hats. "YouTube has been an amazing experience, a place to curate an audience and to keep in touch with them," Hartman said. "But in my grand scheme of things, it's one of my many social medias. So I try to leverage brand opportunities … to fund projects that I have a little bit more say in, in the back end."

Hartman is part of a bigger trend: YouTube star Bethany Mota, who claims almost 10 million YouTube subscribers, has a clothing collection at Aeropostale, as do YouTube and Vine stars Nash & Hayes Grier, Cameron Dallas and Carter Reynolds. YouTube's top female fitness channel, Blogilates, launched a fitness apparel line BodyPop.

"Think about what a YouTube star has," said BTIG Analyst Rich Greenfield. "They usually are not just on YouTube and taking comments and responding, but they're on Instagram, they're on Twitter, they're maybe on SnapChat. There are so many ways to have a direct relationship, and so that basically builds your ability to sell a product."

Greenfield likened the trend to a modern equivalent of chefs with cooking shows selling a line of pans.

And YouTube's retail power reaches beyond YouTubers selling their own products: Kids' toy reviews have a huge influence at the cash register. Those pint-sized influencers include an 8-year old millionaire behind EvanTube, the YouTube channel dedicated to toy reviews—he has 800 million-plus views and counting. Then there's KiddiesMama, whose reviews have drawn more than 400 million views.

"YouTube has a major impact on retail sales," said Jim Silver, CEO and Editor in Chief of toy industry site TTPM. "Kids who used to be watching Saturday a.m. cartoons are now watching these content creators, so if they sit down and watch a video for 20 minutes, it's 20 minutes of exposure to your product. It goes from something a child might not have seen before—they might not have seen the commercial—to seeing EvanTube play with it, and it goes on their Christmas list."

Gartner analyst Jennifer Polk pointed out that authentic toy reviews by real kids can have a much bigger impact than anything a toy maker could buy. "I know my own daughter looks at commercials as a distraction from her cartoon," Polk said. "But something like this, where it's another kid or another person playing with the toy, is highly, highly engaging."

--- CNBC’s Harriet Taylor contributed to this report.