We return with Part II of our fascinating Q&A with Jon Rettinger, President and Editorial Director of JFL Network (formerly known as TechnoBuffalo). Jon delivers consumer electronics news to a monthly audience exceeding 21 million viewers on platforms like The Apple Circle, Money Rush, and his personal YouTube channel, @jon4lakers.
Jon has been reviewing tech on YouTube since he started back in June 2007. A lot has transpired since those early days on YouTube, driven by technological advancements, shifting industry trends, and evolving audience preferences, which have collectively led to a more competitive and diversified content landscape.
In Part II of this engaging Q&A session, Jon Rettinger shares his thoughts on monetization in the creator space, journalistic integrity, and the products and places where he just won’t go. Enjoy!
What’s the most unique product or angle that's ever been pitched to you?
The first one that jumps up (I mean I can’t mention the brand name), and this was just a couple of weeks ago - to go and check out a flying car. A new flying car company. To just head down to south Florida to check out what looks like a drone essentially, with a cabin for people. It looks incredible. That was really unique.
One of the coolest things I’ve ever done… I got the chance at the New York Auto Show to debut to the world on stage the brand new Hyundai Sonata. I was the guy on stage with a microphone on a live stream, ‘meet this new flagship car’ - a global brand, that was one of the coolest things I have ever done. Hosting is one of my favorite things to do, I was truly excited, for the brand to believe in me, to share their message.
What product types or angles are strictly a ‘no go’ for you? Where will Jon Rettinger never go?
Yes, I stay far away from anything political. I’m not saying that I’m not political personally, but I don’t feel a need to isolate half my audience. I stay away from anything that’s religious. I’m a religious guy myself but I don’t think it has a place on my channel. Anything that’s ‘adult content’ oriented I stay away from. Those are my no-fly areas.
In your time as a YouTuber, how have Partner Programs (monetization) changed the approach for creator collaborations?
When I started it was before the partner program even existed. Before there was AdSense to make money, or integration, dedicated videos… none of that existed. When the partner program came along, that was the first time that creators were getting a piece of the revenue from the videos, when AdSense started to come in that was absolutely incredible.
I remember the feeling of working a job I hated, so that it had income parity with making videos with your partner, talking about cell phones. It was such a surreal experience. And then to now, I have essentially divested my business from AdSense, not that I don’t get AdSense, it’s just that the deltas on it are so variant from month to month. I can’t predict a business model, I can’t guarantee staff raises based on things outside of my control.
I have shifted my model primarily to direct sales where we’re going out and trying to sell integration, dedicated videos. And that approach gives me more control over my financial stability.
What elements of traditional journalistic practice do you apply to your YouTube content?
So, I used to run a website called TechnoBuffalo, and in that world I was a journalist. Early on we leaked a phone that was coming out and I was sued to reveal a source. I almost bankrupt myself and my business so to prove I was protected by federal and state journalistic laws, second amendment stuff to make sure I didn’t have to reveal a source.
So when I had TechnoBuffalo everything was strict journalistic standards - check, fact check and verify and make sure everything is fully disclosed. When I sold TechnoBuffalo, I couldn’t shake any of that so I had the same journalistic principles, but I tried to re-frame myself as more of an entertainer than a reporter.
In terms of the pitching process, do you feel like that changed how people approached you as a journalist, vs as a creative?
Yes. It’s a much bigger ocean as a creative. There are more dollars as a creative than there is on the journalistic side. But I can’t think of any video-only creators that consider themselves journalists first. Usually those folks are ones that have websites, or work for an established news organization that also does video. I think you can see that kind of dichotomy split.
What factors might discourage you from covering a significant launch event for a major device?
First, if it’s generally something that I know has been pitched to hundreds of other creators, and it’s all… ‘we want your video to go up at a certain embargo time’, and there’s going to be a hundred other videos there, it’s impossible to rise to the surface. And you’ll get other guys like Marques [Brownlee], and Linus [Tech Tips] who will get those audiences and everybody else is fighting for what’s left.
So generally that. It’s not a knock on the product, even if it's cool, it’s just that unfortunately it’s not worth the time it would take for that video.
When major events happen so much of the audience is divided by who says what about the same product. Do you feel that the market is a little too saturated?
I do think it’s saturated. I do think there’s enough to go around if you can bring something different to the table. Right? Everybody can review the iPhone 15. Everybody’s got a different experience of it, with maybe someone focused just on the camera, somebody’s focused on display, somebody’s focused on battery life, maybe someone wants to tell a vlog story about the first week with it.
As long as there’s something new that you’re bringing, I still think that there’s room in the space. But if you’re trying to do your best impression of somebody else, then don’t bother.
How do you feel independent creators can work better with major brands?
The biggest piece of advice I can give is, know your worth. Know your worth. I spent so many years not knowing what my content was worth, and not knowing what I was worth. And to the detriment of growing my business and being more financially secure, I did not know what I was worth.
Talk to friends, talk to people. Be comfortable asking those questions. Be comfortable saying no to brands, be comfortable asking for more, be comfortable asking for what you think you are worth and be comfortable to walk away.
This is the biggest advice I can give to creatives. You don’t have to spend a ton of money on gear and camera equipment to make content. Phones are incredible enough. Make sure what you say is unique and know what you bring to the table.
With over 16 years on YouTube in the rearview mirror, where do you feel you’ve seen the most change in the independent creator space?
Initially it was almost like something people talked about in hushed tones. Nobody wanted to talk about people making videos online. I remember telling my future mother-in-law and my future wife that I was making videos online. It was embarrassing. Nobody knew what it was.
Now I have kids asking me if I always wanted to be on the Internet. So to see the change has been interesting. You’ve seen content go from shaky handheld cameras, to being more cinematic, to now being more short-form. Quick content, back to what is what it was almost. Holding a camera and talking really fast and getting to the point. So you have to sort of respect the cyclical nature of this content.
It has been kind of fun to step back and watch and certainly see people much more talented than myself find their niche and just absolutely succeed.