In a Nutshell: Self-Publishing Come of Age

Is a company with a 35 people headcount, with a bank reserve of more than US$1m and a six-figure annual operating profit still a self-publishing business?

There is a good chance of you saying ‘no, it isn’t’. And that would be reasonable. But if you’d accept, that heavily relying on Youtube +1 single person starting the business with publishing self-made content + independence of investors or a mother company + still being a young enterprise are valid criteria to define a self-publishing business than In a Nutshell – Kurzgesagt GmbH  is a self-publishing business. Only a self-publishing business after rapid growth and incredible success.

Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell’s (from here on: KiaN) English language channel has nearly 13m Youtube subscribers. Add 1m subscribers in the German speaking world. That is where Philipp Dettmer comes from. Having studied design at the Munich University of Applied Sciences he graduated as BA in 2013. His final thesis was the first video published. A second followed soon. From the beginning, the young German started publishing his videos in German and English. And very soon he realized, that in English he would reach a much bigger audience.

Dettmer’s – and nowadays his company’s – videos are short explainer videos on scientific, technological or philosophical topics. They are beautifully designed and humorously scripted. In mostly between 5 and 15 minutes these videos help the viewer to understand highly complicated questions, at the same time being educating and entertaining.

The 8 min video on the cosmological String theory has not less than 14m views. As much as a 12:30 explainer on Loneliness. 16m views generated a video about bacteriophages (viruses replicating themselves within bacteria). All in all KiaN’s videos had more than 1bn views on Youtube. Around 50% of the audience live in the US. Then comes UK, Canada and even India before Germany, the home country of Philipp.

Obviously these are gargantuan numbers. But don’t forget: they all root in a recently graduated young man starting to publish what he likes and does best!

KiaN in business terms

In a podcast, Philipp disclosed some details about his publishing business. It isn’t surprising to learn that a medium with such a huge audience realizes significant amounts of advertising Dollars. They should be in the range of US$1,000 per 1m views.

What DID surprise me was that merchandising is the revenue source #1 for KiaN. Having started to sell branded stuff with some marketing power only some two years ago, the total of sales is worth above US$70k per month yet. Of course, that is just revenue. The stuff has to be produced or purchased. So the bottom line of this part of the business will be much smaller.

Merchandising is the biggest revenue driver for Kurzgesagt - In a Nutshell

For sure, KiaN monetizes its audience (otherwise you wouldn’t read about it here on They are on Patreon since only short time after Patreon’s launch. Nearly 15k people pay more than US3$ per month on average, says Philipp Dettmer. In terms of paying Patrons that puts KiaN in the Top10 worldwide. In terms of total revenue that results in a lot more than half a million US-Dollars each year.

KiaN offers not less than 11 membership levels on Patreon, starting from US$1.16/month which gets the Patrons a “Printable Quarantine Care PDF” to US$174, which gets the Patrons an avatar bird which will be killed prominently in one of the videos (birds are main actors in the explainer video animations of KiaN). So basically the monetization strategy of KiaN is voluntary payments plus a tit for tat-transaction with a smile.

After merch, ads and payments by the audience KiaN taps quite a few more sources of revenue. Some videos are sponsored. Some sponsors give money to KiaN for special projects, amongst them the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for info videos on the Ebola virus. KiaN has a co-op with German Public Television. Also, KiaN offers B2B design and animation services as an agency.

KaiN distributes some content on other channels. But Philipp Dettmer says: “We are a Youtube-publisher”. Other platforms might help to promote the company and its content, but he is sure that eg producing videos for Facebook wouldn’t make much sense. And he thinks also, there is no alternative to this route. Switching to another platform (why should he? That is a highly abstract line of thought) probably would lead to a loss of the vast majority of KiaN’s followers, Dettmer thinks.

“Anyway, it is erroneous to think that, when you go anywhere else, your followers will follow you”, he says in OMR#289 podcast, where much the info presented here comes from. OMR is a podcast in German language. You can listen to the original 1h+ interview here.

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