Contrary to several media reports, Rebecca Black is not netting hundreds of thousands of dollars from the more than 33 million YouTube views of her uber-viral video "Friday" or its digital sales. However, she's not doing badly.
Video: "Friday," Rebecca Black
The 13-year-old is netting roughly $24,900 per week from track sales of her surprise hit song, according to our calculations. It's the start of a great college fund, but she's not making the kind of money from iTunes sales that some writers have estimated.
Forbes.com erroneously reported her digital iTunes sales at 2 million -- a figure that was picked up by other publications (Forbes has since posted a correction).
So how many tracks is she selling? I'd estimate less than 40,000 in the U.S. last week and probably more this week. Here's why: On Tuesday morning, "Friday" ranged from #33 to #42 on iTunes and #95 at Amazon's MP3 store. For the sake of argument, let's say "Friday" is #42. In recent weeks, according to Nielsen SoundScan, the #42 overall track would have sold approximately 43,000 units. "Friday" was released on Tuesday, March 14.
Black appears to own the copyright to her sound recordings -- the label is listed as "2011 Rebecca Black" on iTunes and Amazon MP3 lists "2011 Rebecca Black" in the "copyright" field of the song page. And for distribution, it appears Black is using CD Baby, which takes a 9% commission. Finally, take out 9.1 cents per track for mechanical royalties to the music publisher ("Friday" was written by Ark Music Factory, according to media reports).
Here's the math: 43,000 tracks at $0.70 cents to the artist minus a 9% distribution fee, minus 0.91 cents apiece for mechanical royalties equals $24,900.
She may be pulling in a bit more money from YouTube views if she had the foresight to set up a content partner agreement before she got 30 million views. If so, that could amount to $15,000 to $20,000 for her 33 million views.
Video: Rebecca Black on "Good Morning America," 3/18/2011
Yet for all that, "Friday" does not seem likely to sell millions. Keep in mind that Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" has sold about 1.65 million units in the U.S. in four weeks, and its official YouTube video has 23.5 million views. Those are huge numbers, even for an established pop icon with a massive marketing and promotion campaign in addition to a successful international tour.
But there's a huge difference between Gaga's 23.5 million views and Black's 33 million views. By contrast, Black is a novelty artist who will have a difficult time turning curiosity and derision into actual sales; "American Idol" cast-off William Hung comes to mind as a comparison. Black has certainly done remarkably well for an independent artist, but she won't put up Gaga-like sales numbers.