My friend and founder of Techdirt and Floor64, Mike Masnick, has started a new venture called Step 2, a community brainstorming platform for asking about, suggesting, creating, and building models for success meant to be a place for sharing ideas, knowledge and real results of experiments from artists in the digital landscape. According to their website, “it’s not just about the ‘business’ model, but the overall ‘success’ model. How do you create that connection with the marketplace? How do you offer something worth buying? Step2 is here to help.”

I’m really proud and inspired by what he is trying to do with this. Rather than spending time focusing on what went wrong, more legislation, tighter controls, and whining, Mike and his team want to show and hear about what is going right, what experiments are happening and their outcomes (good and bad), and provide a forum where questions can be asked, ideas can be shared, and knowledge based on fact (instead of speculation and theory) can be found.

In order to spur the conversation, Step 2 is running a contest for the next 15 days for a chance to win $1,000 ($10,000 to be given away total). Here is what they are looking for according to Techdirt:

We’re looking for case studies from content creators in music, movies, books and video games and will award $1,000 to each of the top two vote getters who qualify in each of those categories. Separately, we’re also looking for fan case studies of how artists in any of those fields connected with you. Again, the top two vote getters will get $1,000 each.

The kinds of case studies we’d love to see:

  • Done an interesting/different/unique promotion? Tell us about it and share the results in as much detail as possible
  • Tried an email marketing campaign? What worked and what didn’t? Any key metrics?
  • Attempted crowdfunding? How did you set the rewards? What did people like/not like?
  • Used new or different platforms or technologies? What kind of results did you see? What could be improved?
  • Attempted something different — like a house concert tour? ebook-only release? letting fans take part? releasing unfinished works? What worked, what didn’t, what did you learn?
  • Experimented with “name your own price?” How did it work? What prices worked well? What efforts did you make to trigger certain price points?
  • Set up a tiered pricing model? How did you choose the tiers? What worked? What did you learn?
  • How are you connecting with fans? Facebook, Twitter, Podcasts? Google Plus? What works, what doesn’t? What really seems to energize fans? What doesn’t? Any empirical data that shows how your fans reacted?
  • Surprise us!

If you’re a content creator in any of the qualifying categories, please consider taking part. Some creators are always afraid to share too many details of their “secret sauce,” but many who have done so have found that the transparency itself leads to greater connection with fans and — perhaps more importantly — getting detailed info out there will help inspire others to do cool things too. Step2 is about learning and helping each other succeed in a rapidly changing world.

We are thinking about submitting a case study on Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul, if for no other reason but to share what we’ve learned through self publishing, sponsorship, giving away free copies etc. Of course, we won’t turn down an additional grand! :)

Even if you don’t submit, keep an eye on the site and add to the discussions. I would like to see people who have constructive things to say contribute, but there is quite a lot of fear in the film community and the most fearful are unfortunately the ones who just want to criticize and ridicule with comments on these sites. Prove me wrong, guys.

SXSW, upcoming film events, book to be in print

August 23, 2011
posted by sheric

Just a little update for all the readers here.

I am involved in 2 SXSW panel proposals for the 2012 festival. Both contain some pretty awesome people and information that I think you will all find valuable.

Connect with Fans + Reasons to Buy = $$$

This is a workshop/speed brainstorm type of event moderated by Mike Masnick, founder of Techdirt , an online blog focused on analyzing and offering insight into news stories about changes in government policy, technology and legal issues that affect companies’ ability to innovate and grow.

My fellow panelists are Ross Pruden, founder of the Twitter discussion panel #infdist among other things and Jon Reiss, I think most of you are familiar with him. :) We will be taking  film project examples from participants in the room and dreaming up alternative revenue streams to help maximize your ROI. Gone are the days where you can be completely dependent on making money from selling copies of your film. When copies can be obtained for free online, you could try and sue, issue take down notices OR you could build in other ways to make money so that your revenue isn’t completely dependent on selling copies. New business models are emerging every day in other sectors, why not in film?

I envision a very high energy session with ideas flying out from everywhere so bring a recording device to catch them all. If you think this would be a much more useful session than just listening to the same industry folks sitting at a table talking about how bad everything has become, VOTE! We want to shake things up at SXSW.

Selling Your Film Without Getting F*#ked

Yes the title is a little racy, but we were told that’s what gets attention when people look through the event catalog to choose sessions they want to attend. Besides, you’re INDIE so you can take it.

This is a panel I am moderating and it will include several independent filmmakers who have traveled the distribution path less taken. All have retained some rights over their work and received attention and revenue for their films be it organizing their own theatrical tours, using festivals as a source of revenue by charging screening fees, or enlisting the help of high power industry people to champion their films. Some have even managed to do equitable deals with distributors! Our panelists are Ava DuVernay, Casper Andreas, Thomas Woodrow and our very own co author of Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul, Orly Ravid who is also the founder and co executive director of The Film Collaborative, a non profit (on purpose!) organization dedicated to brokering equitable deals mainly with the filmmaker in mind. If you would like to hear from real people in the trenches of the business of independent film who can offer you good and usable advice, VOTE for this panel.

moving on….

I will be traveling to 2 important independent film events in September. The first is the Business of Film Conference held at Rice University in Houston, Texas on September 10. I’m going to be speaking on DIY marketing, some of the tools you can use right now and how best to use them. I will also be on a panel with my friend Orly to talk a little about why we wrote SYFWSYS, key takeaways we learned through talking to all of our filmmaker participants in the book, and how The Film Collaborative helps filmmakers who are trying to negotiate the best distribution deals for themselves, not for the distributor.

Next will be our book launch at IFP Week in New York City. I am scheduled to be a panelist on Monday September 19 for Walking the Line: The Fine Art of Self Promoting Your Film so if you are attending that talk, come up and say hi after. Our launch cocktail party hosted by SnagFilms will be in the evening from 6-8pm and if you want to be invited, leave your email address on the SYFWSYS site under the Get tab. All of the authors will be in attendance and we will be selling printed copy books that you can have autographed if you want or just stare at us in disbelief! There will be wine and I will be having some.

Speaking of printed copies of the book, yeah there will be that option. I know what you’re thinking, this was supposed to just be a digital book with all the lovely bells and whistles currently available such as video, url links, social media sharing. It still will be that and for the month of September, right after launch on September 13, it will be completely FREE on ALL platforms thanks to the sponsors who have helped us make the development of the book possible. Starting in October, that price climbs to a whopping $4.99. But now, due to a multitude of feedback that says to me filmmakers aren’t the early adopters I thought they were, we will have physical copies of the book too just so you can highlight, dog ear and not worry about the battery life of your reading device when reading it. Gigantic thanks to our sponsors, Prescreen who upped their sponsorship commitment for this and Area23a Movie Events, for enabling us to go to print without any personal outlay of money. We are planning to have the physical copies in by our launch party on September 19 and you can leave a presale request on our site. I think a Topspin shopping cart is going to be implemented within days to allow for that. The retail price on the paperback is $19.95

Ok folks, we’re in countdown to launch mode. We have a tips series going on indieWire over the next few weeks. You can find our advice about things to know before you embark on the festival circuit here and audience building tips from me and some of the participants in the book here.

The New Independent Film Distributors’ Business Model

September 30, 2010
posted by sheric

I want to focus on how to rehabilitate the film distribution entities so that they may continue to exist. I know what you are thinking “What’s she on about? We’re fine. We survived the latest shake out and are all the stronger for having less competition.” I am here to tell you that is fallacy. The old ways of bringing films to market are fading fast and it is time to reinvent your business. I want to acknowledge my gurus Gerd Leonhard, Seth Godin and Clay Shirky (though he is more my go to guy on all things having to do with immersive storytelling and audience collaboration) for being a constant source of inspiration for me in looking toward the future of media.

When Ted announced on his Facebook page that he would take part in a panel discussion at the upcoming Woodstock Film Festival concerning the new distribution paradigms, I had to look at who would be involved in this discussion. What people and companies would be taking part who are practicing radically changed business models for film distribution? It was as I thought; none. I posted a link on his page (http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20100326/1452138737.shtml) asking all involved in the discussion to read it and then talk about how they see the new paradigms. I don’t know if anyone did, but I did get a response from Dylan Marchetti from Variance Films explaining to me how his company functions to actively engage audiences for films they’ve booked in the theater. It was a lengthy exchange that resulted in my writing this post. I don’t think he read the article before he spoke because the point of that piece was to inform on how businesses need to form ecosystems around their companies, not continue only to sell copies of the content they distribute. Distribution companies should not be focused on selling copies, either for viewing or for owning. They should be selling access, creating networks of devoted fans around their brand and developing customized experiences instead. In other words, selling things that cannot be copied. This means they must first gather and cultivate a community of engaged followers and then develop, acquire, produce, and source material with only these people in mind.

Of the companies taking part in the Woodstock panel, I would say only Cinetic with their Film Buff organization has started with the potential to do this, but rather than building an engagement platform, they have merely built another online distribution portal (like so many others in existence that consumers have never heard of) to put copies out on the internet. Actually you can’t see any of the films on the site, it just directs you to their existence on VOD channels. Their “community” engagement is only a call for an email address so that they may send marketing messages. What is communal about that? What connection would a consumer have to the company itself besides advertising? None. Cinetic has no idea who these people are, what drives them, motivates them, interests them. It is not fair to pick only on Cinetic, I can’t think of a single distributor currently connecting directly with audience who can answer those questions. Troma comes to mind as a distributor with a very clear brand identity but even they are not directly in dialog with their audience. All current distributors are far too dependent on push marketing, usually hired from outside the company, and sourcing films purely on guesses based on audience reactions at festivals , favorable press or from hottest trends in market research. Every investment prospectus will tell you future earnings are not indicative of past performance, so why is that how decisions are continually being made?

What would I suggest for these companies? First, a total rethink of what business they’re in. Distribution of goods is no longer needed from you. You should not think of yourselves in the film distribution business because distribution has become easy to access by anyone online. (I know Dylan, you’re not online, but art house theater days are numbered too). Attention getting is now your main role. But from whom? If you don’t have a following as a company, a deep relationship with a community, how will you get attention and keep it? By building a tribe around the people in your company and, in turn, the company brand itself. This starts by identifying what kind of group you appeal to or want to appeal to, actively seeking them out and forging those deep connections. At first, this will mean attracting people through outside means, appealing through media and various outside groups to introduce yourself. Eventually the effort to enlarge the circle will be done by the community members, but until you have one, you must do that work.

Often, in a rush to monetize, companies jump right over the relationship building. The dismal failure of paywalls in newspaper circles only serves to prove my point. They did not build up an engaged community first, and then ask for payment. They falsely thought that their paper subscribers would be willing to continue the previous paid relationship even after it was possible to get most of the news stories from aggregators for free online. There is a great video from Jeff Jarvis explaining the new business models for newpapers here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jsb9NfJmqPY&) and lots can be gleaned from it for all corporate endeavors.

The reinvention

“The future leaders in business will be connectors, not directors”-Gerd Leonhard
The new model will be to build and foster a community around the brand as a company and to be in the entertainment fulfillment business. This community will have interests that the company can fulfill and that is the company’s ONLY function. To try and serve a well balanced diet of wide ranging content is to spread too thin and attract no one. Mass is not your target.
You will be a resource to your community not only in entertainment but in anything that interests them. This means you MUST know what “that” is. Is it books, is it music, events, clothes, games, causes, other similar tribes? These will be your other revenue sources as you create a network of interconnection with other companies who have their own niches, their own tribes. Also, consider enabling community members to profit in what you have sourced, to be affiliates and to create networks of their own. The network will feed each other spreading the brand even further.

A key part of your site will be to connect your community to each other. Some companies have sites where they connect to the user, but they don’t allow for intraconnection and some networking platforms are merely housed on a company website but members are never engaged by the company, merely left to use the tools as they see fit. Listening and collaboration will be cornerstones for this model to work. This isn’t work to be left to interns, by the way, but by those in power within the company.

You will also partner with other tribes of like minded individuals. Through these interactions, you tribe influence grows. There is no need for shouting out messages, gaining favorable PR placement, buying media for attention or forcing members to spread the word. If you are fulfilling their needs admirably, they will do it. You will however, generously reward those members in your community who do enlarge your circle. Instead of paying large amounts of money to outside companies to get “buzz” and “traffic,” you will invest that money in building experiences tailor made for your community. Development of experiences can only be done from active participation in the community and collaboration with them.

This model is far simpler to run as you won’t be going for masses, you will only cultivate your community. It will be labor intensive work, but not prohibitively expensive. You will need to develop tools so that the tribe members can speak to each other and so that they can spread the word to their friends easily. You should be facilitating sharability at all times, not closing it off and being insular.

The filmmaker/artist whose content you will source (not acquire as creators will have an equal partnership in your tribe) will be encouraged to participate with the community. In fact, if they will not, then their work is not very attractive to your community. Engagement at all times is key, this is no place for egos.

How To Make Money?

It may be that while you are in audience building mode, you will be spending more than making to develop a truly exceptional experience for your community. If you start this now before your entire business collapses, you will fare better.

-Create an online experience that makes the lives of your community better, easier, richer and be the number 1 site they visit for news, information, resources and community tailored to what interests them.

-Fill the vacuum of the lack of curation. People are confused by where to find things they like and overwhelmed by the choice. In a sea of content, be their favored destination. In this way, you can take on the likes of Netflix, a company that offers a huge range that makes finding content specific to personal interests nearly impossible because they don’t intimately know who their customers are. You will know this.

-Lock in the community by maintaining a dialog that will turn their initial attention into a revenue stream for your brand. A subscription model is what you should aspire to, but you cannot rush to that without first showing what you have to offer and reeling them in. First offer the ability to sample, share and then buy.

-Innovate in the online experiences you build to keep the community engaged and interested in making the circle bigger for you and for them. Incentivize those who are the most active at enlarging the community. Take the money you would have spent on outside marketers and use it to think of interesting incentives for your tribe.

I fear the problem for all of you will be waiting to see if another business model becomes successful before you decide to reinvent your own. This is extremely detrimental because waiting only results in being that much further behind. The first ones to embrace a new model win. It is why Netflix beat out Blockbuster. By the time Blockbuster conceded the model Netflix forged was legitimate, they could never catch up. Entrenched companies usually misjudge the speed with which change happens. Now is the time.