What Could a Bestselling Author's Switch to Self-publishing Mean for Filmmakers?
Lately I've been reading a number of books for independent creatives -- in film, in art, in business -- and the one I'm currently working my way through is Linchpin by Seth Godin. As soon as I can find the time I'll post reviews of these books, most of which I believe are very helpful in planning an independent career -- and most of which align very closely with my own manifesto. Recently Godin announced that Linchpin will be the last book he'll publish "in a traditional way." For me to say I'm interested in distributing films in a new way is not news. For Godin (who has written twelve bestsellers) to say the same thing, however, is worth noting. And as it turns out, the decisions he's faced with as an author aren't much different than the decisions we're faced with as filmmakers.
Here's Godin's description of the book publishing model as it stands today:
Traditional book publishers use techniques perfected a hundred years ago to help authors reach unknown readers, using a stable technology (books) and an antique and expensive distribution system.
Film distribution might not have been "perfected a hundred years ago," but celluloid itself was invented a hundred years ago, and up until recently film distribution has relied heavily on physical prints. Like books, however, that's decreasingly the case. Let's re-purpose Godin's passage for film:
Traditional film distributors use techniques perfected
a hundredyears ago to help filmmakers reach unknown viewers, using a stable technology (celluloid) and an antique and expensive distribution system.
What exactly will Godin be doing instead? While he didn't exactly spell out his future plans on his blog, The Wall Street Journal did:
The author of about a dozen books including "Purple Cow" said he now has so many direct customer relationships, largely via his blog, that he no longer needs a traditional publisher. Mr. Godin plans to release subsequent titles himself in electronic books, via print-on-demand or in such formats as audiobooks, apps, small digital files called PDFs and podcasts. "Publishers provide a huge resource to authors who don't know who reads their books," said Mr. Godin in an interview. "What the Internet has done for me, and a lot of others, is enable me to know my readers."
This is yet another example of an artist/writer/creative cutting out the middle man and selling direct to his followers. But Godin's blog and his book readership are essentially one and the same. No Film School, on the other hand, has a readership of independent videomakers and other creatives, but I'm hoping my forthcoming projects will find a wider audience (NFS should be a good starting point, however!). Regardless, when it comes down to it, if you look at the economics of book sales, it's easy to see why Godin would come to such a conclusion. From Tim Ferris, author of The Four Hour Work Week (another book I read recently, which I recommend highly and will be reviewing soon):
- For a hardcover book, authors typically receive a 10-15% royalty on cover price. This means that for a $20 cover price, the author will receive $2-3.
- For a trade paperback book, authors typically receive around half the royalty of a hard cover. If you are making 15% on your hardcover, you might get 7.5% when it goes to paperback.
In a world where Kindle books are already outselling hardcover books, it's obvious that switching to selling eGoods direct to your audience can bring in much higher per-unit profits. Shelf space and delivery costs very little -- and can cost nothing if you know a few tricks (for those interested, I will be posting a technique for selling eGoods -- without paying for "virtual shelf space" from companies like eJunkie -- here soon). And once you get your hands on an eReader -- whether that be an iPad or something more "primitive" like the Amazon Kindle (I bought a cheap Sony eReader) -- you realize you're never going back to paper books. Once you see a good 4K digital projection -- which looks as good the five-hundredth time it's projected as it does the first, unlike film -- I believe the sentiment is the same.
Mitch Joel of Twist Image notes that Godin's decision is not only relevant for authors, but for others as well, and sums it up thusly:
This isn't the future of publishing... this is the future of business.
Why is Godin's decision to cut out the middle man telling for filmmakers? Because movies, like books, are now digital goods. I have a lot of ideas in this space that I can't wait to bootstrap, but they're going to be reliant on my first feature film as a test case. So let me just say that I'm reading these books not as a way of procrastinating and avoiding working on said feature (I'm working on it at the same time); I'm reading these books because I'm interested in bringing to life not just a creatively successful film, but also a commercially successful one. The challenge for independent filmmakers today is twofold: one, to make a good film (duh), and two, to find a way to derive real value from that film. So when I say "commercially successful," I don't mean "it has to make a lot of money" -- my version of a successful film is one that finds an audience and creates self-sustaining revenue for its creators. In the self-distribution space today, this seems all too rare.