Plenty of us probably still associate BitTorrent, the peer-to-peer file sharing protocol, with 'piracy.' And that's something BitTorrent, Inc. -- the company leading development of the protocol -- is poised to change. Over the past few years, BT Inc. has experimented with a number of innovative uses for the eponymous P2P system. We've covered several before, including BitTorrent Sync (think Dropbox sans cloud), BitTorrent Live ('crowd-sourced' streaming), and perhaps most relevantly for filmmakers, BitTorrent Bundles.
Bundles is a publishing platform for artists, musicians, filmmakers, and creators who wish to distribute and retain ownership of their content on their own terms. The working philosophy seems to be that every download is free, or at least includes some media you want and love with something extra -- the premium content, made accessible past a 'gate.' Thom Yorke of Radiohead set a potential precedent for filmmakers with a Bundles-exclusive solo release earlier in this year. Each download includes the album's single and a music video thereof, for free -- with the full album's tracks available past a $6 'paygate.'
Now, following a release with musician Diplo, BitTorrent has begun opening up its paygated Bundles program to any and all artists who wish to apply. But with so many self-distribution modes available to the modern indie filmmaker (never mind other media), what makes Bundles and paygates special? For one thing, 90% of profits are paid straight to the artist.
BitTorrent is 'decentralization' incarnate.
TechCrunch recently spoke to BitTorrent about the paygate system and its implications to Bundles & the media distribution/publishing world. The response of Straith Schreder, BitTorrent's Director of Content Strategy, takes few prisoners (my emphasis):
For one, it’s transparent. Other sales and streaming platforms have come under attack for failing to disclose the deals they’ve made with labels. While Spotify has claimed to pay 70% of their revenue to rightsholders, public statements by artists, including Taylor Swift, indicate that little of that money is actually making it back to the people making the songs...
For another, it’s sustainable. Platforms like iTunes take up to 40% of sales revenue — without disclosing fan contact information or data. Which means that, as an artist, you have no idea who’s buying your work, and how to reach them. To deprive artists of this data is to deprive them of the ability to build a viable business.
BitTorrent encourages, not discourages, sharing.
Despite all the talk about music, BitTorrent Bundles and its paygate system needn't be limited to song publishing (or publishers) in the same way as Spotify, for instance. Like the major media marketplaces -- Amazon, iTunes, Google Play -- Bundles can just as easily provide a platform for film distribution as music. There's a major difference, though, between Bundles and the aforementioned empires: BitTorrent is 'decentralization' incarnate. Instead of offering a wide variety of content in all formats & forms across one massive marketplace, Bundles makes every artist or filmmaker (or fan) the publisher, every album or film its own marketplace, and every purchase 'its own storefront.' And unlike virtually every other publishing system, BitTorrent is an infrastructure built on sharing, with every download helping, even encouraging the content to spread.
Bundles artists will be responsible for payment processing, which apparently doesn't exceed 5% of the take. Even so, the percentage of profits to creators is impressive, if not totally unheard of. But it's not just about walking away with a big piece of the pie. BitTorrent moreover stresses the importance of creators knowing and interacting with their audience -- and giving the artist the ability to do so.
Bundles with paygates aren't 'free-for-all' open at the moment, as BitTorrent feels a gradual roll-out will make for a better experience all around in the future. In the meantime, however, any artists wishing to publish via BitTorrent Bundles with paygates may apply here.