A Content Creator Meeting You Halfway
Note: I wrote this a while ago but am converting it into these forums so that I don't lose it during the transition. Please bear with me :)
So over the past week or so I've been trying to get a grip on what people from Slashdot and K5 are saying in regards to selling things online. There are a lot of strong emotions on this issue, and I definitely understand both sides (being a content producer and a consumer myself). And the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to merge some of what people were saying with what I'd already put into play a few years ago. So the following is my next stab at how to behave while selling a series on the web.
You are not a criminal. I don't do what I do to "own" it, nor to put you in handcuffs if you get it from Gnutella. I don't deserve your money just because you saw my show, and anyone that says otherwise does not understand the purpose of entertainment and art.
At the same time, you do not get away from your responsibility as a good citizen. If you watch my show and hate it, sure, walk away and don't look back. But if you watch it and like it, find something to enjoy in it, then you are obligated --- at some level I can't put into words --- to show appreciation for that enjoyment. I'll put a price on it, but if you find it too high... just pay for every second episode.
Everything that follows must be seen with this understanding. As has been said a few times over the past few days, it is my job to make my content easy for you to get. And I would further propose it's my job to make it easy for you to buy as well. Let's see how easy we can make this for everyone.
Making the Show
I think a good place to start are production costs. Which is to say: no one really cares. I care, my producers care, and I think the people that work for me care. But no one else should. Offsetting the cost of production is not the concern of the consumer. If I can't afford to make my show because I can't get enough money in return, there's something wrong with my production model, not with the audience.
The Cost of an Episode
There are 26 episodes in my season. Each episode is released when it's ready, and will be available for download for $1.25. The video will be the same quality as that episode of CSI you got from a torrent the other day. It should weigh in at a little more than 350MB, but that shouldn't take too long to grab. You can buy the episode as soon as it's announced, the day of, the day after, or any day following. Upon confirmation of your payment, a URL will be sent to you to begin your download. That's my first option, but it's not the only one.
The Cost of a Season
You don't want to buy one episode at a time, you want to buy a season at once. That sounds reasonable, so for $28, you can buy a season pass. That's a savings of $4.50 compared to buying each episode on its own. And if you were testing the show out bit-by-bit before taking the plunge, and you've already sunk $5 on the show... well, you can just upgrade to a season pass for the difference ($23). You're not punished for delaying. But let's say you loved all the episodes, but want something more...
The Cost for a Membership
You want more than just the episodes, you want exclusive access to special materials and a direct channel to the creators of the show. So for $38, you can get a membership pass, which gets you into special parts of the site, lets you see production stills and samples as the show progresses, talk to the staff as things get made, and perhaps even vote on elements of the storyline. It's a special bit of access for those wanting to show extra appreciation.
The Cost for a DVD Set
Episodes on your computer are fine and good, but there's a good chance you'll want to get a DVD Box set with all the extra features we can cram in. So that set is available for $38 when the last episode airs. For people with a membership, it's free, complimentary. For people with a season subscription, it's $10 (the difference between what you paid and what it costs). For people without a subscription, but who have purchased episodes, you get a credit for the amount you've spent on the show thus far, up to 12 episodes. So at episode 13, you'll want to buy that subscription, methinks. Don't want the DVDs? Don't buy them. But if you do, you don't have to pay twice.
The Cost to Watch
Free. A good-quality version of each episode will be distributed free on the web at the same time as any paying customers gets it. We may put some extra stuff in the paying versions, or we may put really really good advertising in the episode (I have high standards when it comes to ads), but you can always get it free. Maybe you have no money. Maybe you aren't sure you like it enough to buy. Maybe you're just so burned by the RIAA suing you and your friends over downloads that you won't pay for anything anymore. No one is twisting your arm. Do what you've gotta do.
The Price of Copyright Infringement
I will get my lawyers to sue you. Now let's be clear about what "copyright infringement" means: if you go out on the street with a dozen burned DVDs of the show and sell then for $10 each, you're infringing my copyright. If you sell the episodes online in any fashion, that's against the rules too. If you put it up on your site for download, that is fair use. If you, as the owner of a P2P app, have the episode on your system and also run banner ads in the app, that is fair use. If you burn a DVD and give it --- or even sell it --- to your friends, that is fair use. But you are not authorized to become commercial distributors for my work (although you could be if you asked nicely).
Digital Rights Management. Waste of time. The best thing I can say for DRM is that it's fun to see how long it takes people to announce they've cracked it. I know you can crack it, you know it will be, so I'm not wasting time paying licensing fees to "protect" my work. Play the show any time you like, anywhere you like, as many times as you like.
While all the episodes and released scripts for my show will be released under a Creative Commons license, the sub-elements are covered as well. In this, I am trying to explicitly allow fanfic to develop. More than that, assuming you give proper credit to the authors you borrow from (as per the license), you can even sell your fanfic. And much like a viral license in software (no flamewars please!), you have to share your creations with others as well. Ideas get much more interesting when more eyes are on them.
There are so many things left to do, and just within the bounds of this document. Are my prices good? Is my logic sound? What problems do you have with this plan (completely aside from the viability of the business model)? This is just my second try, but I'm sure there's more to figure out.
If you're interested in the other track of this for me, check back in a few days for my pitch to you y'all. I intend to give this plan a go (cause I was already halfway there already), so if nothing else, stick around to see how it works.
Thanks for reading this, and if you have any comments, email me!