Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Bling! Button

Filmmakers Jamin and Kiowa Winans posted an insightful update (A 360 View on Internet Piracy) on their experiences so far about having their feature film downloaded 400,000 times for free. This section in particular caught my fancy:

If the download community wants to send a real message and be recognized as an audience, here's how:
  • For those out there who download because you want easy access to something you can't otherwise get (i.e., you're outside the US and movies take forever to get to you, which we completely understand), then please do the download community a favor and track down the filmmakers and give them a few bucks.
  • For those of you who only want to pay for what you like, please find a way to support your favorite artists as best you can. This will also send an extremely strong message to Hollywood to make better films and not just expect everyone to keep digesting a huge cafeteria of re-makes and franchise films.
  • For those of you who expect things to be free, please consider how flawed that thinking is. Do you expect groceries, clothing and other commodities to be free? Making Ink is the single most difficult thing I've ever done and I can guarantee that every artist who crosses the finish line with a completed project feels the same. If the answer is truly that people expect things for free then the logical conclusion is that no one will take any financial risk in this industry and eventually there will be nothing to pirate. Talk about the law of diminishing returns.

This is a new era and no one knows which end is up right now. If instant file-sharing is truly the next step in film distribution, then there still needs to be a financial model in place that works. All anyone wants to do is to be able to move on and make another movie. That will be impossible if the world expects things for free. Or, all our movies will be paid for by huge corporate sponsors and littered with product placement—is that really a better alternative? Do we really want The Storytellers in Ink to be eating a Big Mac and swilling Coke after every fight? Probably not. I'm not claiming to know any answers here, I just want to put it up for discussion so please share your thoughts below and we'll continue to provide updates.

Everyone is hunting around for a way to monetize file sharing so that indie filmmakers (and studio filmmakers) can continue making movies without having their hard work taken with no hope of any financial recompense. So the Winans' appeal to our better nature to buy legally is, though well-intended, misguided. The actual barrier to consumer donations is not moral in nature—at least not largely moral—but technological. If P2P applications like BitTorrent and various media players like Quicktime, WMP, etc. were improved to make it dead simple to donate directly to producers, money would start flowing. Narrowing the action required to donate from two clicks to only one click is the kind of thing I'm talking about here—it should be stupidly easy and quick to donate money—a child should be able to figure it out. It should be fast, secure, reliable, omnipresent, and probably even anonymous, too.

Let me offer an anecdote. IAlertU is a third party application for my laptop. It uses three of my MacBook’s utilities to provide one kick ass app: the remote control “locks” the laptop so that nobody can use it while you step away (and makes a cool car alert sound when you push the remote’s button), its motion sensor detects if the MacBook has been illicitly moved, and the laptop’s camera snaps a picture of any thieves and emails that photo to you. Really, it’s briliant! Rarely do I find an application with such ingenuity. It is the third party software developers like this whose products are bought and then integrated into Apple's next OS iteration.

Anyway, iAlertU is shareware, so I downloaded it for free to try it out. After seeing just how cool the application was, I felt this sudden wave of gratitude. I said to myself, “If this guy has made it super-easy for me to pay him, I’ll gladly reward him by giving him $5.” Without too much surprise, I did indeed find a Paypal link among the appication's menus and less than 60 seconds later, I had given the programmer my $5 donation. Had it taken longer than 60 seconds—or more accurately, if I had thought it might have taken longer than 60 seconds—I can’t say I would have bothered to donate at all.

Be it a song, a software app, or a movie, consumers are often struck with such overwhelming gratitude as this and are very willing to show that appreciation with their hard-earned money... but that moment can be fleeting. If the coin bucket is always there, I guarantee you coins will be dropped into it. As the Winans have said before, if just $1 were donated from every download they had, they'd be easily put in the black again.

Somebody needs to get the software people behind all media players and P2P apps like BitTorrent in the same room with Paypal and Visa. Gobs of money can be made here if a simple button is added to all media players and P2P applications. The button might say something like, “Reward the Artist”, “Donate”, “Give”, “Help Out”, “Tip”, or even “Bling!”. Whatever its iteration, the gist is the same—the consumer needs to know that when they click that button, their money will go directly to the artist with zero hassle.

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