Map Making: Thoughts On Thinking "Free"

I should have known Free would be the mantra of the weekend. We were going to take Hope The Younger to freeload at Vanessa's Dad's pad by the beach for the 4th, but before we left, we had the op to share a cab back from celebrating Strand's 20th with Indiewire's Eugene Hernadez; under his arm, still in it's protective wrapper, was Chris Anderson's "Free". Eugene had shelled out the $27 bucks for the wisdom of the nothing economy. Meanwhile, I was still hoping that Anderson would still take me up on my offer to send copies to the 4 most influential people I know, and thus provide with a copy for the price of the title. I guess heads of Hollywood and Indiewood studios don't rank in his book. Back from the sea, sand still between my toes, I still haven't read the meme of the moment, and now must live vicariously.

I once had a friend who said he preferred reading criticism than seeing or reading the real deal. I just may have to settle for that experience myself on this one, but luckily we all have the pleasure of both Malcolm Gladwell and Janet Maslin chiming in on Anderson's book so we can still participate in the daily chatter.
Just so it's clear -- if it isn't already -- Anderson's "free" is not the same "FREE" of this blog's inspiration (and title). Here on TFF, free is used in terms of thought, execution, and means of distribution. Here I mean FREE in terms of content, not economy. Granted there is a lot of overlap, but basically I am hoping that by changing our economic model to adapt to the reality of our times, what once was mistakingly called Indie Film can be a far more diverse and participatory culture. But more on that later. Back to that other Free...
Generally the question everyone seems to want to know is how do you make money, let alone recoup your time and money, when you are giving the product away for free?
“The way to compete with Free is to move past the abundance to find the adjacent scarcity,” states Chris Anderson in his book. What does that mean for you the filmmaker?

Scott Macauley on FilmmakerMagBlog tipped me to Brian Newman's powerpoint on moving beyond Free, and actually how to make a living with Free. Brian answers that question quite clearly & concisely.

Brian, borrowing from Kevin Kelly's "Better Than Free", points out where the added value comes in:
  • Immediacy: Give them something now
  • Personalization: To their needs
  • Interpretation: with study guide, or commentary
  • Authenticity: From you directly, signed by you
  • Embodiment: Speaking Fees
  • Patronage: Support the artist; Radiohead model
  • Accessibility: Make it easy to get
  • Findability: Work with partners who make you findable
The powerpoint is without audio, but pretty easy to follow if you have been following this blog.

To further answer this Question-Of-The-Moment, Janet Maslin points out in her review:

Mr. Anderson sees that consumers think not only about money but also about intangibles like convenience, access, quality and time.

Maslin, in contrasting Anderson's "Free" with Shell's book "Cheap", also hits upon one of the plagues that runs amok in Indie Filmland:

Ms. Shell’s intangibles are different; she argues that moral accountability and responsibility are often sacrificed for the sake of cheap pricing.
They didn't write a book on that because it would require two words: Bad Behavior. I find that even the filmmakers who adopt the "film-is-war" approach to production (more Bad Behavior), still struggle over these principles. People don't like to exploit others, although sometimes they allow themselves to get distracted to the point such exploitation becomes a tad too convenient. Those that do have started to lose some of those human qualities. Generally I find the creative brigade would love to find ways to get their work made and seen without having to ransom moral accountability and responsibility. People will adopt good behavior if they are reminded or given the opportunity or have a gun held to their head (daily).
I think the gun is there along with the opportunity and the daily reminders.
Yet, the fear of there be no real business model there too, leads a lot to indulge in a less rigid sense of effects. It's funny how survival leads many to cannibalize themselves. And as clearly as Gladwell deconstructs Anderson's model, he too finds it difficult to unearth the money-generating Free model:
There are four strands of argument here: a technological claim (digital infrastructure is effectively Free), a psychological claim (consumers love Free), a procedural claim (Free means never having to make a judgment), and a commercial claim (the market created by the technological Free and the psychological Free can make you a lot of money). The only problem is that in the middle of laying out what he sees as the new business model of the digital age Anderson is forced to admit that one of his main case studies, YouTube, “has so far failed to make any money for Google.”

To makes matter worse, providing for Free, isn't free to YouTube. As Gladwell points out "A recent report by Credit Suisse estimates that YouTube’s bandwidth costs in 2009 will be three hundred and sixty million dollars." And then it gets even worse from there:

...in order to make money, YouTube has been obliged to pay for programs that aren’t crap. To recap: YouTube is a great example of Free, except that Free technology ends up not being Free because of the way consumers respond to Free, fatally compromising YouTube’s ability to make money around Free, and forcing it to retreat from the “abundance thinking” that lies at the heart of Free. Credit Suisse estimates that YouTube will lose close to half a billion dollars this year.

So where does all this leave us? Indie films been losing approximately two billion a year (guesstimate: 4000 features @ $500K avg. budget; all not distributed or recouping).Gladwell's summation essentially comes down to that there are no easy answers -- but that easy answers do sell books (or at least get you a publishing deal, and the 4th of July meme of the moment).

But talented artists still want to make movies. And to make good movies, we all need to focus on the movies first and foremost. But good movies aren't enough in this world to get seen.
  1. A good first step is to work harder to make your film better and more distinct.
  2. The second step is team up and start to truly collaborate.
  3. Try following Kevin Kelly's 8 Generatives for step #3.
  4. I think the fourth step is follow those rules via some of the methods we've relayed here.
  5. Let's call the fifth step sharing your knowledge with each other in hopes that we will find a way.
Step by step we will get there. Let's make this map together.
As Joe Tripitican commented below, the musicians are dealing with this all straight on. There's a lively debate he tipped us to over on Jonathan Taplin's blog too. Check it out.
And Mark Cuban wants to encourage all business-minded to avoid the freemium model as he believes any successful free-ium play will grow until it becomes to large, expensive, and retro. There will always be a Facebook to replace MySpace, and a MySpace to replace Friendster, a Google to kick Yahoo's ass. Personally speaking I think all companies should plan to make themselves obsolete within five years, or they are not doing the public good.