Monday, January 01, 2007

Animator publicity and the Long Tail

Keeping along the lines of animator self promotion… I’ve been saying for a little while that the indy animator hope in the Long Tail distribution revolution is poorly placed if they expect this phenomenon to provide them with direct revenue resources to “make a living” doing their animation. I have said that the end game of the independent animator needs to be a revenue mosaic, not “all your eggs in the pay-per-download iTunes” basket. Recently Long Tail chronicler Chris Anderson (of Wired) related as much on his blog. Some juicy bits…

Can you make money in the Long Tail? Well, it depends who “you” are. If you’re an aggregator, sure. But if you’re like the majority of Long Tail microproducers, direct revenues can be harder to come by. I was reminded by this Valleywag post that one of the most common misunderstandings of the phenomena is that it somehow makes it easy for individuals to translate low popularity into riches.

“For producers, Long Tail benefits are not primarily about direct revenues. Sure, Google Adsense on the average blog will generate risible returns, and the average band on MySpace probably won’t sell enough CDs to pay back their recording costs, much less quit their day jobs. But the ability to unitize such microcelebrity can be significant elsewhere. A blog is a great personal branding vehicle, leading to anything from job offers to consulting gigs. And most band’s MySpace pages are intended to bring fans to live shows, which are the market most bands care most about. When you look at the non-monetary economy of reputation, the Long Tail looks a lot more inviting for its inhabitants.”

So to answer the publisher quoted by Valleywag, the Long Tail never promised you Adsense riches. If what you’re doing has value, it does promise you more attention, reputation and readership. But converting that non-monetary currency to actual money is up to you, and there are as many ways to do that (from better job offers to consulting) as there are people who wish to try.

So again, if you want to be an indy animator you pretty much have to come to peace with the understanding that direct download payments for your animation really aren’t going to do the trick when it comes to paying the bills. What the animation/short films/(whatever-it-is-you-want-to-make) can do for you is simple: it can build you a reputation that you will then need to work to somehow monetize and translate into a multi-faceted revenue stream. All the current indy animator success stories do this. Homestar Runner makes their hay with merchandising. JibJab with ads. Spumco with work for hire commercial projects. Plympton with small revenues from his films, mixed with commercial gigs and speaking honorariums. John Canemaker teaches and writes books and articles. Don Hertzfeld co-produces the Animation Show travelling festival and teaches. The impressive corral of animators represented by Acme Filmworks do commercials. But they all still make the time to keep doing their own films, keep pushing forward their “brand”, keep promoting their thing. The indy, self produced stuff is a loss leader promotional calling card. The revenue comes as a result of that reputation. True each of those I mentioned do get some revenue from their self produced indy films and animation. But certainly not the majority of their revenue comes from the films. The notion of making a killer short film and having the world beat a path to your door with cash in hand to see it is folly. Nothing works that quickly or easily. No, the way to making it as an indy is a long, slow build. It is the result of years of making a name for yourself doing your thing, and then being smart, timely and clever enough to find a way to harvest that reputation in a monetary way that people are happy and willing to pay. Not fast, not easy, but it’s the only way to make it work. It’s a very, very rare thing for an indy animator to make their living JUST from people buying their animation products. So the humble mouse animator dream of leaving behind all clients, thumbing their noses at the ugly dirty world of “commercialism” to devote themselves to living quietly in a wooded studio in Montana, never having to do the nasty work of sales or go out and meet people- it is a pipe dream. It’s not reality. To make it as an independent animator you have to have some moxy, some guts, a willingness to put your name out there, to pitch for projects, to get those consulting gigs, to offer the merchandise, to teach, or whatever it is you that you can do and be willing to say “What I do is good stuff and you should buy from me because I can make your life better by what I do.”

1 comment:

Keith Lango said...

original comments here...