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If you’ve glanced at YouTube, or your iTunes store, or Twitter, or even Facebook in the last few days you may very well have noticed people talking about and linking to this video:
What you might not have realised if you’ve only just heard of The Guild or Felicia Day, is that this little video represents something of a leap forward in terms of indie-based web productions finding a way to make a healthy amount of money while still giving away their content predominantly for free. For those of you who’ve not come across The Guild before, it’s a comedy web series created and written by Felicia Day (of Dr Horrible and Buffy fame), looking at the ‘real’ lives of six MMO (videogame) players. The ‘game’ is never explicitly named, but the characters and situations are largely based on play in and around World of Warcraft.
Anyway, one of the most important things is that after the first season of The Guild, Day very cleverly managed to strike a deal with Microsoft which would allow them to co-produce The Guild and thus season two was initially, exclusively available via the Xbox Live, MSN and Zune websites. Significantly, Day retained all intellectual property regarding The Guild, meaning that the show remains under her ownership and control (about which Day is rightly proud). Indeed, just striking that deal is a significant business move for an indie web media creator. Of course, Day ensured that episodes also appeared on YouTube and other venues after a period of time, ensuring fans could access The Guild in whichever manner they preferred. The Guild has built a very healthy following (as has Day herself, with over a million Twitter followers) and after initially being available for free, Day released DVDs of season one and two via Amazon, which have sold reasonably well.
However, the music video which I’m focusing on today is The Guild’s ‘(Do You Wanna Date My) Avatar’ which was written by Felicia Day, features the cast of The Guild, and was directed by Jed Whedon (one of Joss’ brothers, who also co-wrote Dr Horrible). Initially revealed at Comic-Con, the music video playfully engages with pretty much every stereotype that there is about gamers, electronically dancing a fine line between knowing parody and unadulterated fandom. Following the deal with Microsoft, ‘Avatar’ was available exclusively on the Xbox and Zune websites for a week, before hitting the rest of the web both for free on YouTube and as paid download via iTunes stores, Amazon and elsewhere. And that’s where the story gets impressive, as the music video has hit number one on the US iTunes store and on Amazon as an mp3 download. More to the point, Day has learnt from the successes and problems that Dr Horrible hit last year.
While Dr Horrible was a huge hit in the US iTunes store, there were problems even viewing Dr Horrible outside of the US for the first few days, and it took months before Australians had a legal option to purchase Dr Horrible online. In contrast, Day seems acutely aware that The Guild’s fans are spread all across the globe and that all ‘national’ versions of the iTunes store (all of which have separate licensing agreements) should be ready to spread The Guild’s musical talents. [Update: To distribute the mp3 versions, Day used the Tunecore service which lets artists release their mp3s across a range of international stores simultaneously for a small fee.] The image visible on the left shows today’s Top Music Videos in the Australian iTunes store, with (Do You Wanna Date My) Avatar [feat. Felicia Day] sitting proudly at the top of the charts; it also topped the UK iTunes store (and elsewhere across the globe, too, I’m sure). While there was a delay of a day or so getting some versions of the music video or mp3 into particular national online stores, Day has no doubt affirmed the loyalty of fans across the globe by ensuring they have access to ‘Avatar’ for free, or to buy, on exactly the same terms as fans in the US. While we may never know exactly how much ‘Avatar’ earns (or even what the music video cost to make) even the $2.59 a pop for the music video in Australia, or $1.69 for the mp3 single, will surely combine with sales across the globe to make a very respectable amount. Indeed, I’d guess it could make more than a full season of The Guild webisodes!
Most importantly, though, Felicia Day has shown the sort of foresight that comes from being a clever media creator in the digital era: rather than bowing to the tyranny of digital distance, and letting the globe be arbitrarily cut into different regions in which different media companies can license and re-sell content, Day clearly views her loyal fans as a truly global, participative audience who all deserve equal access to the highly enjoyable media she creates! Felicia Day is someone who understands that digital media can, and should, also mean global media.
Now, after all that, if you’ve not done so already, stop listening to me, and check out ‘(Do You Wanna Date My) Avatar’!
Links for December 23rd 2008 through December 24th 2008:
- Top 10 Most Pirated TV-Shows of 2008 [TorrentFreak] – ” Lost is without a doubt the most downloaded TV-show, with over 5 million downloads for one single episode. TV-shows are getting increasingly more popular on BitTorrent. Most TV-broadcasters won’t be happy to hear this, but one could argue that BitTorrent has actually helped TV-shows to build a stronger, broader, and more involved fanbase. Perhaps even more importantly, the rise of unauthorized downloading of TV-shows is a signal that customers want something that is not available through other channels. Availability seems to be the key issue why people turn to BitTorrent.” (In order: Lost, Heroes, Prison Break, Terminator The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Desperate Housewives, Stargate Atlantis, Dexter, House, Grey’s Anatomy, & Smallville.)
- Making the Intangible Tangible, the Economic Contribution of Australia’s Copyright Industries IP Down Under [PricewaterhouseCoopers report] – “PricewaterhouseCoopers, for the Australian Copyright Council, has released its report Making the Intangible Tangible, the Economic Contribution of Australia’s Copyright Industries, which has found that Australia’s copyright industries in 2007:
• employed more than 837,000 people (8 percent of the nation’s workforce) – up 21 percent since 1996;
• generated $97.7 billion in economic activity (10.3 percent of GDP) – up 66 percent since 1996; and
• accounted for $6.8 billion in exports (4.1 percent of all exports) – up 6.3 percent since 1996.” [Via Terry Flew]
- Aussie ‘Doctor Who’ Fans Set to Time Travel With BitTorrent [TorrentFreak] – “Australia has been the focus of much tech news recently, as the country struggles with its Internet piracy ‘problem’. Thanks to the infinite wisdom of ABC, Aussie Doctor Who fans are left with a tough decision – wait until mid-January to watch the show’s pivotal ‘Christmas Special’ – or pirate it with BitTorrent.”
- WoW! How The Guild beat the system [Media | The Guardian] – “The Guild was written as an hour-long TV pilot but was rejected by a number of studios. “We were fighting against the stereotype of online gamers as pickly-faced teenagers living in their basements,” she recalls. In the end, Day and her co-producer, Kim Evie, funded the first episodes themselves and spent eight hours a day emailing bloggers about the show and marketing it through the Buffy and WoW communities. The next seven episodes were funded through donations collected via a PayPal button on their website and donors were credited at the end of each show. … The Guild has been a masterclass in direct marketing of content to a niche peer group. “The web is an amazing opportunity for people who want to tell stories but aren’t permitted because they aren’t the mainstream,” says Day.” (Profile of The Guild as a rags to riches webisode series now it has been picked up by Microsoft.)
- Net music theory ends up a tall tale [Australian IT] – “The internet was supposed to bring vast choice for customers, access to obscure and forgotten products and a fortune for sellers who focused on niche markets. But a study of digital music sales has posed the first big challenge to this “long tail” theory: more than 10 million of the 13 million tracks available on the internet failed to find a single buyer last year. The idea that niche markets were the key to the future for internet sellers was described as one of the most important economic models of the 21st century when it was spelt out by Chris Anderson in his book The Long Tail in 2006. But a study by Will Page, chief economist of the MCPS-PRS Alliance, a not-for-profit royalty collection society, suggests that the niche market is not an untapped goldmine and that online sales success still relies on big hits. It found that for the online singles market, 80 per cent of all revenue came from about 52,000 tracks. For albums … 1.23million available, only 173,000 were ever bought”