How a New Breed of Content Creators are Thriving in the Collaborative Economy

Content creators have never had it so good.

Sure, there’s an unprecedented amount of content being produced, which means greater competition in the marketplace, but there is also a huge amount of demand for great video content, and a myriad of ways to monetize that content, thanks to the collaborative economy.

The concept of the collaborative economy is simple. People are able to get what they need from each other rather than getting it from large companies. And according to a recent study by Price Waterhouse Coopers, entertainment and media is where we are engaging in the collaborative economy the most, thanks to iTunes, Amazon, Vimeo, YouTube and the myriad of VOD platforms where content creators can sell their content directly to their audience.

So how do content creators prosper in the face of this Tyrannosaurus Rex sized disruption that is changing the way people purchase and consume content? First of all, let’s look at a few, key principles to consider when looking for opportunities to capitalize on the shifting sand of the entertainment industry.

Niche is the new mass – Evan Shapiro

FIND YOUR NICHE

No, that is not Nietzche spelled wrong. Niches are the lifeblood of content creators. Gone are the days of spending exorbitant marketing budgets on content that is thrown into the void, hoping to find a market. Smart content producers can now start with an audience who share an interest in what they are passionate about. According to Matt D’Avella, the director of the hit indie documentary Minimalism, opportunities lie in collaborating with existing communities, and helping them tell their story.

“I’m now realizing this is a really great way for filmmakers and other creatives to utilize their skills and talents without a following,” Matt reflected during our recent conversation, “because I don’t have a big following, but by collaborating with Josh [Fields] and Ryan [Nicodemus] who have a massive following in the Minimalism movement, I was able to add real value to what they were doing, and they brought a passionate audience to the film.”

Minimalism, the documentary, has enjoyed stellar success because it was made with key founders of a niche movement, yet had universal appeal due to an appealing message of simplifying your life and focusing on what is most important.

The decreased number of sales that can come from the specificity of the subject matter can be offset by an increased profit margin due to eliminating traditional distribution partners, advertising and PR. Not to mention an audience for your material who are likely more passionate, and willing to engage, share and talk about your film.

THINK OF BUDGETS IN TERMS OF RESOURCES

When you put together a budget for your film, think of each line item in terms of resources you need to make the film, rather than the money you need to make it. Keep direct costs as low as you can, so you can take your profit in the back end. Whether you need accommodation, camera equipment or even airline tickets, by reaching out to a strong community, you would be surprised how much support you can get, just by asking.

Amanda Palmer, musician, author and architect of one of the largest crowdsourcing campaigns ever to be funded on Kickstarter, says in her book The Art of Asking, “I have used Twitter for so many things, from places to stay, places to go, things to do, things I need, medical advice, you name it. Especially when I’m on tour, it really feels like I’m being taken care of by half a million people. It is like having a mom.”

Amanda’s community provided an extended resource that she was able to rely upon, but more importantly, she gave them the opportunity to be a vital part of her journey. Most people are happy to help tell a story about something they are passionate about.

Sure, you are going to have certain expenses that cannot be avoided, but if you lean on your audience to help provide resources to help you as you make the film, you are not only putting more value on screen, but providing an opportunity for them to take ownership in the project themselves. Just make sure you find creative ways to express your gratitude for their involvement.

The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude - Friedrich Nietzsche

DISCOVER LATERAL PARTNERS

Chances are, when you’re making a film within a community, there will be companies, organisations and other likeminded communities that will resonate with your film or point of view. Make a list of established communities who would also gain value by associating with your core audience, and find creative ways for them to get involved in your journey.

While we were making our recent film Love is Now,  we knew we needed bicycles as props for our lead characters, so we approached REID Cycles, a much loved Australian bicycle manufacturer, and worked out a partnership to use their bicycles in the film in exchange for some support while releasing the film. We gave REID imagery from the film, as well as getting our behind the scenes team to make a video about their involvement that they shared with their network of avid bicycle enthusiasts, including running a competition around the launch of the film, where they gave away a number of free bicycles for people who took a picture of their ticket stubs and shared them on social media.

FOLLOW IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF OTHERS

There are plenty of independent filmmakers who are sharing their models for success. For instance, Australian independent filmmakers Jeremy Beasley (Director) and Chris Kamen (Producer) recently produced the microbudget independent documentary Small is Beautiful and have written a wonderfully insightful case study about their process on their blog, sharing the online platforms they used, how they marketed the film, and a complete financial picture of the whole process.

It is useful to reach out to the filmmaking community to seek advice from those who have done what you are setting out to do. Have conversations. Find ways to collaborate. As an example, part of my preparations for embarking on my own documentary set within the Vanlife community, I’ve been contacting people like Matt D’Avella (Minimalism), Jeremy Beasley (Small is Beautiful) and Dustin Clare (Sunday) to discuss how they financed, produced and distributed their films, in order to build a model that will work for us.

The exciting thing is, the pathway to creating your own passion projects is easier than it ever has been, thanks to the ability to find and share your projects directly with your audience.

Jim Lounsbury is an award winning filmmaker [Love is Now] who recently started Cubic Content to facilitate content partnerships and collaborations. He currently spends nearly as much time coaching his 11-year-old son in basketball and helping his 9-year-old son make YouTube videos as he does making films. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram.