Crazy-good animator Paul Robertson has been trying to figure out whether to try to charge money for downloads of his soon-to-be-released short film. He has been getting a lot of advice, some good, mostly bad. Here's TiP's perspective: Selling digital content per se is a losing proposition. Bundle it, make it concrete, add more physical stuff, give it rarity, and you will give it pride of ownership and fan interest and thus monetary value. Here's how.
- Create a nicely-packaged DVD. Produce and include some random stuff for purchasers that can be spread around, shared on peer networks or emailed around. A bonus clip, higher-res film, application icons, avatar images, whatever. Include something that cannot be ripped off - an original poster, a T-shirt, really nice cover art, a sheet of stickers.
- Release in limited and open editions, with the limited edition being a real limited edition - not 10,000, not 2,000. One hundred, maybe two or three. This is not where you make your money, at least not most of it. Include something in the LE run that will become the stuff of legend, which relates well to the movie - a custom-run toy, a wall-sized wheatpaste, whatever. Spend and you will be rewarded. And this is important: The cost must be driven by high quality, not by editioning. There's a reason they give away boats on The Price is Right, because people have a hard time pricing boats, the price is incredibly variable, and the service provided by matching up buyer and seller is at a premium. This is your sweet spot. Even the people who buy and will never resell should feel like they "made money" when they watch the price rise on eBay as the package is parted out.
- Get input from fans if needed to help determine what your packages should contain, but not much. Be coy. Get them curious. Get a bit of feedback or solicit ideas, promising to reward someone with a pack of goodies if their idea gets used. Draw on your fans' creativity.
- Pricing is the tricky part, because the LE needs to disappear so that people know they are gone and start wondering if and when you'll do it with your next project. Don't think of this as a luxury item, because luxuries are measured in ability to pay, which is completely antithetical to the spirit of the medium in which you are working. It should cost more but not too much more, so that fandom is rewarded more than willingness to pay out. Cover your costs and get a bit out of it but don't overshoot. Better here to make a little than a lot, just make sure you are making the financial risk at least moderately worth your while. Reserve a few to give away on launch and a handful more to sell when you need the cash and they are worth more.
- Make the movie itself as widely and freely available as possible. Put it on every network. Track it. Respond to feedback and fandom. Charge nothing. Do not, under any conditions, release the film until you have any and all sale materials ready to ship.
- Advertise. Partner. Send high-res versions to mags and bloggers who will write about it, but don't give them any schwag, it makes them fat and lazy and they will brag about this and this will keep others from buying it legitimately.
- Get the goods out the door and paid for. Consider a paid fulfillment service which starts with warehousing and ends with shipping, even if you choose to process payment through an automated system you are in charge of. All of the people who didn't buy/win/steal the LE and who are even remotely candidates for buying anything from you ever will automatically buy the open edition at $10 or $15. Unless you want that to become your job for a while, consider what your time is worth and what scale of response you want to be ready for.
- Become rich and forget all about me.