21 January 2009

Cannes Pledge Drive: Day Four.

So much for weekly reports. With $1510 already pledged as I write this, it's looking as if I may reach my $2K goal in less than seven days, which is absolutely phenomenal. I can't thank you guys enough. Makes a fella feel valued. Lets a fella eat lunch.

Nathan Lee, who's now the movie guy at WNYC in addition to his gig at the New York Times, called me yesterday asking if I wanted to talk on the air about this project, and in particular whether it might portend a new viable business model of some kind for the Formerly Employed Film Critic. Which that interview may or may not yet happen, but let me go ahead and answer the question here as well: No. At least, I don't think so. As much as I try to rationalize to myself that people are purchasing my Cannes coverage in advance, it's pretty clear from comments, both here and in e-mails, that this tidal wave of generosity largely involves folks who've been reading my stuff for ten years or more, and who chose this means of saying Hey Thanks. Which is immensely gratifying, but I'm skeptical that people would be prepared to chip in even small sums on a regular basis. The resistance to paying for Internet content is just too ingrained, I think. There's always something else to read that's free.

Let's say I decided to devote 40 hours per week to this blog and/or the site, returning to the volume of writing I used to do back in the '90s, before I turned pro. And let's say I tried a subscription model that charged $100 annually, or less than $10 per month. (That's absurdly high in my opinion—people pay less for porn sites, and I don't kid myself that I'm that valuable to anybody—but I'm erring on the side of optimism here.) To eke out even a subsistence income, I'd need to have 400 subscribers. By contrast, fewer than 100 people have contributed to the Cannes project thus far. (I love you all.)

So, no, I'm afraid I don't believe that even well-established critics can manage to support themselves via reader donations. But I'm forever grateful for this one opportunity I'm being given. Especially since it was such a whim on my part to begin with.

(Also, rest assured that actual film-related content will return to this space soon. I just can't not keep thanking everyone.)

11 comments:

dd said...

While I agree that yr $100/year model is a nonstarter, here's another model as food for thought.

Suppose you and four other critics start a subscription site. $25/yr. You each post a piece of exclusive content once a week (on a given weekday). Subscription also allows access to a discussion board (or just the comment threads if it's more of a blog structure).

You're getting a small piece of a smaller chunk of money, but a. you're doing a lot less work, b. the collective effort would have a greater appeal than paying for any one individual critic and c. it's hardly a 40-hour week initiative, leaving you plenty of time to pursue whatever remaining freelance jobs exist, write your feature, whatever.

I do agree with you that "Internet content = free" is quite entrenched; but I also think that a lot of people are realizing that we all have to make a living in this new economy somehow, and if it means paying directly for things we value so that people can do valuable work, then that will evolve.

Or maybe I'm overly optimistic. Either way, you'd have my $25/year. Curious what other people would think.

Zack said...

@dd: I agree completely. I'd pay, for example, to read the Movie Nerd Discussion Group.

Michael Casey said...

Huzzuh! Brought the total to 1800. Hurray for round numbers!

How much would movie ads pay on a critic site? Particularly a site of well-established critics? (I like dd's suggestion of splitting the workload. If only film criticism had some merchandising potential, a la Homestar Runner T-shirts. You still going to make your own movies someday? I'd pay money for those.

Ryan said...

Trust me, you will quickly ask for a refund if the Movie Nerd Discussion Group was a syndicated pay-to-view site.

I agree with Mike that a subscription site would almost certainly fail. And Mike's too esoteric to generate the number of hits needed to make a living off internet advertising. A group blog is a better idea, but why would folks pay for this when they get great group content at The House Next Door?

Mike's got one key thing he can leverage: he's basically the first online movie critic of any renown. "Brand" that. Use that rep to get into a collaboration with an outfit trying to expand its internet presence. I suggest pitching a movie-oriented/culture oriented blog to the Atlantic, which is moving aggressively towards a web model. Actually Film Comment is the natural fit, but they don't have the dough.

md'a said...

Trust me, you will quickly ask for a refund if the Movie Nerd Discussion Group was a syndicated pay-to-view site.

Nowadays, yes. There was a time, though...

Mike's got one key thing he can leverage: he's basically the first online movie critic of any renown. "Brand" that. Use that rep to get into a collaboration with an outfit trying to expand its internet presence.

Is that really all that valuable anymore, though? It's historically interesting, but I don't think it gets butts in seats, or whatever the cyber-equivalent is.

The problem here is not my reputation. Both Nerve.com and Las Vegas Weekly hired me—at pretty exorbitant rates—in part because they felt my name had marquee value. (See e.g. this editor's note. But I never understood how Nerve could afford to pay me what they were paying me, and eventually they couldn't anymore. And LVW, despite the gushing linked above, cut my rate in half once the recession hit warp drive. What happened with Esquire isn't as clear to me, but I do note that their most recent film column was written by someone on their masthead (i.e. already on salary). The money just isn't out there right now. I am a luxury item imo.

Ryan said...

Is that really all that valuable anymore, though? It's historically interesting, but I don't think it gets butts in seats, or whatever the cyber-equivalent is.

Not in the sense that anyone would go to your site simply because you were there first. But it makes for good copy. And you have a strong web presence, with loyal readership which counts among them a number of influential critics.

As I see it, the most viable model for movie writers on the web are collaborations with established media brands. Any number of critics have worked for prestigious magazines. You've done it, plus you've got the web stuff. That's probably why nerve.com thought you were a good candidate for them to expand their culture section. The idea isn't bad, but they faced their own rebranding problems.

Outfits like the Atlantic or NY Times, however, would have an easier time of it. And if they want a movie blogger -- someone writing provocative content that could draw hits -- you've got pretty good credentials.

Richard said...

But what happens if when you're in Cannes, a writer-director or star attached to a film says "Considering we donated generously to your Cannes fund, we would appreciate a like-minded write-up..."?

Nathan Lee said...

Former movie guy, really. I was on a contract that wasn't renewed, but I still do freelance radio stuff for them. Is the interview happening?

md'a said...

Interview was scheduled for today but had to be postponed. Now happening Monday, tentatively.

Alex said...

Trust me, you will quickly ask for a refund if the Movie Nerd Discussion Group was a syndicated pay-to-view site.

Holy ****, people are willing to pay to read this? Maybe I should whore out my account.

Mike's got one key thing he can leverage: he's basically the first online movie critic of any renown.

Just to be a stickler (and not to piss on md'a in his own blog), doesn't Berardinelli predate Mike by a year or so? I'm not quite certain -- it was so long ago, and my brain has become aged and infirmed...

Adam Villani said...

I really don't know what a good model for making money off of putting information online is, beyond selling ads. The only online site I pay for is Picasa in order to host photo storage space. I paid for Nerve for a year mostly just because they gave me some cheap magazine subscriptions and some friends were on it.

Remember when the NY Times thought it could hide some of its top columnists behind the "Times Select" wall, and that crashed and burned? There's so much information out there that even the biggest name in journalism isn't indispensable to enough people.