Friday, August 13, 2010

Busting the DAM (Distribution/Attention/Monetization) Problem

No matter what kind of media you're producing, if you're looking for a financial return, you have to accomplish three things:
  1. Distribution: You have to get your book, music, movie or video to the people who are likely to be interested in it.
  2. Attention: You have to let your audience know that your media is available and get them interested in reading, listening to or watching it.
  3. Monetization: You've got to figure out a way to get your audience to pay for your efforts.
That's the DAM problem, and you have to solve it in that order. You can't monetize media that your audience doesn't know about and can't find. You can get your audience excited, but if there's no way for them to get your work, you've wasted your effort.

It used to be that as a creator, all you really needed to do was solve the distribution problem. If you could get a record company to sign your band, a publisher to publish your book, a movie studio to distribute your movie or a television or cable network to distribute your video, you were golden. The distributor would take responsibility for getting your work into stores, theaters or networks, promoting your work, and getting paid for it. (Actually collecting money from the distributors has been, and remains, an ongoing issue.) However, getting a company to distribute your work could take years of effort, and you might never get past the distribution stage.

Today, distribution is the easiest part of the problem to solve. If you're an author, you can easily self-publish your books in print or electronically, through companies like Amazon and Lulu. If you're a musician, you can distribute on CD or electronically through Amazon, CD Baby and many other companies. If you've produced a movie, Amazon will distribute it on DVDs or electronically, as will Netflix and many others. And if you've created a video, from a two-minute short to a two-hour epic, you have many distribution choices, including YouTube, Vimeo, Livestream, Ustream, Kyte, etc. In most of these cases, it costs little or nothing to get your work into distribution; you pay a portion of your revenues when it's sold.

The real price for doing your own distribution is that there's no big company to handle the attention and monetization parts. You've got to figure that out yourself, and do it without the big budgets that the "old media" companies have for advertising and promotion. Movie studios spend hundreds of millions of dollars promoting blockbusters like "MacGruber" (and see how well that went?) You'll have to get out the word using social media, local events, and whatever guerilla marketing tactics you can use to get attention without spending much money.

The monetization part of the problem is also going to be your responsibility. If you're working with Amazon, for example, it'll process and fulfill orders for you, but you may be limited in where and how you can sell your work outside Amazon's network. Apple is also an option for electronic distribution and monetization, but only for its population of devices and software. Netflix doesn't fund production and does limited revenue sharing based on the number of copies of your movie or video that its subscribers view; it may bring in some money, but not much.

Your distribution and monetization options for video depend a great deal on what you're doing. If you're producing a series, and you're very talented (and somewhat lucky,) you can do what Felicia Day and Kim Evey did and get Microsoft to underwrite production and distribution of "The Guild," what Mark Gantt did and get Sony's Crackle to do the same for "The Bannon Way", or what Illeana Douglas did in getting Ikea to sponsor "Easy to Assemble." (Please note that these are extremely unlikely outcomes.) You can also produce a video for a site like Funny or Die, in order to get exposure. In this case, your video is a stepping stone to other opportunities. (This is also fairly unlikely, unless you're Zack Galifianakis.)

I realize that I haven't solved the attention or monetization problems at all, which is why it took me three attempts to write this blog entry. My point (and I had one, at least when I started writing) is that distribution is now the easiest problem to solve. Standing out from the crowd. and especially, making money from your efforts, are the real problems.
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