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Steal this blog; then the film

When Radiohead announced that it was going release its latest album, “In Rainbows,” directly, without DRM, and with a unique name-your-own-price scheme, people took notice. Ultimately, the actual release showed only mixed results, and to this date observers and critics are still scratching their heads on whether to write the album off as a failure or a success.

Fast forward a few months and it appears that someone at The League of Noble Peers, using a little bit of clever psychology, may have found a way to make the “donationware” model work: Steal This Film II, the group's “suggested donation” documentary on intellectual property issues, met with resounding success immediately following its release at the end of 2007, amassing more than 150,000 downloads and $5,000 in donations within the first four days. The movie’s web site claims that Steal This Film II, so far, has at least 4.86 million viewers, with close to 2.7 million downloads across a multitude of networks, spearheaded by the site’s official torrents.

Writing in his blog, Steal This Film II director and producer Jamie King attributes the movie’s success to adjustments made to the donation request since the first Steal This Film, which asked for $1 donations to the creators’ Paypal account: “[We] received thousands of them,” wrote King. “PayPal took around about 30 cents [per transaction], and after the cost of transferring to our bank account, [there wasn’t much left] of the generous donations to work with.” In Steal This Film II, the donation request was adjusted to suggest – but not require – a minimum donation of $5, with a “mystery gift” given to all those who donate $15 or more.

The League of Noble Peers quickly learned that, in King’s words, “people want that gift.” The “overwhelming proportion” of donations received ranged between $15 and $40, which indicated that those that chose to donate did so willingly, paying significantly more than they would have “for a DVD or a cinema ticket.” More notable is the proportion of people who choose to donate, which King roughly estimates is around one in thousand viewers – a number closer to spammer’s odds as opposed to a viable way of recouping production costs.

In a brief e-mail interview with DailyTech, King was quick to separate Steal This Film from Radiohead’s similar forays. “For us at STF,” he said, “the expectations are much lower.” Radiohead was “looking for a model that can answer the old question of ‘how do we get media creators paid an obscene amount?’ We’re asking, ‘can we work towards a point where we could be able to continue to make [movies] while exploring this new model?’”

Meanwhile, TorrentFreak attributes Steal This Film II’s success to the creators’ wise avoidance of psychological reactance, which states that people are inclined to respond in a manner opposite of the rules when it inhibits behavioral freedom, much like how many are inclined to pirate a given piece of media as opposed to purchasing it encumbered with DRM.

While King doesn’t have any updated statistics on the film’s progress – he is currently travelling and has limited internet access – he maintains that donations and support are pouring in “apace, if not at the same level of the first few days.”

Production costs totaled almost $40,000, with pay costing even more. At this rate, Steal This Film II could easily recoup its costs, and even turn a tidy profit for the League’s next project – something it struggled with for the first Steal This Film.



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Hold the press...
By masher2 (blog) on 1/17/2008 10:28:16 AM , Rating: 2
> "and $5,000 in donations within the first four days"

Your average Hollywood film generates about 2,000 times as much in its first four days-- and a big hit about 10,000 times that.

I know that's not an apples to apples comparison, but I think getting giddy over $5K in total donations is a bit overboard. Most of the people were simply making a political statement with their donation, not a purchase...and the rest were likely swayed by the free "mystery gift".




RE: Hold the press...
By Spivonious on 1/17/2008 10:35:52 AM , Rating: 2
You can't really compare it to a theatrical release though. Compared to DVD sales, that's $30 a copy going directly to the film maker. In a brick-and-mortar distribution model, the movie would probably sell for $20, with $5 going to the store, $5 going to the distributor, $1 going to the physical material, and a piddly $9 going to the film maker.

Sure it's not in the millions of dollars, but for a freely downloadable documentary, $30 a download isn't too shabby.


RE: Hold the press...
By masher2 (blog) on 1/17/2008 10:42:05 AM , Rating: 2
Ah, but only 1 in 1000 people who downloaded actually donated. Can you imagine a theatre staying afloat if only 0.1% decided to buy tickets?

And as I said in my first post, I doubt the vast majority of those few who did donate did so because they enjoyed the film on artistic merits. They were simply making a political contribution to a cause they believe in.


RE: Hold the press...
By Ratwar on 1/17/2008 3:05:47 PM , Rating: 3
As long as they bought lots of food, sure...

Still, you are quite correct. As long as 'donation optional' downloading is something new, the returns will be exaggerated, with people putting money into it, not for the product, but to prove that the distribution actually works.

On the other hand, a few Web-Comic operators have been able to make a living off their 'free' content, using a mix of ads and donations. This would certainly be more difficult with music (as updates would obviously be less frequent), but I wouldn't be too surprised if we see a workable model for a similar system for music.


RE: Hold the press...
By ShadowZERO on 1/21/2008 11:20:18 AM , Rating: 2
But, if we were to speculate a ratio of all the legal ways movies are acquired vs illegal methods, is it possible we could be in the 1/1000 area?

Considering there's a lot more than theaters selling tickets in the grand scheme of profit vs. cost, isn't that possibly a more pragmatic way of looking at it?


RE: Hold the press...
By TomCorelis on 1/17/2008 11:39:27 AM , Rating: 4
I think the important point is that the film very well may be profitable within the first month of release. I think that's pretty big news, especially when you take into account that it's free. Maybe I'm just happy to see something support itself off of "free" that doesn't involve blasting us with ads.


RE: Hold the press...
By masher2 (blog) on 1/17/2008 11:48:46 AM , Rating: 2
It may or may not become profitable. I think that says something in itself, when a runaway hit with low production costs isn't even assured of breaking even, no?


RE: Hold the press...
By smitty3268 on 1/18/2008 3:17:23 PM , Rating: 2
You're calling this movie a runaway hit?


RE: Hold the press...
By masher2 (blog) on 1/19/2008 3:23:05 PM , Rating: 2
5 million viewers? Yes, that's a runaway hit for an documentary.


RE: Hold the press...
By kattanna on 1/17/2008 12:23:03 PM , Rating: 2
hehehe, i can guarantee you any feature length film can never turn a true profit at $5,000. equipment rentals alone for even one camera and editing equipment will cost far more then that.

and its obvious that all time and equipment was donated.


RE: Hold the press...
By wonderhat7 on 1/17/2008 7:41:23 PM , Rating: 2
i'm just not really sure that piracy is moral
would they call it piracy if it were?


RE: Hold the press...
By elpresidente2075 on 1/21/2008 12:53:59 PM , Rating: 2
Really depends on your morals. This is why you can't legislate "morality" into people. This is also why the whole mess is as overblown as it is.


RE: Hold the press...
By Screwballl on 1/18/2008 3:08:00 PM , Rating: 1
look at a direct comparison:
$40,000 to make it, $60,000 pay and materials
Everything over $100,000 is profit. Even if they only make $200,000, thats still 100% profit. Granted if everyone had to pay money it could be 105% but thats RIAAs way of thinking, they want that extra 5%.

Compared to a big release such as "I am Legend":
Worldwide gross: $463,395,994
Cost to make: around $200 mil
So this means a bit over 100% profit (131%)


hmm...
By DeepBlue1975 on 1/17/2008 10:57:37 AM , Rating: 2
I don't agree with the voluntary donation model for this stuff.

I'd rather set a really small price, something like $1 or even less.

Imagine this movie asking only $1 from each viewer. With 2.7 million downloaders, that would make 2.7 million dollars instead of a crappy 5000, and in just 4 days. If the movie is good enough and reputation goes as high as to make people want to see it badly, success would be granted.




RE: hmm...
By kkwst2 on 1/17/2008 1:52:07 PM , Rating: 5
You're using the same bad logic as the recording industry.

One free download does not equal a lost sale. The idea is that the free downloads create buzz which will attract more people willing to pay.

I'm not saying that it works, but you can't extrapolate 2.7 million free downloads to 2.7 million (or even 100,000) $1 downloads. It doesn't work that way. The demand curve becomes quite unstable as the price goes to zero.


RE: hmm...
By oralpain on 1/17/2008 5:15:30 PM , Rating: 3
You wouldn't get 2.7 million people willing to pay $1 (or any ammount) out of 2.7 million potential downloaders.

It would be a hassle for some people to pay at all, and fees (as is the case with paypal) would likely eat a sizable portion of potential profits.

I don't have a paypal account, and I'm not willing to get one, nor am I willing to create a new one shot account with access to my credit card information, to spend one dollar on a movie. I am however willing to watch something that might be good, for free, and then recommend it to others, and maybe even chip in a few bucks for a donation.


RE: hmm...
By masher2 (blog) on 1/17/2008 5:51:25 PM , Rating: 2
Agreed...some sort of new, eminently convenient micropayment service needs to develop, to handle things like this.

If people could securely pay, say 25 cents, without having to expend any real time on the transaction, it would be a real boon to such business models.


RE: hmm...
By MatthiasF on 1/18/2008 3:04:01 AM , Rating: 2
They've already been developed as micro as they're going to get. You'll never see a payment service without fees, because they are at every point in the transaction. From the central bank's charge for the money to go between banks, to each bank's charge to bring the money in and out, or the credit card group's fee in between.

The easiest method would be to just hold a credit on your account at your favorite music store, but somehow I doubt anyone making these sort of grandiose arguments would be willing to have a few bucks sitting in "the enemy's" pockets before you've decided on what you want to buy.

Why bother when you can just make excuse after excuse to not buy anything and steal it instead without guilt using the ol' Robin Hood mantra?

I can't wait until Radiohead announce's their official sales numbers and the first experiment by an artist into the medium gets played out in the press with accurate figures.


How do you "pirate" something that's free?
By MatthiasF on 1/18/2008 2:22:43 AM , Rating: 2
Well...as the article title suggests, everyone who download the movie were pirates? How could that be pirating if the movie was freely distributed?

Bias much?




By DragonMaster0 on 1/19/2008 11:52:03 AM , Rating: 2
Read site's FAQ :

quote:
Q. Why is your film copyrighted?
A. So that you can steal it. Of course there's more to say about this, but we're sure you can figure it out.


If you're not getting the copyrighted material from where it's supposed to come from (distribution), no matter the price, you're stealing it. Dumb, but that's how things work.


By MatthiasF on 1/20/2008 1:48:15 AM , Rating: 2
No, from that QA you quote it looks like the only reason they copyrighted the movie was so that the process of receiving it was a theft, which isn't rational. They gave it away for free, so you're not stealing it, period.

I'm not even sure their copyright claim would hold up in court if someone were to challenge it because they have freely distributed the movie without any rights reserved. There have been cases where corporations will give out marketing material for free and eventually find the same material being given away by others to their detriment (by a watchdog or competitor) and they couldn't stop their own work's use because they offered it originally for free without any rights reserved. So nowadays they put language on the distributions to reserve rights.


There mistake was asking for electronic payment
By roadrun777 on 1/19/2008 4:30:57 PM , Rating: 2
I think their main mistake was asking for electronic payment via paypal.
If they had asked everyone to stuff a dollar into an evelope and mail it to *such and such* address, they would have gotten much more money.
The problem with asking for electronic payment is that most people don't like to have to create an account. It's cumbersome, and I bet 25% of those people might have donated, but they got halfway through all the registration and sign on crap and said "screw this" and changed their minds.
Cash is king when asking for donations, and everyone has at least 5 bucks on them.




By roadrun777 on 1/19/2008 4:33:42 PM , Rating: 2
I also wanted to say that for the "younger" audience, that doesn't have a credit card, cash option is fairly easy for them to come by.


By mindless1 on 1/20/2008 11:45:23 AM , Rating: 2
True I think this limited payments from the youngest viewers, but for those that did already have a Paypal account it would have been preferred and easier than mailing in cash, and for those who had the means but not the paypal account itself yet, it could be another example of the usefulness of having such an account. I'm not particularly fond of paypal due to some of their policies but it is certainly easy to make a payment using it, once one has done it a time or two.


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