Distrify: A new model for distribution?

I’m not obsessed with money but my local supermarket seem very keen on my paying for food with it before leaving, why is it then that in the virtual world there is an expectation that I should give away my products for free? Established magazines and publishers get in touch with no mention at all of a reproduction fee. There is an implication that I will be giving my pictures for free now but it will be in lieu of some future benefit to my career, a benefit that never materialises in a form acceptable to my local supermarket.

The problem is, and I know this isn’t lost on most of you, we are now working in an environment were less and less photography is being commissioned, print magazines are moving onto iPads, advertising poster sites are becoming video panel sites, fee’s have been sliding for a decade and the few commercial jobs that are about are spread amongst the competing photographers so thinly that effectively commercial photography is over. I have met with a number of established names in the business over the last fortnight and they all tell the same story in one way or another, they depend on their wife’s income to get through the quiet patches or they are relying on cheques from stock sales to survive. Some like me have accepted that this situation can only get worse while others are still optimistic that ‘Things will improve’.

Most working photographers spend more time on promotion through the plethora of online and social media means than they do shooting projects, I for one did not do a degree in Photography to spend more time with a mouse in my hand than a camera.

This state of affairs has been largely technology driven, both the internet and cheap digital cameras have mean’t that anyone can put the word ‘photographer’ after their name and go out looking for work on the net, most are below terrible but they make for a cacophonous visual market place where good and bad are equally drowned out by the visual noise. Ironically the same technology has propelled photography forward in popularity, because everyone has a camera they want to see exhibitions, buy photobooks and do photography workshops…this has lead to the strange situation whereby Photography is flourishing but Photographers are not.

Obviously this technological revolution also has it’s upsides and I believe that if we can return to a situation, like my local supermarket, where we are prepared to pay a little something for high quality independently produced content then we might just all survive. This brings me to the subject of this post…I recently became aware of the online film distribution service Distrify.com and liked their approach, started by two filmmakers Peter Gerard and Andy Green, they cleverly combine existing web technologies like Streaming Video, Paypal and social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Blogging to ‘Seed, Sell and Share’ film content. Filmmakers can offer their films as a streamed download watchable 5 times over 30 days or as a full HD downloadable file. Prospective customers can view a trailer of the film to help them decide if they would like to pay for the whole thing through their Paypal account, if they are fans of the film they can also sign up to be an affiliate of that film whereby they embed the film in their own site or blog and take a commission, usually 10% on each and every viewing that comes through their little bit of the web. This means their is a tangible financial benefit to promoting someone else’s film to your own online community.

Too good to be true?……Let’s see.

I uploaded my recent 38min Street Photography documentary ‘in-sight’ to Distrify two weeks ago. The film had taken three months of my life to make and although I had never planned to make money from it, I didn’t feel like giving it away completely free either. The setup process was easy and I was quickly up and running, after a few Tweets, a Facebook post and a blog placement, I started to get emails popping in from Distrify notifying me of my first sales. Approximately ten days after posting the film Distrify transferred £800 to me and downloads have been fairly steady ever since.

After the film had been online for four days a friend kindly alerted me that someone had posted it on Youtube, this had been a fear of mine but to be fair this can happen from a ripped dvd sale just as easily and I don’t see it as a particular issue with this form of distribution. I mentioned it to Andy at Distrify and despite it being a Sunday morning he had it removed in a matter of hours.

I am encouraged by my experience of selling my creative content direct to the public online, in some ways that is what I did with my magazine PUBLICATION and in-public’s 10 book, both of which went into profit. Distrify takes another step towards an ideal situation where independent filmmakers, photographers and musicians can expect to receive a small donation in return for their products, it’s a possible model for a future that combines micro payment with the huge global reach of the internet to generate a reasonable return for creative producers. It’s vital that we stop giving our products away for free online in the hope that ‘someday’ it will lead to a profit and my Distrify experience makes me feel that one day we will all be happy to pay just a few pence/cents to watch a multimedia film by a photojournalist direct from Yemen or an innovative short film edited in a bedroom by an independent filmmaker. Giving away your content online needs to become as socially unacceptable among creative people as throwing down litter or farting in a lift, it’s got to stop for the good of the whole community.

My film can be streamed for just £2.54 but as my first ten days have shown those small amounts add up when the world is your market place. The money generated will literally enable me to work on another film project.

My thanks to all who supported the ‘in-sight’ film, I look forward to donating to view the fruits of your next creative venture.

10 thoughts on “Distrify: A new model for distribution?”

  1. Thank you for sharing what is a story with a positive ending.
    At least half of my mail now asks for my pictures for free – and credits never pay the bills. In a world where the average attention span is only seconds, the chances of anyone even bothering, or caring enough, to check who made a particular picture or film, are very slim.
    Saying no to people is difficult at times, but if someone wants your work bad enough, they will often pay a fee, albeit a comparatively small one. And if not, your integrity remains intact.

    Good luck with Distrify

    Roger http://www.rogercoulam.com/blog

  2. Thanks Roger, I agree with you, I think people will pay to see or own something special and I think my experience with Distrify bears that out, it’s given me hope and encouraged me to look at the internet as more of a market place for independent creatives like us than I had before.

    I’m already thinking about releasing my next film online.


  3. Nick,

    Fascinating post, and I’ve enjoyed purchasing and viewing your film. Both experiences were good, and Distrify was straightforward to use. I agree entirely that if we have quality content that will last over time, and a distribution/payment system that offers ease of access and ease of use, then a surprising number of people will happily pay for online content. The Amazon and iTunes experience certainly supports that. Their approach can’t solve the general media crisis, and its not relevant to general/daily news, but it shows how an additional revenue stream can be created for work with value.

    I do have a question, though. You include some strong statements above about how ‘giving away your content online needs to become socially unacceptable…’ I agree, if people were giving away all of their content all of the time, that would be nuts.

    My question goes back to a BJP article last year (http://www.bjp-online.com/british-journal-of-photography/books/1724192/nick-turpin-publishing) in which you were quoted as saying:

    “I hesitated to show too much of my first magazine online, but I actually found that the more I displayed images from it, the more people wanted to buy and own it – the opposite of what I had expected.”

    Assuming that’s a fair quote, I want to ask: isn’t displaying the magazine images a form of free online content, but one that leads to more revenue through more demand for the print magazine? Assuming that is still your experience, wouldn’t this mean that some forms of limited free online content are not only socially acceptable but economically effective?

    I’m asking the question because I think ‘free’, understood properly, can have a role to play in getting paid, and that casting the issue as just free versus paid is to miss an opportunity online.

    What do you think?

  4. I’m one of “those” that graduated with a degree in Photography then asked the question “well, what’s next?”
    We were never prepared for what was next in terms of Photography as a feasable source of income, so while it was expected, it was still a mild shock to find so many of my fellow classmates completely give up on Photography because, and I quote “Theres no money in it”. I’m not going to give up, and I’ve been doing a lot of research in terms of pushing ways to gain an income through the Photographic medium. It’s hard, but I’d much rather be a little poorer and do something I enjoy rather then go out with the sole intent of gaining maximum revenue through Photography.

    Thank you so much for this article, it was incredibly enlightening and gives hope in way. Maybe the future model will revolve around the individual or a small collective of people.

  5. David, thank you for your kind words about the film and for supporting my efforts.

    The BJP quote is indeed correct, people wanted to see what they would be paying for and the more I showed of the publication the more they seemed to want to own the physical thing. Certainly in that case ‘flirting’ with potential customers by giving away some free content was beneficial.

    I think it is a mistake to give away a body of work, a long term project and when I say ‘give away’ I mean not on your own online portal but to allow The Guardian or The New York Times to publish it to ‘their’ audience for nothing. And I think there is an important distinction between what I did with promoting my magazine and what I would be doing if I handed over, for example, my current long term project ‘The French’.

    You maybe right that I have portrayed that in too Black and White terms in this post.

    I stand by my main point which is that the survival of photographers and filmmakers, particularly in the documentary field, relies on us turning around the current situation. In the same way that smoking has become generally frowned upon over the last decade, we need a change of attitude towards the status of creative content online.

    Our generation are at a point of significant change, I worked in the old world and I hope to work in the new one but it’s not completely clear what that new one will be. I believe we as creators of content should have an active role in shaping that new world, we should stake our claim to the right to be paid for what we produce and offer online.

    You can tell I feel quite passionately about this :-)

  6. Chak, its a difficult time to be graduating in any subject and particularly hard to be entering the world of work in the creative industries. I have worked as a photographer for 20 years, travelled the world met many of my heroes and generally had a wonderful time. I’ve also made a good living thus far. Things are changing, this is the first year I haven’t been able to finance my personal projects with my commercial work for example. We just have to adapt to this new world order, if you are passionate, talented and innovative in your promotion and presentation of your work I think you can still succeed. It’s hard when you have children and a mortgage because the business is more erratic than ever. I would urge you to be realistic about the industry but I would never, like some, try to put you off doing it.

    I am promoting myself, building a community and exploring selling photographic content through the internet, I am doing some moving image work….but I am also starting a new business that is nothing to do with photography because I have a family and times in the photographic industry are unpredictable.

    Good luck with you own journey.

  7. Dear Nick

    This was a really enlightening article and has made me think again about the future of film distribution.

    I think there are two issues here.

    The first is the way media has been traditionally delivered (built schedules, commissioned programmes etc) and the second is how that traditional means of media distribution is being rightfully challenged and tested by services such as Vimeo and YouTube, Flickr and Picasa.

    There is a generation of young adults who have grown up with the notion that everything on the web or available via a download should be free. There is no sense that the person producing all this free media has to eat and live with a roof over their heads and that therefore they should be paid for their labours. (Your supermarket analogy is one I’ve used for many years with regards this problem).

    So sites like Distrify serve two purposes: they make people think about the value of the product they’re interested in and they present a new model for the way we consume media, a model which I think will become the norm in years to come.

    Like the early days of TV, when after the thing had been invented, people at the BBC for example scratched their heads and asked, ok, how dow we actually make TV? In effect they had to set their own rules; they were true pioneers of the new technology.

    In a way, I think that’s where we are now with the web. In the early days of radio, set manufacturers had to invent programming so that people could see the value of products as an information/entertainment medium.

    In many ways there is a parallel here with the web. YouTube and similar sites have proven the technology and while such sites are great for sharing a video made on your iPhone, I don’t believe they are serious contenders for the distribution of better made, bespoke film and video.

    And whilst not all the best books are kept to the shelves of expensive bookshops (libraries still provide the same books effectively for free), the desire to own a book keeps Amazon and the High Street a viable proposition for writers and authors.

    So I believe the same can be true for film, TV, video and even photography.

    People will once again see the difference between amateur and professional for what it really is – not whether one is paid for it or not, but whether it’s well-conceived and beautifully crafted.

    Sites like Distrify should help discerning consumers see the difference.

    Thanks for the article – I’m now off to look at my back catalogue!

  8. Presumably with “Giving away your content online needs to become as socially unacceptable among creative people as throwing down litter or farting in a lift, it’s got to stop for the good of the whole community” you are referring to creative people who “create” for a living rather than simply as a hobby?

    I do photography purely as a hobby and have no particular interest in doing it professionally although I can see that a professional photographer would not want to give away work “for free”.

  9. @James I think there have been a lot of great new inventions of new media over the centuries from Guttenbergs invention of the printing press to Radio to TV and now the net, my complaint is that the net is the first of these that does not expect to renumerate those whose content it carries.

    We sold books, got paid to make radio and TV programs why not internet distributed content? Is it because for the first time the net allows us ALL to be the producers as well as the consumers of content? If that is the case then we will all have to be like Adrian (above) who has a job and does photography as a hobby.

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