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Value Creators

A Roadmap For Self-Publishing Creative Projects

On April 10, 2013, Jay Kinghorn presented the ASMP-sponsored seminar Unlocking the True Value of Your Creative Content at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) conference in Las Vegas. By combining the stories, strategies and successes of individual creators with data and analysis about the technological advances and cultural patterns serving as catalysts for independent distribution and support, he has developed a roadmap for other independent artists to follow. Below, he offers further background about current forces at work within the creative industries. For more on this topic, visit Kinghorn’s blog or follow him on Twitter (@jaykinghorn or use the hashtag #valuecreators).


Jay Kinghorn
© Ed McDonald


The past decade has brought a confluence of technological advances in hardware, software, communications and distribution platforms, allowing independent creators to shoot, edit, create, publish, market and distribute their content at far lower cost and greater reach than ever before. Pioneering filmmakers and entrepreneurs like Tyler Measom (Sons of Perdition) and Danfung Dennis (Hell and Back Again) have created remarkable documentary films reaching wide audiences and critical acclaim with relatively small production budgets. These filmmakers, and other pioneering photographers, game designers, illustrators, authors and assorted visual creatives prove that it is possible to self-fund and self-distribute creative works that have impact, reach a global audience and provide the artist with sustaining financial support.


Assessing the Field

That’s not to say it’s easy. Nor is it a sure bet. Countless creative projects languish on YouTube or Vimeo with a smattering of views. Despite Kickstarter’s success at crowdfunding creative and innovative projects, fewer than 40 percent of all submitted projects meet their target fundraising goals1. Even successfully funded projects still have only a glimmer of hope at reaching a wide audience. According to IndieWire, 4,042 films were submitted to the 2012 Sundance Film Festival in the World Dramatic and Documentary Competition. Of these, only 110 were selected for inclusion in the festival and fewer than 40 films were ultimately acquired by established, full-service film distributors2. This means that 99 percent of films submitted to Sundance — good films requiring years of work and hundreds of thousands of dollars in investments on the part of the creator — are unlikely to ever reach their intended audience.


Fortunately, there is renewed energy on the part of creative artists to take the reins and bring their work directly to an appreciative and financially supportive audience. These changes couldn’t come at a better time for creative industries. The great paradox of the times is that while there is tremendous demand for compelling, creative content to fill blog posts, video channels, apps and online publications, creative professionals are seeing their work devalued and commoditized with assignments often going to the lowest bidder. This phenomenon affects all creative industries and market segments. When accounting for inflation, professional writers have seen their hourly and per-article rates drop over 80 percent since 19913, Instagram4 and Google5 are increasingly separating photographs published online from their original creators, and Oscar-award-winning visual effects houses are filing for bankruptcy even as they are accepting their golden statuettes6.


A Path Forward?

Yet, an increasing number of success stories offer creative artists inspiration and encouragement as well as information and experience. I recently began work on a project (ValueContent) to bring together the stories, strategies and successes of these trailblazing artists, research the keys to their success and develop a roadmap for future independent artists to follow. By highlighting specific strategies for building an audience, techniques for successful crowdfunding and options for independently distributing your creative work, I hope to help creatives gain needed confidence and knowledge to bring their work to market outside traditional publication and distribution channels.


A New Mentality

In researching the actions of successful independent filmmakers, musicians and photographers, clear patterns are emerging. Most prominent is the need for creative artists to expand their focus on the business aspects of their craft. Emily Best, founder and CEO of Seed & Spark, a crowdfunding and distribution portal for filmmakers, believes, “Every creative enterprise is a startup and it has all the qualities of a startup business.” Artists “can’t continue to shun business as the icky side, or dirty side, because that’s simply not true. It’s the sustaining side.”


By engaging the audience frequently through social media and showing in-progress work, the audience is more likely to be invested in the project’s goals and can help drive its success by contributing to a crowdfunding effort or sharing content on social media channels. Tyler Measom considers it the we phenomenon. “When our project reaches milestones on our Kickstarter site, our audience posts comments saying ‘we can do it!” There’s a shift in tone from “you” the filmmaker to “we” the film’s team as the audience takes ownership and becomes vested in the process.


Entrepreneurial Efforts

With this engaged support comes increased responsibility. Emily Best likens this to a CEO being accountable to the shareholders. “If you really want to change the culture around arts funding, you give people that granular, emotional level of involvement.” This deep involvement forces you to produce better work because your friends, family and community are deeply invested in your work both literally and figuratively. They’ve contributed time, money, resources and they’ve personally recommended your work to their friends. This makes it far more difficult for an artist to give anything less than 100 percent to their final product.


Although the entrepreneurial spirit and business-focused attitude needed for success on these emerging channels isn’t for everyone — many just want to focus on the art — these tools will undoubtedly mean commercial and creative success for a new breed of artists looking for a better alternative to the current situation. “The people responsible for creating this content are the last ones to get paid,” explains Best. “That’s a really broken mechanism because it disincentivizes the wrong people. If we don’t have content, we don’t have television, we don’t have movie theaters, we don’t have the thousands of people working in droves at the concession counters. You have to have the content creators first, yet they’re the last to get paid.”


Jay Kinghorn