February 21, 2008
From Bleak House to Random House

Last week, I found out from an unlikely source that Random House will begin selling individual chapters of some of their books online. I stumbled upon this bit of news at SpringboardMedia, a blog that belongs to Brian Newman the executive director of Renew Media, a long standing not-for-profit that fosters the production of independent media art.

So why was Mr. Newman so interested in this development?

Well, he considers that filmmakers should learn from Random House's example.

Newman says:

It's just another sign that companies need to start thinking about how their customers want to receive content and I think it has big implications for film. This is a wave that most obviously started with music - people wanting singles instead of the whole album, but I think the trend goes further back - its why digests have been important, for example.

I'm very happy to see this commercial yet outside-the-box type of endeavor celebrated from an influential person within the avant-garde film circuit. This attitude is exactly what will allow for the expansion of the independent film market, while allowing it to retain its artistic value.

Mr. Newman goes on to suggest that filmmakers should consider selling their DVD chapters individually, and here is where we don't see eye-to-eye. Although the first few people to try it could get some media coverage out of it, I don't think filmmakers need to replicate Random House's model to a T, and certainly few films would fit this model, then again, maybe few books do as well.

I guess it all goes back to a question that my colleague here at the Consortium, Eleanor Baird, was just asking in her last post: How do we reach the right people at the right moment? And in this case I would add, and in the right way. Because each creative product has its own right way of being marketed and distributed; by-the-chapter seems to be an excellent choice for Random House's Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die the same way it was a great option for Dickens's Bleak House over a hundred years back.

Others, which are certainly not in the fringe, have chosen to give their creations away for free and as a result they've seen a significant rise in the sale of their physical products. Such is the case of the writer Paulo Coelho
and of the much-discussed Radiohead.

Part of what makes all of these models so attractive, is that they give the audience the possibility of experiencing the product before buying it, after all, the creative industries are based on experiences, and the only way of really knowing if you're going to like something is trying it. B-Side Distribution has come up with their own creative answers to the questions we were just posing: they trawl over 100 festivals a year to bring the film-loving audience that can't be present at these niche events a selection of the best and hardest to find films. Then they offer a low-res download of the film for $2.99, which they offer to deduct from the price of the purchase of the DVD or of a high-res download. An innovative and simple model.

The over-abundance of options that the audience is faced with, together with new technological solutions and a increasingly demanding and active audience, makes for a challenging yet exciting landscape, where coming up with paradigm-shifting models might be the only way for much of the independent circuit to survive and grow.