And guess what - it's made them money. They barely have a website, where they encourage donations, but they've gotten lots of responses thus far. According to Jamie, the film has been seen somewhere between 5 and 10 million times (estimates vary, but there seems to be agreement on this), and they've received at least $30,ooo pounds, which is roughly $50,000 US. This may not seem like a lot with so many people having seen the film, but think about it more. Most documentary filmmakers I know get an average of $10-15,000 US as an advance on their film if they are "lucky" enough to sell it to one of the better known doc distributors. This is a high number, by the way, with many distributors paying less and few more. They also seldom see more money than this. So Jamie and friends have built a better business model for their film by just giving it away and encouraging piracy!
You may think I'm joking, but I'm not - this is a model to explore. Of course, not every film fits this model, but with things increasingly trending towards free, and with the film world continuing to duplicate the mistakes of the music world, it's something worth exploring. Jamie is exploring it further. The first step is VoDo - for voluntary donation - a system to make it easy for people watching films on peer-to-peer sites to donate to the filmmakers. Not a requirement, just a voluntary, and anonymous, donation. From their site:
VODO’s aim is to provide a revenue stream for creators of media content, in a world in which the systems for distributing, copying and viewing that content are cross-territorial, rapidly changing and difficult to predict or control.
If the architecture we are working on proves workable, we will be able to let consumers of media shared through P2P networks make voluntary donations to creators. Our aim is to combine a series of technologies to smoothly connect would-be donors to creators wherever their works are shared.
Good goal, I think and worth further exploration. Jamie is working with several people to develop further business models around free, P2P and piracy, and I think it's worth following his movements. The technology isn't going away, piracy isn't going away (unless we wake up and make it legal and not piracy), P2P isn't going away, the film business isn't getting any better and at least one person is figuring out a new model Kudos to Jamie.
I have to close with a last thought from Jamie. In a conversation we had, he commented that he, and friends of his, often will hear about a film and wonder if it's any good. The first thing they do is search PirateBay - if the film isn't there, they figure it must suck - if no one is pirating it, it can't be worth watching. I don't think Jamie is alone in this, and filmmakers should acknowledge it and build upon it.