Could Artists Help Newspapers? (And Vice Versa)

from the symbiotic-content dept

Reid Rosefelt writes "I thought you might be interested as this is a good example of how someone can make money out of free (or close to it). ... Jeff Scher has had a long and successful career as a painter and an animator/experimental filmmaker.... Recently he was asked to make a short film [once] a month which would run in the Opinion Page of the New York Times. This has changed his life. It's not just that his worldwide audience has grown beyond his wildest dreams; he is reaching a completely different kind of audience -- people who would never have seen his movies in museums and festivals. And although he makes very little money doing them, it has been the best advertising in the world for his paid projects. ... He is getting jobs that he would never have gotten, including one from one of his musical heroes."

The details of this deal are a bit unclear to me, but it sounds like Scher gets free publicity for his work -- and the New York Times gets some interesting content that might help promote its own reputation (and reason to buy). Also, according to Rosefelt, Scher retains ownership of his artwork, but the NYT has an exclusive license to show his work for the first month that it's on the NYT site. While that detail may appear to be a shrewd clause for NYT to help it gain audience, it shouldn't rely too heavily on that exclusivity. The NYT needs to focus on providing interesting and unique content all the time -- and the month-long time limit suggests that someone in the deal might understand that fact. But in any case, this is yet another example of how providing digital content for free can create a viable business for an artist.

In the bigger picture, though, this promotion alone obviously won't budge the NYT's bottomline. However, this deal highlights one of the NYT's strengths: that it can help artists (not just journalists) to connect with a large community -- and an expanded business could be built around that strength. There's an opportunity here for newspapers to reach broader audiences with content (beyond news) that is not a commodity. Experiments like this could point to more newspapers turning to curating unique content and providing more useful services to readers -- services that can't easily be copied.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    kyle clements, Sep 29th, 2009 @ 1:15am

    This is a great idea.

    Since distribution is now free, people in the distribution business have a hard time making money. Any barriers they try to put up between the audience and content are artificial, technical, and legal barriers, and they are very likely bound to fail.

    What they are forgetting is that they played another critical service besides distribution: selection and promotion of good work.

    There is no such thing as an infinite resource. As soon as content goes free/digital, audience attention becomes the limited resource. Cutting through the crap and bringing a few buried gems to the audience's attention is a valuable service that benefits both the artists and the audience.

    It's somewhat predictable that it has taken a company outside of the traditional distribution/promotional paradigm to figure this out. An outsider prospective can often see what an insider cannot.

    go NYT!

     

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  2.  
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    Reid Rosefelt, Sep 29th, 2009 @ 1:56am

    It's in my video (which you linked to), but Jeff is paid by the Times for every film he makes--he's just not paid a lot, considering how long it takes him to make them. The real payout comes from the publicity he gets--more and better commissions, DVD sales, painting sales (he sells the individual drawings for his videos). And all his videos stay on his Times blog page. It's just that after the first month Jeff has the right to place the videos anywhere he wants, from YouTube to a DVD collection he's made that he sells on his website.

    It should also be said, that there are many other people who are columnists on the Times site, like ex-Talk Show host Dick Cavett, Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Errol Morris, author/illustrator Maira Kalman, best-selling author Judith Warner, and so on. All of these people have developed loyal followings, and this leads their fans to the Times Site on a regular basis. It makes it a destination beyond being an online version of the newstand Times. I believe that these arrangements are all advantageous for the Times as they are for the columnists.

     

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  3.  
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    John Doe, Sep 29th, 2009 @ 4:19am

    Rare cooperation

    With everyone wanting to get paid everytime they sneeze these days, it is rare to see an arrangement where "you scratch my back, I scratch yours".

     

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  4.  
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    Misanthropist (profile), Sep 29th, 2009 @ 5:14am

    much head scratching here

    I just don't see how this is any different from a simple cartoon strip.

    The funny section is just a "value add" for consumers.. This arrangement doenst seem to be any different from the arrangement on all the other comics in the paper, and I fail to see how this is really going to do anyone any good.

    Well, I see the artist doing the video(?) getting his name out, thats a good thing. It's like he's getting a free commercial put out once a month.

    For the paper however... The funny pages.. are not a solution to their problem. Exclusivity agreements are not how the papers will save themselves.

    This is not a CwF for the paper... nor is it any real RtB.

    It looks more like a desperate attempt to stay relevant.. and keep people coming back to their site at least once a month.

    /shrug

    I don't see the harm in this arrangement.. it's just not groundbreaking by any means. This is more of the same old same old.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 29th, 2009 @ 11:46am

    Re: much head scratching here

    And what's wrong with cartoon strips? People liked reading the funny pages, and money was made off of them, so cartoons became a part of newspapers. I imagine in the early days of newspapers, one company said "Hey, this would be cool to add", and gained a lot of readers because of that. Over time, that success became a generic inclusion because competitors caught on to the idea.

    This is RtB. Done properly, the core of this idea is differentiating your news site from the others, and giving users a reason to visit your site more than the competition.

    It's quite simple to understand, honestly. When information is widespread and generic, stop being generic.

     

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  6.  
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    Michael Ho (profile), Sep 29th, 2009 @ 4:13pm

    Re: gotta watch the video..

    Hi Reid,

    Thanks for filling out the details on this. The NYT might be on to something big here -- but it has to scale correctly for them. The NYT can't afford to hire tons of editors/negotiators to curate all these kind of deals. That'll be the real trick.

    mikeho

     

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  7.  
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    Michael Ho (profile), Sep 29th, 2009 @ 4:19pm

    Re: much head scratching here

    I agree this is similar to the funny pages... in that the funny pages also give some readers a reason to buy the paper.

    For whatever psychological reason, people like to see or read about their favorite things ASAP. And if the NYT can provide a service where it can consistently offer content that people are eager to see -- the NYT can make a business out of that.

    I guess a desperate attempt to stay relevant is still an attempt to connect with fans..?

    No one says CwF has to be groundbreaking...

     

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