Kevin Smith, Once Again, Demonstrates How Connecting With Fans Leads To Something Special (And Profitable)

from the an-entertainer dept

After last week's exploration of a smaller movie project, I thought it might be nice for this week's "case study" post to focus on a more "mainstream" (even if still somewhat independent) Hollywood movie maker. Hope you enjoy this week's case study...

When I first started talking about smart business models that involve the concept of CwF+RtB (Connecting with Fans + Reasons to Buy) for musicians, it involved less-well known musicians, running experiments in doing things like giving away music for free. And when that happened, we were told that this could work for small, less well-known musicians, who had to value attention over money, but that it would never work for more well-known musicians. And then, suddenly, we saw it happening with incredibly famous musicians like Trent Reznor... and critics said "well, it can work for rock stars like Reznor with a giant audience they've already built, but it's no solution for up-and-coming artists." This contradiction had me banging my head for a bit, and someone even jokingly dubbed the phenomenon Masnick's Law, defined as:
"in any conversation about musicians doing something different to achieve fame and/or fortune someone will inevitably attempt to make the argument that 'it only worked for them because they are big/small and it will never work for someone who is the opposite,' no matter how much evidence to the contrary might be readily available."
After we discussed this, someone (seriously) then claimed "well, it can work for people who are small and have nothing to lose, and it can work for rock stars who already have their millions, but it doesn't work for those in the middle." Eventually, it even reached the point that I spent time working down a list of musicians, big to small, all making use of this general concept to prove that it can work at any level.

And, while I hope that issue is settled in the music space, it's amusing to me that I keep ending up in the same discussion in other industries -- with films being a big one. One of our regular commenters, who claims to work in Hollywood, often points out that no "big" filmmakers seem to be embracing unique business models ideas, and that the only examples we have are people like Nina Paley, a wonderful filmmaker, with a devoted following, but not someone considered to be a "big" filmmaker.

However, I don't think this is true at all. There are filmmakers doing all sorts of interesting things -- including "big" filmmakers who really work hard to connect with fans in new and interesting ways. One, who we've spoken about a few times in the past, is Kevin Smith, most famous for Clerks. We've pointed out in the past how he's embraced the CwF+RtB concept (since long before we'd even thought about it) and had a very progressive view towards embracing "pirates," by noting that it was one way to create "converts."

Converts to what? Well, that keeps evolving, which is why Smith has become a really fascinating entertainer to watch when it comes to connecting with fans and giving them a reason to buy. As mentioned, he's really embraced this concept for well over a decade -- for example, with his own comic book store that sells all sorts of comic related items, including many related to Smith's movies, as well as his various books and comics that he's authored.

But what I've found most fascinating is watching how Smith's adventures in podcasting have evolved. A few years back, he started a podcast, called the SModcast, which was mainly Smith chatting every week or so with his longtime producing collaborator Scott Mosier. I started listening to these two years ago, when I needed podcasts to listen to on a cross-country drive, and haven't stopped since. They were fun (and funny) and something that he clearly enjoyed doing for the fun of it -- but which also helped him connect with fans. Last year, I paid a fair amount of cash for me and my wife to go see him do one of his famous Q&A shows in San Francisco, which, if you haven't seen them, are like 3-plus hours of pure, hilarious, standup comedy, all in answer to random questions from the audience. Since the answers often went on for half an hour or so, there weren't actually too many "questions," asked, but it was telling that most of the questions were really quite knowledgeable about all aspects of Smith's life -- with much of it coming from what he's revealed during SModcasts. I enjoyed it tremendously -- and almost certainly wouldn't have gone if I hadn't listened to SModcast (even though I've liked his movies since I saw Clerks back in '94).

I thought that this was a great example of CwF+RtB. He was connecting with infinite goods like Twitter and with the free podcasts -- all given away for free, and monetizing it with these Q&A's (scarce access) and movie deals (in part built off of his loyal following). But he keeps taking it further.

Earlier this year he did two new things: first, he started offering additional podcasts, both from himself and others. It was mainly the rotating cast of close friends of Smith, many of whom have appeared on previous SModcasts, doing their own podcasts, and putting together a Smodcast podcast network. And, I've actually become hooked on those as well -- even though I never thought I'd care what Smith's friends had to say on anything (though, ironically, on a recent episode of one of these podcasts, the Tell 'em Steve-Dave show, the hosts came out supporting John Mellencamp on his recent confused anti-internet statements, with Walt suggesting that anyone who downloads unauthorized content should have their computers destroyed on the spot). The second thing he did was he took SModcast on the road, with a series of live shows at various venues (including the Improv in Hollywood). Yes, this was basically still him sitting around, chatting with Scott Mosier about whatever he felt like chatting about... but people were paying to see them do it live.

Once again... giving away the infinite goods for free... and realizing he could sell the scarce good (seats/access). In fact, as expected, the infinite goods help make those scarce goods more valuable. The reason why people want to go see Kevin Smith literally have a random conversation with a close friend is because of all those free Smodcasts they listen to.

And now he's taken even that to another level. After the success of some of the other podcasts and the live shows, Smith set up a Smodcastle theater in Los Angeles, where he not only will regularly perform Smodcasts, but has a whole host of other podcasts being recorded as well. Hell, he'll even host weddings there for a large fee -- where he'll turn your wedding into a podcast where he'll interview the bride and groom before officiating their wedding. Seriously.

And, so far, the reviews of Smodcastle make it sound great. It's a small theater -- only 50 seats -- but Kevin's turned it into a place that sounds fun -- even to the point of letting people come watch cartoons or movies with Smith at the theater.

In the following interview from Attack of the Show, Smith and Mosier talk about Smodcast, and towards the end they hit on the "monetization" issue, making two key points. First, they didn't even try to monetize it for a couple years. The focus was very much on building up an audience. Yes, Smith had a good-sized audience of "true fans" to start with, but it still took time to really build a core podcasting audience (something that Twitter has helped with). The second, is that they recognize the value of free: noting that the infinitely available things -- such as what's on Twitter and in the podcasts themselves, should always remain free, but the scarce things, such as seats to the show and their listeners' attention (in the form of sponsorship) are where they can make money:
Now. obviously, no one's saying that the way for big Hollywood directors to make money these days is for them all to set up their own theaters. Just like no one said the way to make money in music was to copy exactly what Trent Reznor had done. But there are serious lessons to be learned from this, even if Smith himself is making much of this up as he goes along. But he's really showing how he isn't even thinking just about being a "filmmaker." Too often, we hear people in a certain profession say "but that's how I make my living... from my music/movies/art/etc." Smith realized long ago that it goes beyond that. He's an entertainer, and he knows quite well (whether on purpose or not) how to mix "free" into a structure where he's really transparent, authentic, available... and offers up all sorts of incredibly valuable scarcities for people to buy.

Oh, and in a bit of colliding worlds, Smith is going to have a "Starfucking" podcast that will include friend of the blog, Amanda Palmer, along with her fiancé, Neil Gaiman -- though, I imagine they (unfortunately for me, but fortunately for most other people) won't spend much time talking entertainment industry business models.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Oct 12th, 2010 @ 1:13pm

    I've suddenly noticed this is same as religion.

    "Infinite goods" for free, no actual product costs except for time to run your mouth, dedicated followers, pay what you can. Gotcha. Now tell me how this applies to even retail sales.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 12th, 2010 @ 1:25pm

      Re: I've suddenly noticed this is same as religion.

      Are you some kind of idiot? Figure it out yourself. This is America, figure it yourself you freeloading pest.

       

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Oct 12th, 2010 @ 1:44pm

      Re: I've suddenly noticed this is same as religion.

      "Infinite goods" for free, no actual product costs except for time to run your mouth, dedicated followers, pay what you can. Gotcha. Now tell me how this applies to even retail sales.

      Huh? It's not "pay what you can". What gave you that idea.

      As for how this applies to "even retail sales," I'm not even sure what you're asking. The point is that each situation is different. I can definitely think of interesting ways that this could apply to *specific* retail offerings (in fact, as noted in the post -- did you read it? -- Smith owns a retail shop). But the whole point (which I thought was stated in the post) is that each content creator comes out with models that suit them specifically. I'm not sure what that has to do with "even retail sales."

       

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      Meh, Oct 12th, 2010 @ 4:10pm

      Re: I've suddenly noticed this is same as religion.

      OP's post is a strong, compelling argument for having a "Dumbass" button in addition to "Insightful" and "Funny"

       

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Oct 12th, 2010 @ 10:30pm

      Re: I've suddenly noticed this is same as religion.

      It doesn't apply, if you want to see what others did look at Coca-Cola and how they transformed their product into something that can be found in the middle of the jungle and still be sold.

      Melinda French Gates: What nonprofits can learn from Coca-Cola
      http://www.youtube.com/user/TEDtalksDirector

      Coca-Cola didn't sue the people taking their products and reselling it, they trained them and told them we will work with you.

      Coca-Cola didn't kill the local entrepreneur's they feed them and made them part of the game.

      You can pay lawyers to try and stop others but I don't think you will be successful if you don't have popular support.

       

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      PaulT (profile), Oct 13th, 2010 @ 11:59pm

      Re: I've suddenly noticed this is same as religion.

      "Now tell me how this applies to even retail sales."

      Any particular reason it should? You're surely not implying that the only way to make money is retails sales now, are you?

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 12th, 2010 @ 1:28pm

    Sounds like he's pretty hard up actually... I don't envy his "Profits"

     

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Oct 12th, 2010 @ 1:45pm

      Re:

      Sounds like he's pretty hard up actually... I don't envy his "Profits"


      Really? How do you figure? All of the indications were that he's making quite a lot of money. He's indicated that because of the serious bank coming in from the live shows, that he's basically free to work on whatever he wants on the film side of things. That seems like a pretty sweet deal.

       

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    Cymb, Oct 12th, 2010 @ 1:57pm

    Smod Cast is brilliant.. I'm about 15 episodes in, J&SB Get Old is pretty hilarious as well.

     

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    Xander C (profile), Oct 12th, 2010 @ 2:12pm

    Fuuny enough, I found this article though Kevin's Twitter. :P

    "@ThatKevinSmith: I enjoyed the fuck out of this sweet @Techdirt piece about the ever-evolving world of #SModcast: http://bt.io/G9H9 It's spot-on accurate."

     

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      Xander C (profile), Oct 12th, 2010 @ 2:16pm

      PS.

      Mike! I'm surprised you didn't mention about the SModcast Live's bonus as well! During the tour, Kevin would post any Smodcast in which the theater they where in was full, otherwise, that "smodcast" was for the audience only.

      I went to see the group when they where here in Tempe AZ, and the place was packed, but a few seats short of "full". I'm kinda happy though that track wasn't released thankfully, the winning "prizes" might shock some co-workers if they found out! :P

       

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    interval, Oct 12th, 2010 @ 2:34pm

    I like Smith

    He's pretty hip and savvy, you can tell if you listen to him for any length of time (rent/buy/dl "A Night with Kevin Smith" for the proof), these new business models should be a no-brainer for him.

     

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    satansunderpants, Oct 12th, 2010 @ 2:45pm

    rose off the bloom?

    seemed to start off with a relatively nice bang, but each and every week it's showing 40,45, 49 tickets available, day of show.

    opened nice, no legs.

     

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    Will Sizemore (profile), Oct 12th, 2010 @ 3:29pm

    Masnick's Law

    Hey Mike, I think you should adapt your law to state that the only people who really make any money by in copyright or trademark lawsuits that the lawyers themselves.

    I've been a fan of Techdirt since about the time you covered the story of the Second Life lawsuits where an individual's avatar was 'raped' another avatar or avatars and when a Second Life 'home' was broken into and the merchandise was 'stolen' and in both cases the virtual victims sought real monetary compensation.

    Since then, I've seen quite a few articles that insinuate this little tidbit, if not declare it outright. I think you're on the right track, here.

    You have a knack for pointing out just how crooked these people are; playing up a threat and selling a solution. These lawyers are like playground bullies beating kids up for milk money and offering 'protection' for payment in advance.

     

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    Tom Landry (profile), Oct 12th, 2010 @ 6:03pm

    Kevin is a regular guest on Opie & Anthony on XM/Sirius 202. they boys were instrumental in getting Kevin on board and so far its been great. Fans of both shows are getting some great entertainment now with more variety.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 12th, 2010 @ 9:00pm

    it's just advertising

    If the artists give away interviews, some songs, maybe a short film, it's simply interesting content to catch the attention of a potential consumer.

    The consumer "consumes" the content, and if they like it, it generates interest within them. This interest makes them more likely to pay attention the next time they are presented with the same artists product. Example, you see a picture of a painting, and like it. You're more likely to pay to go to a gallery of that artists work. (IF you can remember the artists name. Which is why longer, more interesting free offerings have more impact; a song sticks with you more than an article about the song since if you like the song, you will probably play it more than once.)

    For instance, I listened to a song by Asobi Seksu that was a free podcast. I had never heard of them. I liked the song. After listening to it several times, I bought it off Amazon so I could have a copy of it without the commentary, AND so I could actually support the artists who made the song. I could have just edited out the commentary, but I wanted the band to make more music, so I bought it. Actually I bought it twice since my hard drive crashed once.

    This may not seem important, but if I didn't like the BAND, and not just the song, I would have probably just pirated it. I mean, I already paid for it once, right? However, since I had a connection with the band after listening to the commentary about them, and having surfed their website, I decided to spend my hard-earned 99 cents two times to buy their music.

    The free podcast song made more of a connection with me because I could listen to it as much as I wanted. It was more valuable to me because it was free. Counter-intuitive, but true. (Would you be happier with a car that costs $25k or the same car if someone gave it to you for nothing?)

    My ADD is getting to me. Time to stop typing.

     

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    Gene Cavanaugh, Oct 13th, 2010 @ 3:49pm

    Entertainment AGAIN?

    The more trivial the subject, the longer the article.

     

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      PaulT (profile), Oct 14th, 2010 @ 12:15am

      Re: Entertainment AGAIN?

      ...and your comment was not trivial?

      Whether or not you feel it's a frivolous industry, it is worth billions and the laws of *your* country are being changed to *your* disadvantage - yes, even if you don't consume their products. All because people such as Smith, who think about alternatives to irrelevant mid-20th century business models, are in the minority.

       

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