Too Much Free Time

by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
embedding, fees, videos

common craft

Viral Video Producers Want To Charge You To Embed Their Videos

from the that's-not-viral dept

You may have seen some of the rather popular videos by Common Craft, which has built a rather large following based on these videos about technology and social media using paper diagrams on whiteboards. What the videos are really good at is simplifying things in a way that's easy for people to understand. For example, the video, Twitter in Plain English has received nearly 1.7 million views and is often sent around to people who are trying to understand Twitter.

Like most viral video efforts, the videos are hosted on YouTube, which makes them easy to embed and share. Except, apparently, that's not working within Common Craft's business model. An anonymous reader sent over a story about how the company has set up a new licensing scheme for embedding its videos on websites, and the fees get pretty high pretty quickly. Digital Inspiration notes that embedding one of those videos on a popular website or blog could cost thousands, since the prices are based on views. Lee LeFever, of Common Craft, responded in the comments that this was targeted at companies, rather than "bloggers." However, it's not clear if this means the videos will remain on YouTube -- in which case, companies can just embed them automatically -- or if they'll keep them off of YouTube.

Either way, it's difficult to see this working out. I'm sure some companies will pay, but on the whole, it seems to break the value chain here. Common Craft could, instead, offer up the ability to make custom videos for companies, but on its website, it says that they'd rather just focus on their own videos -- and points anyone who wants custom videos to a series of other video producers. The thing is, if you want your video to be viral, you can't also charge for it. There are three options that I can see, and none of them seem that good:
  1. They leave the videos on YouTube as embeddable, and just hope that companies will pay them anyway.

    In this case, many companies would likely embed the videos anyway, not even realizing that CC wanted them to pay up. That leads to confusion and no legal basis for CC's request. After all, it put the video on a video sharing site and allowed embedding. That seems like a pretty clear authorization to embed the video.

  2. They leave the videos on YouTube, but not as embeddable, and make companies pay to embed

    As we saw with the band Ok Go, when EMI disabled embedding for the band's videos, traffic plummeted 90%. You don't go viral if you don't allow embeds.

  3. They stop using YouTube altogether, and don't release the videos publicly themselves

    It's hard to be viral when the videos aren't anywhere online.
So with all of that, I'm still confused as to how this offering works. It seems like an attempt at the honor system to pretend that an abundant resource isn't abundant. Instead of doing that, why not focus on the scarcities -- such as creating custom videos (as mentioned), consulting (scarce knowledge) or advertising/sponsorship (selling the scarcity of attention). It just seems like other models would make a lot more business sense.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    Robert Ring (profile), Mar 12th, 2010 @ 5:49pm

    Plus, they've now demonstrated a great way to make videos that tons of people watch. If they begin an effective implementation of pay-per-embeds, that leaves the door wide open for someone else to come in, create the same kind of videos, offer them for free, and steal all the traffic.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anshar, Mar 12th, 2010 @ 5:52pm

    I can think of at least one other way they could capitalize on their videos without removing them from YouTube. They could make smaller videos that are still good and useful enough to go viral and make those available on YouTube while offering significantly expanded versions for sale.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    NAMELESS.ONE, Mar 12th, 2010 @ 6:06pm

    I have an anti virual video app

    its called "exit" or that lil "x"
    cool ain't it now your video dont go no where

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Travis, Mar 12th, 2010 @ 6:20pm


    Thats a good idea Anshar.
    Have a good version but when it embeds its much smaller.
    So you have to pay for the good version.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Richard (profile), Mar 13th, 2010 @ 4:28pm

    I'm confused here. As far as I knew, YouTube was free, as in, YouTube doesn't charge you for views or having your video up there, they make their money elsewhere. I thought this was the same even for commercial enterprises, but I am prepared to be wrong. I came to that assumption given that many companies want YouTube to PAY THEM for having their content online.
    So here's where my confusion comes in. If YouTube is free, then what Common Craft want to happen here is for YouTube to pay for all the bandwidth related to showing the video, but Common Craft get paid for it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Ben, Mar 13th, 2010 @ 8:34pm


    This is what I've done with the site I run. All of the smaller content is given away free, while the more advanced stuff is sold. This very business model has taken the business from a startup six months ago, to a business that now supplies me with a full-time job and wage.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Hephaestus (profile), Mar 14th, 2010 @ 6:28am


    "If they begin an effective implementation of pay-per-embeds, that leaves the door wide open for someone else to come in, create the same kind of videos, offer them for free, and steal all the traffic."

    Thats thinking like a competing business type!! ... ROFLMAO ... I wish rupert murdoch would read and understand you comment and how it applies to his situation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Peter, Mar 14th, 2010 @ 10:50am

    CwF RtB

    In the beginning they actually did produce costume videos, and had a lot of success doing it. I did a brief email interview with Lee late last year. Here he said that they where getting several requests every week. They could have set up a production company with lots of employes, probably making good money. Yet they wanted to work as a small operation, on the videos that interested them. therefor they created the current business model.

    In many ways it is similar to the CwF RtB business models that you guys talk a lot about. (which is much appreciated) They have a free product and sell a very similar product with added benefits. In a way very similar to people like Moto Boy, Nine inch Nails or Nina Paley and a range of other examples.

    The added benefit is a higher quality version without the "for Evaluation" text. As well as the explicit permission to use it on the website. According to Lee companies are actually willing to pay for this.

    Similar models have been successful, with added benefits much smaller then Common Crafts. Ghosts I-IV was the most paid download on amazon while it was freely available, and cinemas voluntarily pay for showing Sita Sings the Blues.

    On top of this they can also generate revenue from referrals, and the business model definitely makes sense.

    Could they have made more money by setting up a consultancy ? Maybe..

    Do they have a business model that both in theory and practice allows them to make money doing what they really want ? Definately...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Lee LeFever, Mar 14th, 2010 @ 4:57pm

    The Common Craft Perspective

    Thanks for writing about our model. We expect there to be some critical thinking about this move - and we welcome it. I think the rub here is actually in the title: "Viral Video Producers...". We did get our start as video makers whose videos were shared virally, usually through You Tube embeds, but we've never considered our business or our products "viral". About two years ago, something happened. People started to ask about professional/commercial use for our videos. They asked "Can I put this in my presentation?" "Can I share this video on my Intranet at work?" Can I use it in my training program?" This demand showed us that there is a business to be built on producing and licensing educational videos to individuals and organizations. The way we've done it is through offering digital downloads of high quality video files through our website. Since that time, we've proved that this model works - and scales very easily. This means that our company didn't have to depend on advertising, or viral videos or You Tube. It depended on getting people to to view the videos and learn about our licensing options. We wanted (and still want) our website to be the home of our videos - not YouTube or any other host. So, we're leaving a handful of videos on YouTube, which is one of the biggest referrers to our website, but limiting what we share there in the future. Each time we publish a new video, it's available to watch for free on, with a "for evaluation only" watermark. If you've seen photos on iStockPhoto, you know how that works. You don't pay to view, you pay to use. Our new Web License is how we're serving the demand we see for organizations who want to use our videos to educate website visitors. They want an easy way to put the videos to work - and in this context, they are willing to pay for a service that makes it easy. Again, we appreciate the analysis and welcome any other comments...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    anonymous, Mar 14th, 2010 @ 8:55pm

    Twitter in Plain English

    You mentioned that Twitter in Plain English received 1.7 million views. It did so because it was embedded on Twitter's home page for many months. It would be interesting to see how traffic to CC's web site changed after Twitter decided to go with a different video to explain their service. I would argue that Twitter's embed of a freely available YouTube video was one of the big drivers of CC's success as a custom video producer. They've obviously decided to leverage that traffic for this new business model. It's interesting to think about the relationship between traffic generated by free content and money generated by walled-off content. Turning one into the other will be an interesting trick. Pass the popcorn.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Lee LeFever, Mar 14th, 2010 @ 10:46pm

    Re: Twitter in Plain English

    For the record, the video that was linked off the Twitter home page was hosted by One of the reasons I like to use them is that dotSUB offers volunteer-created (crowdsourced) subtitles. Right now, the Twitter in Plain English video has been translated into 76 languages and the has over 9 million views.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Trails, Mar 15th, 2010 @ 8:45am

    4) They embed advertising in their videos, either those crappy interstitials, or product placement!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    slee (profile), Mar 16th, 2010 @ 7:55am

    Most professional training videos online are subscription base with a fee. Why should Common Craft be different?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Lee LeFever, Mar 16th, 2010 @ 11:14am

    Re: CwF RtB

    Just a quick note to say thanks for the comment Peter. Your assessment of our business (and lifestyle priority) is spot-on.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Joshua Gunn, Mar 16th, 2010 @ 12:35pm

    It's great to see Common Craft breaking new ground in this area. As another producer of explanatory videos, I see this as an incredibly viable business model. I'm just glad Lee is trying it first :)

    Common Craft has been first with pretty much everything in this "industry," and I wish them the best of luck.

    Joshua Gunn
    Funderstanding, Plain and Simple

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    Kim (profile), Mar 24th, 2010 @ 6:31pm

    As a special interest video producer, I've been very interested in the explosion of video content being so widely available on the internet and how we can still deliver high quality, educational programs via the internet and make a living being able to provide such content to people who want it. (I'd love to just produce videos for the love of it but unfortunately don't have a benefactor.)

    I've been following what Common Craft is doing and am encouraged that they are experiencing success with their model.

    Kim Miller
    "Shoot it once, sell it for years."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    promotional items, Apr 22nd, 2010 @ 12:15pm

    That is about the only way to monetize their videos, and frankly it's a win, win situation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.