Making Money By Giving Your Movie Away (But How Much?)

Nina Paley cre­at­ed some buzz ear­li­er this year when she decid­ed to give her award-win­ning ani­mat­ed film, Sita Sings the Blues, to the pub­lic, releas­ing it under a Cre­ative Com­mons license. This was anoth­er test of the con­cept that artists can make mon­ey by giv­ing their work away. Today, The Wall Street Jour­nal gives an account­ing of how this the­o­ry played out in prac­tice. Here’s how things break down:

  • Total dona­tions from peo­ple who appre­ci­ate her giv­ing out free con­tent: $23,000
  • Prof­its from her online store which sells mer­chan­dise and DVDs: $19,000
  • The­atri­cal dis­tri­b­u­tion rev­enues: $3,000 (out of total box office tal­ly of $22,350)
  • Addi­tion­al DVD dis­tri­b­u­tion: $3,000
  • Broad­cast tele­vi­sion dis­tri­b­u­tion: $3,000
  • Rev­enue from Cen­tral Cin­e­ma in Seat­tle which showed the film: $4,000
  • The grand total: $55,000

As the WSJ notes, these num­bers don’t reflect the mon­ey she spent mak­ing the film . (Paley puts the num­ber at $150,000 in hard costs.) They also don’t account for the indi­rect rev­enue that she will gen­er­ate down the line. But putting Sita Sings the Blues in front of so many peo­ple, the world now knows a lot more about Nina Paley and her tal­ents. I have to believe that she can trade on that (if she wants to) when­ev­er she agrees to direct a film, or accepts a speak­ing engage­ment. The WSJ equa­tion does­n’t take this piece into account (it’s admit­ted­ly hard to mea­sure), but it’s prob­a­bly the most impor­tant part of the over­all analy­sis.

You can down­load Sita Sings the Blues here, watch it on YouTube here, or find it in our col­lec­tion of Free Movies Online.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How I Sold My Book by Giv­ing It Away: You should all see this sep­a­rate post by Seth Har­wood. It focus­es on sim­i­lar issues, but trans­lat­ed to the book world.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.