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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