Today's Big Question: What Do You Give Away for Free?
The question I've been hearing at the last few conferences and film festivals I've been to is this: "Yes, free is important. But how much should I give away for free?" What people would like to know is, at what point do all those freebies help someone decide that, no, they're actually not all that interested in your film...or, are you giving away too few free samples, thereby under-marketing your project? If you gave away less for free, would you make more money? If you gave away more for free, would you reach more people?
I think these questions are all fundamentally unanswerable. But I'm interested in your take. How can you determine, in a scientifically-provable way, whether you would've earned more (or less) from a given film if you gave more stuff away for free (or less)?
I'm suggesting that the amount of free you do needs to be a gut decision -- though it probably makes sense to dial it up and dial it down a bit over time and see what the impact is.
And here's an example just so we have a case study to discuss: Cory McAbee's space Western serial "Stingray Sam" was released this week, in theaters, on DVD, and as a digital download.
My sense is that the first episode (10 mins long), along with some songs, a trailer, some behind the scenes video, and a mess of still photos and storyboards, is a pretty good mix of stuff to offer for free. And I also like the mix of various packages at different price points that they've set up when you're ready to buy.
But would "Stingray" do better if the first five episodes were given away free, and the rest were paid downloads? What about if everything was free, supported by ads? Hard to know unless you try it -- and trying it entails taking a risk on revenues.
I think filmmakers will help one another, serving as guideposts, if they share actual revenue figures on their experiments with free vs. paid. And not enough do that. (Three counter-examples are Hunter Weeks, Morgan Spurlock, and Gary Hustwit.)
What do you think?