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P2P Distribution Model Working for Yes Men

April 17, 2011

This is an interesting article. The activist-pranksters, the Yes Men’s recent film The Yes Men Fix the World only obtained a limited cinema release and because they had attracted the threat of a lawsuit from one of the groups they had pranked (the US Chamber of Commerce) the overall attraction for distributors was impacted. But a conversation at a film festival lead them to move to P2P group Vodo, to distribute the film and the results were very promising:

While Vodo now hosts scores of documentaries, all available as P2P downloads, its library started with [Vodo founder, Jamie] King’s own work. He’s a filmmaker, as well, and shot Steal this Film with the idea of distributing it online through P2P. After it was downloaded millions of times and brought in $30,000 in donations, King decided to bring P2P distribution to other filmmakers. The Yes Men were among the first people he spoke to.

“We come with some pedigree,” says King, “in the sense that we know the people who funded their film. We come with a recommendation. It’s a way of distributing that’s increasingly relevant to documentary filmmakers.”

There are two big positives in the Vodo P2P system. One is the reach, and one is the chance for donations. King knows that for activists such as The Yes Men, the reach, the chance to get their work in front of new faces, is the most important thing.

“[The Yes Men] make their films partly as a way to bring certain messages to audiences and they want that message to be seen and heard. We’re a good platform for that to actually happen,” says King.

Of course, the money is nice too. Twice, Vodo has helped raise funds in the $25,000–$30,000 range. While that’s not much to a Hollywood budget, it’s a nice amount for a documentarian.

“That’s an amount that compares very favorably with traditional television acquisitions for documentaries,” says King, noting that $20,000 is the standard acquisition fee. “We’ve already reached the point where we’re a viable new business model for filmmakers.”

This seems to be a practical confirmation of a study that have shown that for smaller artists, P2P can be a very positive distribution option:

According to Blackburn who investigates this issue the ‘bottom’ 3/4 of artists sell more as a consequence of file-sharing while the top 1/4 sell less. Second is the first tentative estimates (by Waldfogel and Rob) of the welfare consequences of file-sharing. Waldfogel and Rob’s dramatic result is that file-sharing on average yields a gain to society three times the loss to the music industry in lost sales. While, as they emphasize, this result is preliminary and based on limited data it indicates the urgent need for more research on this issue as well as the possibility to have a win-win situation in which both creators and the public get a better deal, for example by using an alternative compensation system such as a levy.

(Also posted on blog.p2pfoundation.net)

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