« Squarespace | Main | It is Possible to be Too Suite »

Losing the Shirt Off Your Back

Let’s talk about show business for a second. Show. Business. It’s about entertainment. It’s about commerce. Both can and do co-exist.

I want to talk about business for a sec. There are many, many levels of commerce. Let’s take a simple item - tshirts, and examine them for a moment.

First, we will look at the world’s largest retailer - Walmart. They are evil, true. But apparently you can get a 5 pack of Hane’s t-shirts for $9.97, roughly $2 a shirt. Likely made by prison labor in a developing country, but you can’t beat the price.

Next, we’ll take a look at my t-shirt of choice, American Apparel. I appreciate the fact their shirts are made here in the US and their workers are paid a fair wage. And it is reflected in their price - $91 for 7, roughly $13 a shirt. More expensive, but their fit, quality and social justice stance makes it worth it. And anyone who has seen their ads, realizes they need money to start buying their models a sammich or two.

Then, of course you have the high-end, designer t-shirts. For instance, Armani offers a simple t-shirt for $64. That is for one shirt. Maybe the offer a three pack, but the loan application was too much of a hassle.

The price differences are interesting, because all three items are essentially the same thing - cotton shirts. What separates them are the quality of materials, the cost of labor and economies of scale.

A Hane’s t-shirt from Walmart is not the best quality cotton, the material is thinner, the styling is such that construction is faster and easier, and they sell millions, allowing them to sell for a very low price. The American Apparel shirts are made from a soft jersey, have a unique fit, and sell in the hundreds of thousands. The Armani shirt is interwoven with the dreams of orphans and sewn together with a needle carved from the horn of the last unicorn. At least that is my assumption, based on it’s cost.

What does any of this have to do with media? Simple. Network television is Hane’s. They make a lot of media, they have perfected how to do so cheaply and efficiently. And by and large, it is perfectly suitable. Anyone with an antenna can get this stuff, if they want it.

But sometimes, people want something that fits them better. Maybe made a little better. And they are willing to pay more for it. In the world of media, this would be your cable, especially premium channels, like HBO or Showtime.

And that Armani tshirt? That is your big feature films. For most people, going out to the movies is a special thing. They choose carefully where they spend their money. For a lot of films, they will wait till they hit DVD, or HBO, or even broadcast TV.

At each level, there is a cost involved, and that cost has to be paid, and hopefully enough profit to fund more.

Now then, we come to so called “new media”, aka internet distributed media. Right now, it can be segmented into three categories: repurposed “old” media, original produced content, and skateboarding dogs.

Repurposed media is like that found on Hulu and in the iTunes store. Stuff that was made for TV or the theater and sold online. This is much like the outlet stores. They have already made their money, now they just try to unload their inventory and make as much as they can before no one cares anymore.

Skateboarding dogs is that category which provides YouTube with 99% of it’s content. Skateboarding dogs, singing into web cams, and the ever popular people getting hit in the nuts are all, lets face it, just an episode of America’s Home Video’s without someone editing out the worthless stuff. There is no intent to make money, merely a hope that someone will notice them or will find their friend getting hit in the nuts as funny as they did ( we do ).

Which brings us to original produced content. This is a very select group. It is made up of that content which is produced exclusively for the net, and made intentionally for that purpose. Many podcasts fit this category, though some are repurposed content such as “This American Life”. We also have original webisodes, like those for Heroes and 24, and original content like Two Guys Drinking in a Bar or The Dog Files. Those second two are interesting, because they have an analogy in clothing as well.

I met my friend Lisa while working in the video game industry. She worked for a different company as a texture artist, and was quite good at it. We would hang out on Friday nights playing cards, but the whole time, she would be knitting. It’s how she relaxed. One week, she brought me a scarf she made. It was easily the nicest scarf I had ever had. Soft, silky and warm. It was also obviously crafted with care and craft. When it got to the holidays, I went home, and my mom really liked my scarf, asked where I got it. When i got back to San Fran, I asked Lisa to make my mom a scarf. Without even thinking, I said “I’d pay you for it!” Lisa made the scarf, and took my money. It wasn’t the first time someone had asked her, and it was worth the $40 when my mom got the scarf and called me up all cry-ey. Now, Lisa makes a living only making scarves, baby booties and the like. She’s doing what she loves, and her business grew out of a hobby. But if one day, she had quit her job to say “I’m going to make a living knitting!” We would have thought she were nuts and she likely would have not been able to grow her business fast enough to be sustainable.

This is the same as independent new media production. If you do it because you love it, great. But don’t do it to make money. Because you may never. Do it as a labor of love, but don’t quit your day job.

On the flip side, it’s not all about making money. If you are producing content, and enjoy the actual creation, that is fine too. My friend Craig loves flying. He bought a custom acrobatic plane, buys aviation fuel, paid for pilot lessons a while back. He will never make money flying and, in fact, spends quite a bit doing it. But it’s not LOST money. He is simply paying the cost of doing what he loves. So if you aren’t making money making content, but you love it, are you really losing money?

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.