As I’ve been getting Silverstring Media off the ground as more than just this blog, and as I’ve been bringing my crew into the fold of the industry, I’ve been thinking more about the issues of money in creating transmedia projects, especially from an indie perspective. Money comes up again and again in transmedia discussions — where does it come from, what’s the ROI, what’s the business plan.
A couple of articles have touched on this recently — David G. Wilson’s Field of Streams, and Simon Staffans’ On funding transmedia, part two. Many such articles, especially when looking at it in the context of big-budget properties, look at transmedia first as a business discussion: expanding the storyworld, creating new stories in different media, making sure you execute it all properly, everything is done to maximize profits.
While it’s absolutely vital that transmedia is shown to be a viable financial endeavour, and the money-making prospects are what will ultimately grow the industry and cement its place in entertainment, I admit I have always come at transmedia from an artistic perspective first and foremost. The same way I come at my other writing — writing is absolutely a business and I need to make money at it to succeed, but I don’t do it for the money in the first place, I do it because it’s something I want to do, a way to express myself and tell stories. So too with transmedia, my first goal is to tell great stories and engage an audience. Making money is a secondary priority.
Back when I was first researching ARGs and seeing that at the time none had ever really made money in and of themselves, I considered the possibility of government grants making such a project financially viable. Here in Canada at least (forgetting for the moment the cuts we’ve taken) there’s significant money available for the arts. Such a grant could pay the wages of the creators of a project, allowing them to eat while they produce a story. Things like the Canada Council for the Arts, the BC Arts Council, the Canadian Media Fund, the Telus Innovation Fund, the Bell Media Fund.
But much of that money is also hard to get, time-consuming to apply for, and ultimately probably won’t cover all costs of production.
And now that I’m officially a Business, and I have a team whose payment I also need to think about, Making Money becomes more important. I also want to be able to prove to potential clients — people for whom we can produce transmedia stories — that we can make money off of them (and thus, they can too). Luckily I have a business-minded teammate who’s keeping me thinking about our options, too.
But the more I think about it, the more I see that the ability to make money off of transmedia — like the options in transmedia storytelling itself — are limitless. Even if you’re not producing a big-budget property thta could garner hyge sponsors or investment.
Just look at something like Echo Bazaar (a property I’m quite in love with (read: addicted to) and want to emulate in a lot of ways for future projects). It’s a completely free game that I’ve personally spent about $30 on. I did it because the story engaged so fully, I was willing to put money into it to enhance the experience even further.
You can make money off a property without charging for every piece of it — or more to the point, without even charging for the main piece of it.
But I’ve also talked before about the possibility of short-form transmedia, sort of transmedial short stories. Could those be monetized effectively? Would they be long enough to engage an audience deeply enough that they’d pay for something more, even if the something more wasn’t a lot more? Or would they only work if the producers had an established audience who trusted their quality and were willing to pay to experience the property at all?
Ultimately, I think this will take some experimentation more than anything. But I’d love to hear your thoughts.