Friday, April 11, 2014

Don't Pitch to Buyers, Pitch to the Audience - Part Five

Part 1 is here.  Part 2 is here.  Part 3 is here.  Part 4 is here.

Simon's Cat was an accident.  Simon Tofield created the initial short as a way of learning a software package.  When he was done, he put it on his reel.  Somebody saw it on his reel and uploaded it to YouTube.  While it is a horrible thing to use an artist's work without permission, in this case it turned into a blessing.

After six years, that initial short has now been viewed more than 48 million times.  The Simon's Cat channel on YouTube has almost 3 million subscribers.   There are now dozens of Simon's Cat shorts available for free.  How is Tofield making money from this?

First, there is advertising.  YouTube is owned by Google and Google places ads and splits the revenue with Tofield.  Then there is merchandise. has a shop where you will find all sorts of merchandise for sale, including books, calendars, cat products, T-shirts, fine art prints, ceramics and kitchen items.  There are mobile games available through the iTunes app store.  The books are also available through Amazon.  The site has room for fans to upload pictures of their own cats, so there's user generated content helping to keep the site fresh.

Simon Tofield is doing many of the things mentioned in these articles.  He's built the films around a continuing character.  The shorts are comparatively fast and cheap to produce.  There is no colour.  There is no dialogue, so the films can be understood internationally without subtitles or dubbing.  There is no music except over the main title and that gets re-used.  The films are short, usually less than three minutes and sometimes less than two.

He uses Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest to stay connected to his audience and let them know when something new is available.

Tofield has taken advantage of another thing: an existing community.  Millions of people have cats as pets.  They are a ready-made audience for these cartoons.  It is far easier to aim a work at an already existing audience than it is to try to build an audience from scratch.  Creators should examine their own lives and see if they are part of some community besides art and animation.  Does a creator play a sport, collect something, have worked in a particular business, etc?  If so, the knowledge and experience in this area makes a creator qualified to talk to an audience of people with similar experiences.  That audience may be large enough to provide a living.

These articles conclude here.


JPilot said...

Hi Mark,

I think your articles on this subject are of great importance to the new generation who are given less and less choice in the traditional (and very dated) job market in general. This may mean a way of survival to all of them.

You should compile all topics on this matter and make it into a book. Not to make money since you have now the content available for free, but for direct reference for months and years to come, so people do not have to dig and search your previous posts. To have this information readily accessible at any time. Perhaps make a direct link to it at the very least.

In a few months, newcomers to your blog who might have missed this important series of entries might not think about looking for them.

This information is crucial and you are doing an awesome job sharing it with us.


Garth Laidlaw said...

Hey Mark!

I second what JPilot said. It's clear that you've been collecting a significant amount of research and information on these topics. I'm personally very invested in the notion of artists adopting the mindsets of entrepreneurs as opposed to the 'dependent craftsman'.

I've been reading many of these same books and have been slowly building my 'platform' (great book on the topic, that isn't related to art, but platform building is 'Platform - How to get noticed in a Noisy World' by Michael Hyatt)

There are countless free business counselling services as well, which I recommend many artists take advantage of. My local faction is called 'Innovation Guelph', and I believe is funded under Canada's MaRS program:

There are numerous other MaRS facilities across the country which, to my knowledge, also offer free business/entrepreneur workshops and advice. I've found it incredibly useful, though I do wish there was an optional 5th year of animation for those interested in learning how this can apply to animation specifically. Maybe I could teach this one day!

One last thing, I feel that developing some kind of system of autonomy within our lives as independent artists is crucial to allow space and time to continue to create our own independent content. There are many ways to do this, and books that suggest options. My current method is to slowly buil a platform to develop passive income sources (ebooks, merchandise as you listed in this post, tutorials, webcomics, etc.).

As you're suggesting, it seems that the rules have changed for those wishing to find ways to create their own content (which I think most artists do). The new difficulty then, is how to stand out among the many other artists who are finding ways to express their voice. The current capitalist viewpoint seems to suggest this competition is inherent - how limiting.

I'll be trying my luck with the Kickstarter model by the end of this month so I hope to learn a lot from it.

Love the talk so far and hope you continue (or publish!).

Anonymous said...

Simon's Cat is running an Indiegogo campaign:

I thought he was doing well enough with "Simon's Cat" that he didn't need to ask fans for money.

He's asking for $472,000 to keep his business going and also make an 11 minute short...

Yes, for a long time he worked on his shorts for free. But doesn't asking for $472,000 seem a little - excessive?

You know, good for him. It's nice to know that someone is making money in independent animation.
And I guess the internet allows us to cash in on the good will we may have created.

But well... I am just not used to this. Guess I'd better get over it.

Am I the only one who is still not used to the idea of crowd funding?

Anonymous said...

Must admit I reacted to Simon's Cat crowd funding in haste. After a few more minutes consideration, I conclude that if he wants to do it, it's fine. More power to him.

The world is changing, and mostly for the better. We have possibilities available to us that just didn't exist before. Sometimes that takes a little getting used to.