The Internet promised to connect content creators with audiences at an unprecedented scale and it has done so, but at what cost? Digital ad revenues barely compare to traditional channels and digital content is so easily found, consumed and shared online that it hardly seems worth paying for either the physical or metaphysical product. So how can content creators make money in the digital age? Collaborating with brands, releasing through distributors, and monetizing intellectual property (IP) are just a few of the models we discussed at a recent event entitled Monetizing Your Creativity In The Digital Age hosted by StoryCode Singapore and me.
StoryCode is a global storytelling collective that hosts events in major cities to keep storytellers on top of creative and technical trends. Local chapter host Marco Sparmberg also heads up social media for one of Singapore’s most prolific content creators Mediacorp and he kicked things off by introducing our speakers for the evening:
- CHEAH Yew Kuin, IP Lawyer, Baker & McKenzie. Wong & Leow
- Shazeed Hassan & Ryo Sanada, Co-Founders, Studio Rarekind
- Syatirah Safran, Regional Content Business Development Manager SEA & South Asia, Viki.com
Lawyers can be an intimidating bunch, one can never escape the feeling of getting a bill at the end of every conversation but Yew Kuin was there to tell us not to be afraid. He began by introducing the assembled group of forty or so content creators to the concept of IP, yawnsome to some but essential. There are three main categories of IP, here’s what you need to know about them:
Copyright is as presumed right that is created every time a content creator puts pen to paper. Though you can’t copyright an idea you can copyright the expression of that idea in words, images or even musical notes as Catherine Manners explained in my recent podcast How Musicians Make Money Now.
Trademarks must be registered country by country but protect brand names and logos such as Nike or Coca-Cola. If someone uses your name or logo without permission or, more likely, is squatting on a URL or social media address with your brand name in it, having your trademark protected can help you reclaim your property and even sue them for lost earnings or reputation damage.
Finally, patents protect inventions but to qualify for a patent an invention must be able demonstrate three key traits:
- Inventive Step
- Industrial Application
Patents are not “presumed” rights and must be registered with the patent office country by country.
Of most interest to content creators is copyright i.e. the right to copy. This particular right can be split into territories, platforms and durations for example, you might grant someone the right to copy or distribute your content in Singapore only, via broadcast television, for one year, leaving you free to sell the rights to other territories and platforms or resell the rights to the original buyer when that year is up. This way you can generate multiple, recurring revenues from a single piece of content rather than handing it over, wholesale, to a single buyer to exploit globally for however long they want. This is exactly how film and TV rights are bought and sold at international content markets such as AFM, Mipcom and ATF in Singapore.
Following Yew Kuin’s introduction to IP Shaz and Ryo took to the stage to talk about their company Studio Rarekind, which produces documentaries, online music channel Soi Music TV and, most significantly, street art sticker books Stickerbomb.
Stickerbomb gathers the work of Asian street artists into beautifully bound books that are sold all over the world. The unique selling point (USP) is that each piece of work in those books can be peeled off and used as a sticker, a feature that cannot be replicated in the digital space. The boys don’t actually own the artwork so they license the copyright from the artists, paying them a fee either up front or out of the sale of books (i.e. a royalty). This enables the artists to make money out of their art and the publishers, Studio Rarekind, to make money out of repackaging that art into another form. It also demonstrates how, increasingly, content creators are using their content as a way to build a market for physical products (see: The Business Of Being A YouTuber).
Our final speaker of the night was Syatirah Safran of Viki.com, the global online TV platform where fans translate the programs in up to 250 languages extending the reach of their content massively. Unlike YouTube or Vimeo the majority of Viki’s content is narrative drama and comedy not UGC. Syat recently purchased the rights to Perfect Girl the award-wining web-series by local production pioneers Bananamana Films and was there to tell producers that they don’t have to put their content online for free (see: Singapore Web-Series Sells To Viki.com). Creators can actually pre-sell the rights (if they have a good reputation) or post-sell them to a distributor once the content has been produced. This means the producer doesn’t have to count on unreliable ad revenues to recoup investments.
So, how does all this add up to the monetization of creativity in the digital age? It’s all a question of knowing and exploiting your rights so here’s a quick guide to help you:
- Once you create a piece of content it is automatically copyrighted to you BUT if anyone does copy or publish it without your permission you need to be able to PROVE you created it before they did. The simplest way to do this is to post the original to yourself and don’t open the envelope. The dated post-mark will prove the validity of your claim.
- If someone does copy or use your work without permission and it has a negative impact on your reputation or earnings you are within your rights to demand damages so don’t be afraid to call a lawyer, they won’t charge you for an initial consultation and can advise on whether or not the case is really worth pursuing.
- If you are creating a brand like, say, Batman, which has all sorts of licensing potential from comic books and movies to merchandise and games, check that no one has trademarked that name/logo and then trademark it yourself.
- And most importantly of all, don’t give away the farm. Your content has multiple rights under the copyright umbrella that you can use as negotiating points to ensure you get the best price or retain the rights to sell and resell in different territories, across different platforms and for different durations whether you are dealing with a brand, publisher, broadcaster or investor. Good luck.