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January 25, 2008

On Google Video and the New Paradigm

Some of you may have caught the 48-hour free view of Helvetica on Google Video… uhm, that wasn’t legit. In our efforts to have Google take the video down, I got a few emails that went something like this comment, from a chap named Raymond Pirouz:

I learned about the movie through Google Video. Because of that exposure — however illegal or unauthorized — I am going to purchase it, and I suspect that others who were exposed to it thorugh Google Video may do the same. Those who were exposed to it and will not purchase it may not have ever purchased it anyway, but they had the opportunity to be exposed to information with a positive impact on their lives. How is this a bad thing? I think that movie producers (especially independent minded documentary producers whose films can actually lead to sales of associated products as you so generously offer on your web site) can only gain by increasing the exposure of your movies to as wide an audience as you possibly can. Services like Google Video should not be seen as a “place for seedy pirates” but as a venue for generating publicity and product awareness.

You are not getting a high-quality video there, but you are being exposed to videos that — if you actually like — you can purchase and/or support in other ways. I have told several people about the video because I saw it on Google Video — and I suspect others have done the same. Why would you want to lose that type of free publicity? We need to begin using the new paradigm that the internet affords us instead of sticking to the old world mentalities as promoted by the likes of Hollywood and the such. Think about it.

Well, I have thought about it. And for certain work (music videos come to mind), where it strategically makes sense to give it away free, I believe in it. But the problem with the New Paradigm is that the numbers don’t always add up. Tens of thousands of people watched the film free on Google in the past two days (it was the #1 most watched video today). Do you know how many people have emailed asking how they can support the film? Two people. There’s been no increase in traffic to this site, and no change in our normal daily mail order sales. Most of the blogs and sites that embedded the Google video window weren’t even linking to our site, they weren’t acknowledging that it was an independent film made by us. And they were even selling ads around the video (i.e., making money), some had Google text ads that were tagged for fonts, typography, etc.

And in terms of generating awareness and publicity through online video, isn’t that what all those clips we uploaded to YouTube are for? I think you can get the idea of what the film’s about from those, and decide if you’re interested.

My biggest issue is that it should be the artist’s decision whether to release their work for free. I don’t think it’s fair that someone else can decide to give my work away, and profit from it. We’ve talked about letting people stream Helvetica for free from our website, but for now we’re still focused on DVD sales, TV broadcasts, and other “old school” distribution models. I realize that this may be the last year that those old models will still even work.

The Google video has been taken down, but someone else will probably try to upload it again, and then we’ll take it down again, etc., because if we’re going to upload the film for people to watch for free, we’re going to do so on our own terms. Again, I’m ambivalent about this issue… I can see the benefits of both sides, so let me hear what all of you think about it. You might sway me.

And I’d love to hear from people who’ve already purchased the DVD… how would you feel if the film were suddenly available online for free?

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Raymond says

Jan 25, 2008

I wanted to let you know that I saw the film on Google Video and thought it was fantastic. I will be purchasing the DVD.

I also posted about my experience on my blog at this location:

http://www.raymondpirouz.com/2008/01/25/helvetica/

I absolutely agree with you when you say that the artist -- and not some third party -- should determine whether or not to allow their work to be seen "for free" on the internet. I have no dispute there and believe that you were correct when you instructed Google Video to remove the unauthorized upload. But the fact that it was unauthorized and not properly branded with a link to your site in the description may have accounted for the fact that not many linked over in support.

I feel that you are missing a HUGE audience by not doing what Hollywood dares not, which is to release your intellectual property online….Hollywood is afraid of what might happen. Why are you afraid?

Upload your movie to Google Video. In the description, offer a link to your store and I bet you will get more DVD and other merchandise sales than you ever dreamed possible.

We are at the edge of the new paradigm, yet nobody is bold enough to take the first step into the unknown. Your film can change the lives of young people. I went to design school at the age of 24. In fact, the average age of those attending design school is….24.

Why do you think this is? It is because creative people in our culture (especially in the USA) are not given any guidance as to what they can do with their lives and creative talents. So they are forced to flounder until they discover design as a profession. Many never do. Films such as yours can help young people see the opportunities out there. So what if many won’t buy the DVD. So what? You’ll be impacting the world in a positive way by making your film available online. You will add to the zeitgeist and elevate the state of the internet. But as I told you before, I have a feeling you won’t have to worry about all of the people who won’t buy your merchandise, because so many will that it won’t matter. If you don’t like the fact that many of the free videos online at Google Video or YouTube are of a silly and trite nature, why not do something to change it, and in the process change the world and the way business sees the viability of online video as essentially a movie theater to the world audience with virtually no cost of entry for the content producer and everything to gain?

Try it and if it doesn’t work, remove it. It can’t hurt.

As a final thought, as I mentioned on my blog, it's not entirely the fault of the content producer. Google (who also now owns YouTube so when I say Google I also mean YouTube) needs to develop technology that will facilitate this type of experience. I believe that the conversation needs to extend to them, in order for them to see what is going on and in order for them to determine how they can best serve you -- the producer who needs to get paid -- and the audience who needs to know about your amazing work and support you however they can.

I commend you for acknowledging the issue and giving it space for discussion.

waa says

Jan 25, 2008

Interesting. Ever since I first read about the documentary - way before it was released - I wanted to see it. I saw it had been put online yesterday, but only decided to watch it today. I had no idea this wasn't intentional, by the way. And then it was gone. Darn.

So I ended up here, and your comment made me decide I'd buy the dvd. But: here's the catch: it's a region 1, and I'm in Europe... So I guess I have no other option than to grab a torrent and download the movie!

I find this tragic and amusing at the same time. Or do you have another option?

Anonymous says

Jan 25, 2008

Yes Waa, there's another option, you can buy the European DVD from our UK web shop: http://plexi.greedbag.com/ or on Amazon in England or Germany, and it's available in shops all over Europe.

uD says

Jan 25, 2008

Its very upsetting to think that Google Video would not catch a feature length movie being uploaded to their site. I know 1,000s of videos are being uploaded daily but still 80 minutes of video not being looked at as a possible bootleg come on!

I purchased the box set, saw the movie at SXSW and love the film. I think the people who invested not only their time but their money creating this film need to make enough money to at least break even before releasing the video into the wild like someone did on google video.

I do think people need access to documentaries and hopefully in a few years the makers of this fine film will be able to release the film for free or nearly free to a larger viewing audience, be it online or some other method.

For those reading this wondering if the DVD is worth the money I have to say YES IT IS! The bonus footage is great and I want even more!

Hugh Griffiths says

Jan 26, 2008

I think you are correct to try to protect your legitimate rights in your work. The extreme contrast between the numbers watching and the numbers then purchasing show that very clearly. Personally, I have little time for those who use the internet to steal or help others to steal intellectual property.

However, that said, whoever published to Google was not the only one to share it with the mass media.

Just as you were disappointed that your material was out there for free on Google, I too was disappointed that you placed a substantial part of the documentary on free-to-air BBC TV here in the UK before you had despatched the paid-for DVDs. Certainly my own advance purchase of the special edition felt cheapened and undermined by your choice to release much of the content to the mass media before I had been able to see the material I had paid for.

Did others in the UK feel the same, particularly with the delayed despatch of the DVD?

Gary says

Jan 26, 2008

Hugh, thanks for the comment. The BBC issue boils down to the tech problems we had with DVD authoring that forced us to push the DVD release back several weeks. Their broadcast of the much-shortened (only 45 of 80 minutes) version of the film was supposed to be after the DVD hit the streets. Once we had tech trouble and had to push our DVD release date at the last minute, the BBC's broadcast date was set in stone and they wouldn 't delay it. It wasn't our choice.

Raymond says

Jan 27, 2008

Based on the few comments so far, it is interesting to me that people seem to equate or associate a sense of exclusivity to the notion of the DVD or "product", which is clearly representative as one of the stumbling blocks in the paradigm shift, in my opinion...the notion that because I paid $20 for a DVD, I and only those others who paid the $20 should have the right to view it, and if it somehow ever viewed by anyone else for less than what I paid for it, I will feel somehow violated. This is absurd to me.

George Lucas didn't make his billions on the movie, Star Wars. If Star Wars was the product, he was a fool (as are all film makers whose product ends up on the big screen) becasue the movie studios (for the most part) and the movie theater chains (for a lesser part) make all the money, and the creatives (i.e. director, actors, etc.) may get some up front money and some residuals down the line, but that is certainly chump change compared to the masses of wealth that flow into the coffers of the studios.

No, Lucas was successful because he used the movie as an "ad" around which he built a lifestyle through merchandising.

This is the biggest lesson in the last 50 years of film, and it's a marketing lesson. To put so much emphasis on the product as the alpha and omega and not see the bigger picture, to me, is missing the point.

My feeling is that the notion of exclusivity and "elitism" centered around the (false sense) of product ownership from the consumer's point of view is simply a state of perception that can be easily shifted if the emphasis is not on exclusivity of ownership but rather on the added value benefits of purchsing the DVD. Right now, people are associating the DVD with "exclusivity" in terms of "authorized to view" instead of seeing the DVD as "buying into the film (in terms of supporting the creator in his effort) and the additional features and background story not available to others who may not have purchased the DVD". It's all in how you market and position the product, and create an overall strategy by which you build a long term brand and lifestyle around an "idea" (in this case everything about Helvetica and its impact on society and consumer culture) rather than a "DVD"...

Greg Ness says

Jan 27, 2008

Sorry Gary, I posted about the preview this Friday on our blog (plus a correction today):

http://www.sundog.net/index.php/sunblog/entry/helvetica-the-movie/

I didn't realize it was unauthorized. By the way, it is a great film and I did order the DVD. If you would be willing to share, it would be interesting at some point to see follow-up statistics from you on how many DVD sales the unintended exposure created.

mcas says

Jan 27, 2008

I'm generally opposed to intellectual property rights, but an indie film like this deserves to have everyone pay for it for at least the first year... Just my 2 cents.

michelle ward says

Jan 28, 2008

gary - hadn't heard about the leak to google. i own a copy of the dvd and have recommended to everyone i know, and also blogged about it to give it the exposure it deserves. (http://michelleward.typepad.com/michelleward/2008/01/another-double.html) just wanted to comment on that fact that you only heard from two people - sure, you would think you'd have heard from more by now but people are bad about making connections and offering feedback, and might not have known to come here. i'll bet the short-lived exposure led many to amazon, which is where i got my copy at first hearing about the release.

i am sorry about the unauthorized leak. i can imagine you truly felt robbed. here's hoping only good things come from it. (any chance there will be a follow-up with a serif font? *hint*)

thanks again for this very compelling film.

T. Benjamin Larsen says

Jan 29, 2008

Hi there. I actually ordered the film through Amazon today after reading about it on the presentation zen blog. I wholeheartedly agree that it should be up to the artist to decide how a film is released. I do not think though that a low-quality version on youtube would seriously hamper the sales. Let's be honest a documentary about a font is not excactly Titanic in the view of joe-public.

So personally I believe that having it available on youtube could do you wonders, even more so, if there was a brief "DVD available for USD 9.99 at Amazon.com" (or similar) before the film started.

And as for the film being made public after I've ordered one? I don't care at all. I'll get the vastly better quality and extras.

Jon says

Jan 29, 2008

I just ordered the dvd. If I'd seen a low-res version online first I'm sure I wouldn't have ordered it. Although I'd heard about it and have been looking forward to watching it I figured I might as well just buy it. Seeing it first online likely would have "cheapened" it in my view and would have left me feeling that I'd already seen it and moved on with my life.

Simon Robertson says

Jan 30, 2008

I own the normal dvd (i was too slow on getting the special edition...) and love it. I'm a sucker for dvd extras, so even if i had seen it online, i would probably still have bought it for the 95mins of extras! which i love by the way....

cheers - sye :)

shayne says

Feb 02, 2008

I watched the first 20 or so minutes of your film on google video and quickly decided to buy your dvd based on the experience.

For what its worth...I would not have purchased your dvd based on the you tube clips...they were too short and did not convey the films character nearly so well as the first 20 minutes of the actual product did.

Perhaps the middle ground is your best bet...release part of the actual movie and let people get a taste for it...

Worked for me.

Rick says

Feb 03, 2008

I'm sorry to hear that the film on google video was a pirate copy. Their are certainly legitimate documentaries up there & many of the obvious pirate material don't disallow downloads to MP4/AVI as this one did. I hope that you and others will at least consider leveraging the internet for promotion and distribution in the future. I would have paid $5 for a legitimate digital download of equal or better quality to the google video & the online video is the reason that I'm now considering whether or not to buy the DVD.

I first heard about your film through a LaTeX discussion forum & was very interested in seeing it. Unfortunately, I managed to miss screenings of it in both Chicago and in San Francisco. I'm not deeply into the indie film scene & found the screenings poorly advertised & the runs were too short. I heard about the Chicago screening on your website, but was out of town. I since moved to the bay area & found a screening that was not advertised on your website & missed it by only a few days too. There might have been a chance that I'd be able to legally see your film in the future (at another screening, on the BBC (or other broadcasts), or by borrowing it from a library (if they ever acquire your DVD)), but google video did scratch my itch.

I definitely would NOT order the DVD without watching the whole film first, so I hope that it is some consolation that the leak did bring at least one person back to your blog & may win you another purchase.

sciencedude says

Feb 03, 2008

Posted to digg:

http://digg.com/design/Helvetica_Film_Maker_Responds_To_Google_Video_Leak_Piracy

FOGLite says

Feb 11, 2008

I watched the movie from Netflix's direct streaming player, still legit?

Gary says

Feb 11, 2008

Yes, Netflix streaming is legit, we get paid for each view.

Theory says

Feb 12, 2008

Is it possible that the fact Helvetica is Google's typeface of choice has something to do with this little conversation-starter?

P.Pickles says

Feb 16, 2008

FOGLite... I too caught the film via Netflix. I eagerly anticipated catching it after coming across some "teaser" stuff on Veer... this was long before it was released.

Sooo Gary if I watch it over and over again on Netflix do you get paid more? hehehe.

Thanks for making the film! :)

Samantha Armacost says

Feb 21, 2008

I saw the film at a screening last summer in Cleveland at CIA and highly recommend it to everyone that I talk to about films, even non-designers.
As a student, I would love to see it again and experience the extras, but even $20 is a strain on my limited means. With all the chatter about new designers not knowing their history, viewing Helvetica is certainly one way to pique the interest of students. I do not know if this is possible, but perhaps a streaming version or a few of the extras for free that would only be available to users accessing the file from a .edu host. Or perhaps a one time download that expires after a set time.
On behalf of all the students that were exposed to this film, I thank you.

Jason Petersen says

Feb 21, 2008

I am buying the DVD as I type this, but seeing that last sentence on your site gave me pause.

I was with you till that question. I am buying this DVD because I believe it is worth $19. If I did not believe this were so, I would not pay for it. If I wanted to see it for free, I would pirate it and would likely receive a better copy than that on google video.

That something should (in the future) decrease in price (even to the point of being free) does not retroactively influence my current value assessment that it is worth my $19. This line of reasoning should even apply to those who, for instance, bought an iPhone at $600 this summer only to see it drop to $400 a month later: if they didn't deem it worth that price, why did they pay for it?

Please do not bait your commenters with such banal arguments.

Pete says

Feb 21, 2008

I didn't realize it wasn't legit.
so glad I got a chance to see the film though - and after this post of yours I'm going to go out and buy it.
Thanks for making the film guys :) It's so nice to others with "font-love".

Woodrow Phoenix says

Mar 25, 2008

Like your commenter Hugh Griffiths (#5 above), I am in the UK and I pre-ordered the DVD, so was surprised to see it pop up on the BBC before I had received my copy. Unlike him, I didn't care a bit.

After visiting this site last summer and reading about the film, I knew I would want to see it, based on the list of interviewees. I also knew there would be tons of interesting material that would have to be left out. When Gary mentioned there would be another 90 minutes of outtakes on the DVD, it was an instantly guaranteed purchase for me right away. I didn't bother with the screening at the ICA because I was not particularly interested in listening to a debate about the film, and I didn't think I would gain anything from the experience of seeing it on a bigger screen than a 36" TV. I was perfectly content to wait for the DVD with the additional content. That's what I paid my money for and that was what justified my purchase when the DVD actually arrived, plus I can watch the main feature in any order I like and skip the bits that bore me.

So if the film were suddenly available for free, as it was to everyone who saw it - or a significant portion of it - on the BBC, it's irrelevant to me. I expect that one day a few years from now the DVD may become substantially cheaper, but that doesn't really matter to me either. It's worth the money to me to watch what I want to watch now. As long as I feel the content justified the price that I paid for it, there's nothing else to be said. And I think it did that all right. I would have liked to see/hear more from Mike Parker and much less from Michael C Place, for instance... but there you go. I'm sure everyone has their own list.

peterb says

Apr 09, 2008

Gary,

It seems to me that there are two separable issues here, and some of the comments you're getting may be causing you to mix the two.

One issue is "Artists should give their work away for free". A second, separate issue is "Filmmakers should make their works available via digital download, not simply DVD."

No one sensible -- or at least, no one that you care about -- seriously thinks you are obligated to not make a living. But there are some of us out here (and I suspect there are many of us) who would be glad to pay $20 to see your movie, but who have _no interest whatsoever_ in paying $20 for a silly piece of plastic, that we have to wait a week to obtain, and that will clutter up our house and, eventually, get scratched and lost.

In short: I'd buy your movie immediately if it was available on iTunes (or some similar service), but I can't be troubled to purchase a DVD. Perhaps this means I'm a very specific type of fool. Be that as it may, that's how I'm wired. I suspect that today I am in a minority, but I also suspect that I am in a rapidly growing one. It's no shame that you want to make a living as an artist. It's just a shame that you haven't found a way to sell you product to (potential) customers like me in a way that gives immediate gratification to us, while preserving your income stream.

Kind regards.