The New Producers Part 1 - Who is making paying content for free?

Video equipment is cheap, and access to eyeballs has never been easier. But getting a sustainable return on the effort and cost of creating content is one big problem that has been killing traditional publishers. So, who is making free content that people will pay for, how do you actually monetise that content, and how do you create free content that people will pay you to make? This three part article looks at these questions.

Part 1 - Who is making paying content for free?
Part 2 - How do you monetise free content?
Part 3 - 8 things you need to know to create free content that people pay you to make!

A while ago, video was mainly the domain of the pro. And getting seen by a wide audience was next to impossible for amateurs. But now, traditional gatekeepers are losing their grip as prices for kit plummet. So, who is making free content that actually earns cash repeatably and reliably?

A new wave of documentary is being made sustainable by social funding and free distribution to the consumer. For generations, media production has been the prerogative of gatekeepers such as TV and film studios. High price middle men have been controlling what we see, who makes it, and who makes most out of it. But this is all changing.

There are plenty of examples of projects successfully generating income with online media. From self-protection, through fishing to investment advice, there are people funding their film making. I am going to base these three articles around something that is close to my heart - enjoying one of the last freedoms. Sailing the world as a digital nomad and being able to sustain the lifestyle is very satisfactory. I am keeping a close eye on emerging methods of creating value. Then we’ll look  at how to make use of them and then I’ll explore methods of actually earning an income from creating content.

But first, an observation on the last thirty years or so: Computers have been insinuated into almost all industries. The product, or at least a part of it, has become digitalised. I am being quite specific in my use of the word “digitalise”. Here it means to convert to digital part or all of the product and the process of making of something. And after a process becomes digital then a chain of inevitable changes disrupt things forever. The industry, or part of it, first becomes decentralised and then networked. In the last thirty years this has happened to graphics, photography, personal assistants and even estate agency, to name just a few. These were frequently centralised departments within corporations but now are bought-in services. Everything is getting Ubered.

Whilst some skilled jobs are increasingly done by machines, many of us are marking time, trapped by debt; credit cards, bank loans, and mortgages. We’re told we’re better off, but it comes at a cost. You get stuck, held fast by commitments to others. Escaping the rut becomes highly aspirational - but we know that it's only a dream, of course it is. After all, money is the oxygen of the 21st century. So when we see others who have cashed in, jumped off, and are enjoying a life of apparent freedom, then we are as intrigued as we are attracted. And so an audience now exists for something that breaks free from the machine.

How might this breaking free look? These three articles are a case study of an approach taken not by just one or two individuals, but by an increasing number of people. I make no apology for the example, as I said, this is where my own aspirations are leading me.

So let me tell a story, it goes something like this: A few years ago, in Australia, a young millennial dreamed of sailing around the world on his own boat. He worked hard and saved diligently for a number of years until he built up enough capital to buy a suitable yacht.

Discovering that second hand prices were lower in Europe than those at home, he found and bought a yacht in Italy. Pretty soon he fitted her out ready for the big voyages he had in mind. And then, wisely, he set about learning how to sail her.

Meanwhile, in Western Australia, a young girl had finished school. She had decided not to go straight to University and instead spent time harvesting grain. She then went backpacking around Europe, lived in a van in Australia, and dive mastering in both Greece and at home. An engaging and creative girl, she was offered work performing music in Greece. And after a while, Riley and she met. To cut to the chase, they threw their lot in with each other and set off together. But sailing a yacht around the world is not cheap. Evidence of this is to be found in many exotic and otherwise locations, where failed dreams are laid up ashore for sale or to rot.

Riley and Elayna sailed around the Mediterranean, increasing their skills and confidence; then she discovered a camera onboard that could also shoot video. They began to make films and upload them to YouTube - you can see the history of this on their channel. 

An attractive and engaging couple, they soon built up a loyal following made happy by seeing the world through their eyes. If you are stuck as a wage slave then this is a compelling vicarious escape. Fast forward 3 or 4 years and something extraordinary has happened. They have sailed across the Atlantic ocean, around the Caribbean, through the Panama Canal and then on to the Galapagos archipelago. From there they sailed to exotic Pacific islands, made lots of increasingly good films, and eventually wound up in New Zealand. This is where they put their boat, La Vagabonde, up for sale. You can find it all on YouTube.

Selling their yacht was not the extraordinary thing, nor was it due to things going wrong. Quite the reverse, things went very well for them. Their following on YouTube now numbers over 320,000. Quite a few of these are contributing, via a crowdfunding site, to every movie they make. The income from this and other sources has made it possible for them to buy a brand new catamaran, which they are currently commissioning whilst cruising the Mediterranean. They continue to document their travelling lifestyle in films that are improving all the time. Significantly, they are competing for eyeballs more used to TV than YT, and in part 2 we’ll see how they succeeded and what it could mean.

The interesting thing is that this phenomenon is not that uncommon, nor restricted to yachts. It seems that as long as the content meets a few basic requirements for audience engagement, high production value is not needed. But a sense of story and telling really is. 

If you care to see some other world cruisers I am slowly developing a Paper.Li called Global Liveaboard Voyaging. It aggregates video, blog, Twitter and other feeds to make a daily publication about the salty nomads who I find quite compelling. In the interests of transparency I am also making my main research document available. You’ll find lots of useful and related information there. Please feel free to add comments and let me know what I have missed. In part 2 we’ll look at some of the ways in which content can be monetised.


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