Five Questions for Scott Kirsner

by mattdentler
March 25, 2009 12:23 PM
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Scott Kirsner is an acclaimed and popular blogger, author, reporter, and speaker. Through his platforms such as CinemaTech, Scott has done a lot of information sharing to the masses when it comes to the always-overlapping worlds of content creation and new media. I've been lucky to have Scott moderate a few panels I was sitting on, most recently at SXSW last week. With a new book available on March 31, called Fans, Friends & Followers: Building an Audience and a Creative Career in the Digital Age, I wanted to ask Scott a few questions about this latest release. Scott's writing and speaking always intersect with my interests in the digital space, so I can't wait to check out the book. Here's our (what else?) e-mail interview:


Me: When did you decide this book should be written?

Scott Kirsner: Two things happened. I was at SXSW in 2008, and noticed how most of the musicians and filmmakers there had figured out how to make work inexpensively and get it out there. But it seemed like breaking through the clutter was the new problem that was emerging -- that, and getting people to pay for your stuff. The other thing that happened is that Independent Television Service (ITVS) asked me to interview a set of filmmakers who were thinking about new approaches to marketing and distribution, and write some case studies about what was working and what wasn't.

So those two things got me thinking about what I call the paradox of the era of digital creativity. It has never been easier to make movies (or music, or art, or books) and get them distributed globally. And it has never been harder to snare the attention of an individual audience member and get them to somehow cough up money for your work.

Me: What was one of the most surprising, if not shocking, revelations you made during your research or interviews?

Scott Kirsner: I'm an "old media" guy by background. I've written for a lot of print publications like Variety, The Boston Globe, The Hollywood Reporter, and Wired. But almost universally, people told me that getting coverage in a newspaper or magazine, or even on TV or radio, doesn't really move the needle in terms of sales of a DVD, for example. What really helps is online coverage from blogs and other sites where they are willing to link directly to Amazon, or another place where people can sample and buy the work. The tide has totally turned, in terms of what actually sells product, and yet most PR people and filmmakers still spend a lot of time trying to get that "old media" coverage.

Me: It probably wasn't hard to get audience-builders to chat with you on the record, but were there any big fish that turned you down?

Scott Kirsner: I was mostly focused on "small fish" -- people who are pretty accessible, and have used interesting digital strategies to build up a fan base. I did approach Radiohead unsuccessfully, though, for an interview -- to talk about how well their "pay what you want" pricing strategy really worked, and how they've built their fan base with and without the help of record labels.

Me: Tell me more about the variety of ways people can find and read the book?

Scott Kirsner: It's on Amazon and CreateSpace. It's available as an e-book through my site (http://www.scottkirsner.com/fff) ... I used a great service for selling digital goods called E-Junkie, which the documentary filmmaker Hunter Weeks introduced me to. And I may offer a Kindle version if it seems like there's enough demand.

Me: How does an author build an audience of fans, friends, and followers in today's digital age?

Scott Kirsner: Having a blog as a home base is a big help. I actually started my blog, CinemaTech, in May 2005 as I was researching my previous book, Inventing the Movies. So I've gathered, over time, hundreds or thousands of people who follow that via RSS or subscribe via e-mail. I'll definitely use that as a platform to promote the book. And then I'm trying to adhere to some of Chris Anderson's ideas about seeding the Internet with free stuff. So there's a lengthy excerpt of the book available on my site, and I'm making individual bits and pieces available to various blogs and Web sites. I've also collected people's e-mails at panel discussions and film festivals recently, offering to send them various chunks of content from the book (and a reminder about it once it's on sale.)

Basically, I'm trying to implement as many of the ideas as I possibly can that I gathered while interviewing 40+ filmmakers, musicians, writers, artists, and comedians for the book. But I've also realized that thinking about audience-building is a big job... something most of my interviewees warned me about!

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