Long time readers of the blog will be delighted to hear that I have a new obsession. So instead of just hearing about how awesome the Emperor’s Edge books by Lindsay Buroker are, or why you should all drop everything and read Dorothy Sayers, you’ll also get to hear me talk about how much I love JourneyQuest, a fantasy comedy webseries free to watch on YouTube. It’s very unusual for me to find a tv show that resonates so thoroughly with me, but this one manages it. It’s absolutely hilarious. The characters are so interesting, you could just put them in a room for three hours and watch them interact and it’d STILL be worth watching. I recognize that it’s not for everyone – the language is definitely on the “creatively profane” side of things (strongly on that side of things), but for fantasy nerds who don’t mind that part, it’s pure gold.
JourneyQuest features an incompetent, cowardly wizard; a completely thick and reality-oblivious knight; an intelligent orc; a free-spirited bard constantly in trouble for breaking the rules; an elf who’s pretty much fed up with everyone; a priest who was accidentally-sort-of-turned-into-a-zombie (oops); and a barbarian king who’s forcing his heathen ways on his people (free education for everyone!). It’s mostly lighthearted poking fun at fantasy, though the zombie priest character’s story is (somewhat surprisingly) very emotionally compelling. He’s lost everything, and is still clinging to belief in his god’s mercy and forgiveness, in the face of rejection and temptation. They manage to balance the generally light tone while clearly showing his inner despair excellently.
The production values are surprisingly high for a budget internet show, and the world that’s been created is rich and multi-faceted. There’s action, romance, suspense, and long conversations about Orcish grammar in the midst of a fight. What else could you ask for? Watch it for free here.
Both JourneyQuest and The Gamers films (also great) are distributed by Zombie Orpheus Entertainment. As a crazed fan, I’m avidly watching to see when they’ll get the next season of JQ out. As an erstwhile economist, I’m avidly watching to see if their pricing/distribution model is going to work. This is an independent film company, and in the past they seem to have mostly funded their products through KickStarter (A program where you can donate in tiered levels to get varying rewards – e.g. when fully funded and created, your $10 donation gets you a digital download, $25 gets you a dvd, $1500 gets you a cameo in the film, etc.).
They’re currently running “Phase II” wherein they’re trying to move to a subscription model. Fans are asked to pay $10 a month, and the reward system is based on the total number of subscribers, not your contribution. I should note again that, by intention, all of their major productions are free to watch on the internet. This is somewhat similar to paying for a Netflix subscription, even if Netflix were offering all their films online for free.
I had a very long and boring article detailing why I think this won’t work, which I scrapped because it was, well, long and boring. It was fun to put on my Economist hat for a while and use terms like product differentiation, price discrimination, etc., but here’s the bottom line: they’ve set up a pricing system that caters to one rigid fan type – their model assumes all fans are interested in the same rewards, and willing to pay no more and no less than $10 a month for those rewards. This is a problem for fans who aren’t interested in these rewards in exchange for $120 a year, and also a problem because they’re not capturing fans who would be interested in spending more money, or who would be interested in spending $120 a year, but on different rewards/products, or even fans who would be willing to pay $60 a year.
The Kickstarter model as described above works well because it helps differentiate between these fans, and everyone is able to choose at what level to contribute, and in exchange for what.
If ZOE were to ask me (hah!) for some suggestions on increasing revenue without using Kickstarter, I’d suggest a) streamlining their website so you can find what you’re looking for more easily (content is spread out across several different websites, including some broken links) – i.e. make it easy to find things to purchase, and b) have more things to purchase.
Businesses make money by selling solutions to problems or products people want, not by giving away all their content. I do recognize some of the reasons they want to give content away, and I think it’s great. However, I think they should ALSO sell it to the people who would be interested in buying it. There’s no reason not to. Selling digital downloads of all of their content would be an easy step, and people who are tired of navigating episodes on YouTube (plus having to watch the intro/outros for every 10 minute episode) will happily spend $10 bucks to have it in one easy to watch format that can be transferred to their phones, tablets, ipods, whatever. As for myself, I couldn’t find digital versions of everything I wanted on their website (broken link for JourneyQuest, though I did buy The Gamers: Hands of Fate) so I bought the dvds of the first two seasons of JQ, and was happy to do so.
They’ve shunned ads and sponsors in order to keep their artistic integrity and maintain control over their products. That’s very noble, but I think there might be some level of ads/sponsorships that would have been acceptable and could have been a decent source of funding.
Also, I was shocked that there’s not more merchandise – they have some, but not much. It’s super easy to set up a CafePress or Zazzle store (I did find one of theirs that had some posters in it). These stores handle all the distribution, customer support, etc. and all you really need is some ideas and a basic ability to use photo-editing software. The hard part is the ideas, but they already have a ton of easily translatable ideas. I for one am generally not a t-shirt person, but I would love a “Bravery favors the Brave” t-shirt. It’s a line from an episode (and I think it’s the title as well). Or an “Onward!” shirt. Or maybe “Team Rilk”. That plus a JourneyQuest logo somewhere on it would provide revenue and more word of mouth advertising (word of t-shirt?). Nerds love nerdy t-shirts (see for example ThinkGeek – I buy a lot of Christmas/birthday presents on there), and the more obscure the better. It’s an easy win. It wouldn’t be a huge stream of money – the percentage royalties the stores give you aren’t huge, but if you couple it with an affiliate link it’s nothing to sneeze at, and once you have the ideas the amount of work to put it up once and then do nothing else is pretty small. I’ve been surprised that I’m able to cover the costs of running my site with the revenue from my CafePress store (/shameless plug). They could even let fans design t-shirts.
So anyways, I don’t think that the ZOE “Phase II” will be successful long term, but I hope I’m wrong, or at least that they’re able to find some way to fund JQ Season Three. Like yesterday. I can’t wait!
Do you watch shows on YouTube? What webseries are your favorites?
P.S. Guys, if you’re reading this, please can you make a “bravery” t-shirt? I will totally buy it. Here’s an idea:
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