Why GET LAMP is not on Netflix (or iTunes)

Posted: September 25th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: production | 12 Comments »

As GET LAMP spreads around the internet and attracts various waves of interest, a number of similar comments tend to appear under the stories, assuming the stories allow comments.  Many of these are the hypothetical assumptions made by people who have not seen the actual product speculating on the quality, worthiness and content of the product. I don’t see much reason to address these, because my response is, essentially, the product.

However, another very specific line of comments (and there’ve been e-mails too) are along the lines of “I am waiting for it to be on Netflix” or “Why is it not on Netflix”.

To be clear: I have no plans for the film to be on Netflix or iTunes, at least not for the foreseeable future. For some, that’s the end of the conversation, making them file out the door. But for the greater good, let me explain the thinking.

First, it’s best to delineate iTunes and Netflix.

iTunes is more of what you would call a digital download store, where you connect a client to a service (that is rather easy to use) and pay money to get the ability to watch or listen to media. My reasons for not being on iTunes at the moment is that it’s rather an unpleasant experience as an independent filmmaker to get onto iTunes, and it involves signing away a lot of things I don’t like to sign away. It is not possible for individuals to pay some fee or otherwise do “stuff” and find themselves on iTunes, selling their media, and get a check in the mail or a deposit in a bank account.

To get most anything onto a “standard” broadcasting or download service requires E&O insurance, where you pay thousands of dollars in case it turns out that Steve Meretzky was referred to as a poodle or you claim that lamp oil is safe to drink or whatever.  That’s money right out the door. But also, you need to go through a distributor. iTunes won’t work with individuals, like I said; you need to have a distributor. And I don’t like distributors.  More on that later, I’m sure, but let’s shorthand it by saying that there’s very little a distributor would do for me for the amount of money they would take out of sales to do it. So iTunes is out.

Netflix is a whole other animal.

Netflix is a rental store, essentially, renting you DVDs. Don’t confuse the streaming aspect of it as being something other than an extension of the rental – the contract Netflix has with companies that agree to do streaming is that they essentially have real DVDs somewhere, or have paid for instances of the DVDs to exist, and when you watch the DVD, you are holding a “slot” in some bank of machines representing those paid-for instances or DVDs.

Rental stores are not a filmmaker’s little buddy, on the financial side. They buy one copy and give it to many, many people. The same situation exists with libraries, of course, but there seems to be less confusion about the nature of libraries – nobody thinks the filmmaker is making bank off the copies libraries buy, but instead realize these are situations where the libraries themselves are providing access to their membership. Well, the same situation exists with Netflix, except replace “membership” with “customers” and “access” with “sales”.

Netflix has a form where you can request copies of a movie be available. If you want to do that, go ahead – if Netflix contacts me and wants X amounts of copies of GET LAMP I will sell them to them. I don’t think they’ll do it, but go ahead and do it, you have my full support in doing so.

Recently, Netflix put up an option to allow filmmakers to directly submit films to Netflix. But the fact is, that’s not what’s going on – in fact, they’re taking names and then submitting the incoming forms to a distributor, and as I said, I don’t want to work with distributors. I did 99% of the work on the film and I don’t feel like paying someone upwards of 50% to do the final 1% of work. (That’s just my thing, but probably not a surprise if you’ve been watching this weblog and production.)

I realize some people want the ability to download the movie and eschew the whole “package” thing, and I will probably create a high-definition downloadable version of the main feature in the future (and as per the upgrade guarantee, my current customers will not pay a dime for this digital download version). But as it stands, I much prefer the DVD version, with its multiple audio tracks, the roughly 30 features (including a half-dozen self-contained documentaries of various lengths), the subtitles and the DVD-ROM section.

So there we go. I’m always willing to talk about it, but that’s what’s going on on this side. People are ordering the movie quite a lot at the moment (and I thank all of you) and the Creative Commons license means that you can certainly share the movie with your friends (so go ahead and everyone go in on buying a copy and sharing it), but I’m not seeing a Netflix streaming version coming soon.

And there you go.

12 Comments on “Why GET LAMP is not on Netflix (or iTunes)”

  1. 1 Michael said at 7:28 am on October 1st, 2010:

    Thanks for taking the time to explain that. It’s very interesting. Even as an outsider I’ve known that some parts of the process take a huge cut for relatively little value add, but I didn’t know exactly how bad it was. And it’s great to see someone offering an upgrade guarantee as well!

  2. 2 Ian Scott said at 7:47 am on October 1st, 2010:

    Looks like Netflix doesn’t even have the Title Request form any more. That, or they’ve hidden it quite well.

  3. 3 Jason Scott said at 8:04 am on October 1st, 2010:

    You have to call and request.

  4. 4 Alan De Smet said at 8:28 am on October 1st, 2010:

    I’ve noticed that streaming videos on Netflix expire. The easiest way to see this is to look up a random movie on instantwatcher and look for the “Available From” and “Until” entries. Indeed, I’ve seen films disappear when the Until date passed. This suggests that whatever the streaming agreement is, it isn’t a one-time payment for “virtual” copies of the film that lasts forever. That’s not to say that the payment is in line with the lost direct sales, but it might be worth considering in a year or two when sales flatten off.

  5. 5 Greg Maletic said at 9:22 am on October 1st, 2010:

    I say from personal experience that getting my film “TILT” up on Netflix and iTunes was an immensely time-consuming and expensive experience. I am happy they’re there (though Netflix, perversely, won’t actually rent the film to anyone…long story), but I can appreciate not wanting to go through that.

  6. 6 Jason Scott said at 9:26 am on October 1st, 2010:

    Alan: Those sorts of situations occur with very large companies being pursued by Netflix for special deals to ensure high-profile movies get onto Netflix’s queues earlier and under circumstances favorable to the companies. I am in no such position, so it wouldn’t actually work this way.

    But you do touch on one aspect that I think people don’t understand or don’t really consider: Netflix Streaming is the bargain bin, the cutout rack at the supermarket. You put stuff on Netflix Streaming because you’ve squeezed all the juice out of it (assuming you’ve negotiated some deal with them), not because you think it’s the first-line awesomeness.

    As for sales flattening off, BBS Documentary is still selling at a good clip, over 4 years after premiere.

  7. 7 Sean said at 11:08 am on October 1st, 2010:

    This makes a lot of sense Jason. Thank you for explaining the nightmare that is iTunes and NetFlix for Independent Filmmakers.

    I completely support your work. I purchased BBS The Documentary many years ago and recently picked up Get Lamp at one of your screenings, which brings me to a question…

    You mention your upgrade guarantee, which is totally awesome, but what if someone purchased your DVD at a Get Lamp screening? Do we lose out on the upgrade guarantee? or do we need to purchase another copy via your online method?

    Of course purchasing another copy isn’t a bad thing, but for those who don’t have the means or extra cash to spend.


  8. 8 Jason Scott said at 11:51 am on October 1st, 2010:

    If you bought one in person, I’ll need a mailed photo of you and your coin. Take two, one with you and coin and one of just the coin with your number. :)

  9. 9 Sean said at 12:03 pm on October 1st, 2010:

    @Jason: Cool. Thanks for the in-person upgrade guarantee.

    Just imagine posting all the pictures of everyone who purchase your Get Lamp DVD with coin. That will be one amazing image gallery for sure.

  10. 10 JayP said at 7:31 pm on October 9th, 2010:

    @ Greg
    Thanks for the effort. Your movie is at the top of my Netflix list. Well, under “Diarys of a Wimpy Kid”.

    Priorities as a dad.

  11. 11 Alex said at 2:18 pm on October 14th, 2010:

    Thx for sharing theses insights.

    I enjoyed the DVD very much and found it a good source to experience the vibe of IF – as I’m quite new to this game genre it helped me understand to a certain degree. Moreover, I used your DVD as a source for my Bachelor Thesis about Text-Adventures.

    Like the upgrade guarantee.

    Kind regards from Germany!

    – Alex

  12. 12 CaryMG said at 3:27 pm on February 19th, 2011:

    iTunes — screw NETFLIX — is all the lesser by not having “Get Lamp” available for rental & purchase, as it’d do *gangbusters* business.

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