“If you can help it, don’t be a creator. Be the exploiter. They get rich.” That’s the advice of Keith Giffen as told to the New York Times. He’s an artist and author who co-created with Bill Mantlo the Marvel comic character Rocket Raccoon now featured in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” a film that grossed $172 million in its first four days of release. Neither creator was notified that the movie was in production, let alone given a piece of the revenue pie. (And only due to the efforts of fans, his brother and his attorney has Mantlo now received any financial benefit.)
Like comic book artists and writers and a vast majority of my fellow content creators—artists, writers, filmmakers, graphic designers—I often work under contract in work-for-hire arrangements that don’t include residuals for the use of our creations in the future. In the 1970’s, when Giffen and Mantlo created Rocket Raccoon, the only downstream uses for those characters might have been TV or movies. Today, content can appear on dozens of platforms in social media, apps, e-Books, and online videos, to name just a few distribution outlets. And “television” itself has diversified beyond the networks to include Netflix and Hulu to Amazon Prime, alongside myriad cable channels. If you can exploit these distribution channels for content, then yes, there’s a big up-side financially. (And as any investor in a film or book property can tell you, there’s also risk.)
Where I disagree with Giffen is his implicit suggestion that content creators can’t also be the same people who exploit their works. Sure, it’s hard to make such a deal when you’re just getting started. But I know many experienced content creators who’ve developed what I’d call hybrid deals. For example, I work with a composer who is often in a work-for-hire arrangement. For a reduction in fee, we can agree that he may re-work any melodic themes created for my project for one of his future compositions. Depending on the distribution of my show, we might create a “waiting period” before he can do this. So he can exploit his composition more than once, in effect. Another hybrid example is my own content. I develop workshops, then sometimes get paid a fee to teach a customized version of them at conferences or retreats. I then might rework that content again for publication with a royalty arrangement, such as in my recent course on The Art of the Video Interview for Lynda.com. I am essentially exploiting my own original content for multiple distribution platforms and audiences.
In a multi-platform, multi-media world, we content producers have to become more saavy about exploiting the value of our own creations, talking Raccoons and beyond.
Some of Amy’s work-for-hire and original content can be seen on Vimeo.