godfrey-great godfrey-great

Animated Shorts: Sell or Give Away for Free?

Watch the Birdie

Last year I wrote about how the family of British animation legend Bob Godfrey was uploading his films to YouTube. Now they’ve removed the films and are selling them on demand at Godfrey’s official website. A handful of his films are currently available including Do It Yourself Cartoon Kit, Henry 9 ’til 5, Instant Sex, and the super-rare Watch the Birdie. Films cost around a buck, but purchasers can only view the films and do not receive a permanent digital copy.

Godfrey’s family explains the reasons for switching from free YouTube videos to pay-per-view: “The answer is very simple. Digitising the videos, cleaning-up the soundtrack and picture and encoding for the web and then hosting the videos all costs money. Unfortunately the ad-funded videos on YouTube only generated £11 in 9 months, nowhere near enough.”

Some thoughts and questions:

1. Should the public be expected to pay for animated shorts today that were available to view for free when they first debuted fifty years ago?

2. Isn’t there more value to keeping Bob Godfrey’s name relevant on major sites like YouTube than the few extra bucks that could be earned by hiding his work behind a paywall? On the Internet, indie filmmakers can compete with the big boys, but hiding one’s films isn’t a competitive plan when studios like the National Film Board of Canada give away their shorts for free through mobile apps and websites.

3. What are other ways that a classic filmmaker could earn money from shorts? Why not make them available in the highest quality possible on an ad-free site like Vimeo, and then sell original art from the shorts? Or how about a Bob Godfrey iPad app with his films as well as interviews, photos and supplementary materials — the contemporary version of a coffeetable book.

Historically, shorts have never been an easy way for filmmakers to earn money, and filmmakers who make a living from shorts hardly represent the majority. In the case of a still-living animation legend like Godfrey, cementing his legacy within the pantheon of animation greats would be a more effective plan in the long run than attempting to exploit his work for nickels and dimes.