"The most effective way to make a living from attention paid online is to earn trust, connect a tribe and then sell something that isn't online."
So begins a July 13th, 2012 blogpost by the irreplaceable Seth Godin.
Seth Godin observes that: "It's almost impossible to hold information hostage online." But if you willingly give away valuable content (the examples Seth Godin uses are educational posts from great teachers, but it could be an online version of your film) for free online - where the cost of adding another user is close to nothing - then the size of your potential paying audience will grow.
Filmmakers can learn from the non-film examples Seth Godin sites: "[I]t costs [a teacher] nothing to add one more person to the ever-growing list of those that trust, that pay attention and that gladly give permission to their teacher. The magic comes in because of the inevitable movement of the most motivated students from free to paid. Not because the teacher has to hold anything back to sell out of panic or greed, but because the committed student is happy and eager to pay."
For indie filmmakers the lesson is simple: If you offer great content for free online, and clearly delineate what's free and what can be purchased for a fee, then you can also sell something special that isn't available online.
The key, of course, is having great spreadable content.
You won't succeed as an online filmmaker unless you have content that will spread online if offered for free. As Seth Godin observes, once you have a large audience for your free content, you can monetize that digital attention, getting paid for your exclusive non-online content.