Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

How to Make Money With Web Video: Books and DVDs

old jews telling jokesEricĀ  Spiegelman has a Web video hit on his hands. “Old Jews Telling Jokes,” a series of short clips featuring exactly what the name suggests, is popular, viral and cheap to make.

Alas, it’s not profitable. Spiegelman says he spends considerably less than $1,000 for each one-minute episode, and the 50 episodes he’s made so far have generated some four million views since February. But advertising for the series, sold via Web video distributor, doesn’t cover his costs.

Spiegelman is pretty sanguine about this, but I find it a bit frustrating. We’re several years into the Web video era–almost three years after Google (GOOG) bought YouTube–and this is the kind of stuff that should work by now. It’s original, ad-friendly, and made on a shoestring budget. If that can’t work, what will?

In any case, Spiegelman can afford to wait a bit for things to right themselves. His company, Jetpack Media, is a unit of indie movie studio Greenstreet Films, so he has a bit of a cushion while he figures out how to crack the code.

And in the meantime, he’s hedging his bets by using his Web series as a way to get back into old media, where you can actually get paid for stuff you make, in advance.

Spiegelman has repackaged the first season of his clips into DVD form, which will be sold by First Run Features (you can pre-order the first disc for $19.95).

Next up: A book deal with Bertelsmann’s Random House, via its Villard imprint, with photos from Gawker contributor Nikola Tamindzic (anyone who follows the blog-to-book minimarket will not be surprised to learn that ICM agent Kate Lee brokered the deal).

And Spiegelman can imagine other ancillary products down the line. Perhaps an audio show based on jokes that people submit via a hotline. Use your imagination. Which I guess is what you have to do if you want to make a living making Web video in 2009.

Oh, the videos themselves? They’re a lot of fun. You may have heard of a few of the joke-tellers–former New York City Mayor Ed Koch is a contributor/performer, as is real estate mogul Harry Macklowe–but the rest are fairly anonymous types who have a way with a story and a punch line. Below, a quick interview I taped with Spiegelman last week, and below that, a few of the joke-tellers themselves (Warning! These feature a couple of judiciously chosen curses).