This article is about how the queer community monetizes content creation. Specifically, it makes the argument that direct private investment may be a viable solution to the hurdle of initial funding. And at its end, this article offers free money to web series creators to test that theory. Read on to find out more!
Around the world, the LGBT community operates on a shoestring budget. This is especially true when it comes to queer visual content such as web series. Although the queer community is perpetually hungry for more representation, the community as a whole struggles to effectively raise funds to make that happen. Creating visual content is inherently difficult. The process of writing a script, planning for pre-production (creating a storyboard/shot lists, location scouting, location permitting), logistics (shooting schedule, etc.), casting, costuming, rehearsals, filming, and post-production is complicated and time-consuming. Many content creators never make it past script writing, however, because they are immediately confronted by the financial hurdle of finding a way to fund their project.
Creating Content Takes Money
The cost to create a web series varies dramatically, from a few hundred dollars up to a hundred thousand or more. Based on a brief survey, the cost of a first season filmed in the US seems to settle somewhere around $10,000 for a solid, mid-grade production. In the Third World, the cost is lower—a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. The costs of creating visual content can include equipment rental or purchase, transportation, props, post-production, festival applications, catering, salaries for cast and crew, and marketing, although the exact amount of these costs will vary with the budget of the production. On the plus side, although budget is correlated to the quality of a web series, it’s not always directly related to popularity. Some of the most popular lesbian web series were made for peanuts, proving that even small budgets can return big audiences. But regardless of the budget, the budget is never zero. Web series cost money.
Fundraising and the Mirage of Crowdfunding
For many content creators, the primary obstacle to getting their project off the ground is money. Many web series, at least in their initial season, are self-funded by their creators. While most attempt to leverage crowdfunding to support their projects—either at the start or for follow-on seasons— crowdfunding is more miss than hit. According to statistics from Fundera, the average amount raised by a crowdfunding project is $824. Only 22.4% of crowdfunding campaigns reach their funding goals. This is bad news for most LGBT web series.
According to the creator of one popular lesbian web series, crowdfunding is only feasible when a project already has an established fan base (the crowdfunding of the “Carmilla” movie is an excellent example of this). But even then, the odds of a web series reaching its full funding goal are 50-50 at best. A quick search of Indiegogo shows that the web series “Kiss Her I’m Famous” hit only 39% of its funding goal for season two, “Queering” hit only 41% for season two, and “Nikki & Nora” hit only 53% for season two. Even the initial funding for “Different for Girls,” with its star-studded cast, reached only 25% of its funding goal on Indiegogo. The truth is, successful crowdfunding campaigns are an exception when it comes to leveraging the LGBT community, not the rule.
Direct Private Investment as a Solution
If crowdfunding is unreliable and self-financing a painful burden at best, an insurmountable obstacle at worst, where does that leave content creators? For years and in various channels, I’ve argued for the creation of a private equity group composed of investors dedicated to supporting LGBT projects. These “Angel Investors” would back lesbian movies and web series, providing them with the seed money to get their creative visions off the ground while offering business advice to help make the project profitable. The lesbian community has plenty of well-to-do members who are willing to throw money at crowdfunding projects—why not harness that philanthropic bent and see if the funding model that currently exists within the community can be changed? Instead of creators having to rely on the generosity of strangers around the internet for each and every project, can we create a sustainable model that incentivizes members of the community to invest in queer projects in a structured way?
There is precedent for this type of investment model. To make “The World Unseen,” for example, Enlightenment Productions raised funds from a few private investors. A few other independent production companies also quietly use direct private investors. The question is how to take these one-offs and turn them into a more institutionalized process—if such a thing is possible.
Ten investors each give $1,000 for a lesbian web series, for a total of $10,000 to fund an initial season. The web series returns $30,000. Each investor has now doubled her money, and the creator has made $10,000 to make a new web series or a second season of the current series. If the investors choose to re-invest their money in a new web series, the community now has turned one web series into three with no crowdfunding needed. And if the investors want to keep their money, they’ve done ten times better than they would have in the stock market. It’s a win for everyone.
Is $30,000 in profit realistic? Yes and no. “The Other Love Story,” an Indian web series, has had 59,154,627 YouTube views. With the average YouTube pay rate between $0.01 and $0.03 per ad view, videos make around $3-$5 per 1,000 views. This means that as of April 2021, “The Other Love Story” has likely made between $177,463.881 and $295,773.135. While this series is an outlier, it shows the potential that can lie in investing in a lesbian web series. And that’s only looking at YouTube ad revenue. Video on Demand/TV on Demand through a streaming service like LesFlicks offers a much higher rate of return. Perhaps with the right business plan and marketing, $30,000 is an attainable number.
Of course, some web series receive only a few hundred or thousand views. As any Angel Investor knows, high profit margins exist to offset the high risk. More projects fail than succeed. But for investors who would otherwise have given away their money for free through crowdfunding, at least by structuring the donation as an investment, there is the possibility of seeing a return that can then be used to fund future projects.
I, personally, believe that through direct private investment we can begin to change how content is created and take some of the financial anxiety out of the process for creators, letting them focus on their vision instead of worrying about costs. I believe it so much, in fact, that I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is. So here’s the pitch: I’ll fully fund one or more quality web series to test my direct investment theory. Let’s see if we can make a profitable web series together and prove it can be done. Here’s what I’m looking for:
- A well-thought-out web series plan that includes a script, an identified director, budget and a plan for shooting locations, casting, and post-production. Basically, the web series is ready to film, all it needs is the cash to make it happen.
- A love story that will speak to the global queer female audience. A happy ending is a must.
- Preference given to submissions from Latin America, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. The world needs more stories from traditionally marginalized areas.
This article was written by:
Karen is an armchair pop culture pundit and blogger who has written hundreds of articles for AfterEllen, WhatAboutDat, and several other LGBT blogs. She is also a writer whose fourth novel for Ylva Publishing will be released in April 2021.