Escaping the background noise: Sex and Imagining remains in Amazon’s top 40

By dan on March 28, 2012 in News, Video
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JP Allen‘s film “Sex and Imagining” has now been in the top 40 for Amazon’s drama category for many months. You can see in the image here that, at the time of writing, it is nestled just below Vertigo and above Zodiac and The Big Lebowski.

With his last film, Centaur, just finishing its theatrical run and production scheduled to start on his next film, Love and Demons, does JP Allen expect similar interest in future projects made available through Amazon’s instant video services?

“I don’t really have any pre-defined expectations,” explained JP Allen, “because Sex and Imagining’s popularity isn’t due to any contrived publicity campaign. It grew organically after a number of local [San Francisco] articles were published, and friends of the project let their networks know what was going on. I have to believe that the title and cover art were contributing factors, as is the low pricing … ”

“Sex and Imagining’s popularity isn’t due to any contrived publicity campaign. It grew organically after a number of local [San Francisco] articles were published, and friends of the project let their networks know what was going on.” – JP Allen

Though I’m sure all these factors came into play with this film, it is interesting to me for many reasons; For one thing, much of what he said applies to many of JP Allen’s films. So why do these titles not get the same visibility or purchases? Many online theories state that his other films would be significantly benefiting by their associating with their successful brethren, which is clearly not the case here.

So here is the working theory: The perfect storm of interest generated about Sex and Imagining, around the time of its release through Amazon, was enough to push it up through the dense slurry of “other” titles on Amazon. Moving from being a title that, for all intents and purposes, was invisible to Amazon site visitors – like all those amazing, but obscure, films old-school video stores had tucked away on the “back shelves” or “under the counter”, where you had to know what to ask for and/or where to look for it. It then moved right on through the “regular” shelves, to the “featured” section, where it now sits looking at you, challenging you to say why you wouldn’t want to watch it.

Another way of looking at this same phenomenon is that Sex and Imaging went from being a title you had to actively search for to one that is presented to you when you browse Amazon; Looking for a potential dama to watch? It’s on the top couple of pages Amazon shows you. Renting another title? If Amazon thinks there’s a relationship between what you’re doing and what other people did that led to a rental/sale of Sex and Imagining, they’ll suggest that you should buy it as well with a tag line like: “other people who bought this thing also bought this other thing”.

And it looks like being on such featured list or leader-board is a very powerful feadback loop.

JP Allen is right to be modest. Irrespective of the exact mechanisms at play, we can be sure that JP Allen’s Coffee and Language Productions did not invest the same millions in marketing dollars that almost all the other titles in this top 40 list enjoyed. So other indie titles can and will do the same, for now.

This is a new status quo, and one that I fear the Hollywood machine will eventually figure out they can manipulate to their favor in much the same way as they do currently in the remaining brick-and-mortar stores; Pay big money to the stores to minimize the visibility of real consumer metrics (most popular, actual latest releases, etc.), for manufactured visibility with paid “featured titles”, “new releases”, and “employee recommendations”. My prediction would be that as long as this is an evolving market, vendors see a lot of benefit in genuine user engagement. As we see vendors move from this consumer-centric stance to one of pure profit motive – typically as markets get saturated, stagnate, or vendors change focus due to leadership changes – the easy money offerred by “pay to display” marketing could quickly bring an end to the level playing field.

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