Outside the Frame: Results: Documentary Website Cost Survey

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Amanda HirschFreelance writer Amanda Hirsch, former editorial director of PBS Interactive, blogs about documentaries and the Web in her column, Outside the Frame.

This is part 3 of my series on producing great documentary websites. Read part one and part two.

The results are in! 24 filmmakers responded to our survey, “How Much Does It Cost to Produce a Documentary Website.” Here’s what we learned:

Dollars and Cents

A third of you either produced your last site yourself, or got a friend to do it for free. A quarter of you spent somewhere in the $1,000-5,000 range. (At the other end of the spectrum, one of you spent $100,000.)

Website survey results for cost of a documentary website

All but one of you felt that people were the most expensive part of the site production process — either hiring a good design firm or new media strategist, or the cost of your own time.

Half of you expect to spend more on your next site, and around 40 percent of you plan to spend about the same amount. Only three of you intend to spend less.


Site Scope

Over 60 percent of you identified film promotion as the main reason for creating your sites (versus, say, issue advocacy or DVD sales), and most of you described your site as small and simple, or medium-sized — only two claimed to have produced sites that were “big and ambitious.” This modesty of scope gels with the generally low budgets reported.

Success

You were, for the most part, pleased with your site’s performance — over 20 percent of you said the site was definitely a success, with over 40 percent offering the slightly more tempered response, “Mostly — but I might do things differently next time.” Eight of you weren’t sure how to measure the site’s success, which makes me think it might be helpful to spend some time in future posts discussing performance metrics.

Lessons Learned

When asked what you’d do differently when producing the site for your next film, your responses varied from specific website feature ideas, to changing the way you integrate site production into the filmmaking process, to changing marketing tactics. Here are a few sample responses:

“Plan it out in advance more thoroughly and think about larger and more complex objectives. And at that point probably spend some money to get someone else to do it.”

“Design a site that is more integrated with my outreach efforts (rather than the current site, which is essentially a place for film materials to live).”

“Make sure that there are RSS feed capabilities and share bars. And email address registration.”

“Plan ahead — create the interactivity along the journey of the filmmaking.”

“Spend more energy driving traffic through social network tools.”

“I would make it more interactive — more opportunities for audience to take part, get involved, take ownership and generate content.”

And, of course:

“Have more money. Ugh.”

I’m curious: Do these results gel with your expectations? What, if anything, surprised you? What new questions did these survey results spark in your mind?

To view all survey results, click here to download a PDF report (note, due to the limitations of the software we used, this PDF does not include the responses people wrote in — if you have a question about a particular response, just let me know!).

See also: My series on producing great documentary websites (read part one and part two).

Amanda Hirsch
Amanda Hirsch
Amanda Hirsch is former editorial director of PBS Interactive.
  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/hartfilms/ Jayasri Hart

    Thanks, Amanda, for your very relevant series on website design and construction which I just discovered. Would you care to do a series on site maintenance? One of mine at pbs.org was built and uploaded in 2000. Thanks to some of the principles of interactivity you talked about, it is still used by folks who use the documentary, but the frames are outdated and so is the format of the video clips. PBS Learning Media wants access to some of the material, but no one, not even the PBS consortium that designed and built the site, seems to know how to set up maintenance. What you find out may help other independents like myself.