Friday, November 19, 2010

The Business of Shakespeare

I'm wondering if we can get some discussion started on this topic. I probably shouldn't be posting it on a Friday afternoon, but like so many other "rules" of working the web, I tend to go with where my attention span leads me.


I don't think it would be a surprise to anybody if I said that "If I could make a living out of doing the Shakespeare thing, then yeah, sure, I'd certainly go for it." The question then becomes, "What exactly is the Shakespeare thing?" And that's where I'm a bit stuck, because I'm really over here carving out my own niche. I don't act or direct it. I don't teach it. I'm just....me.


I have skills, though. I'm quite the competent computer geek, and I'd like to think I'm a fairly competent writer as well. And I think it's safe to say that after five years of doing this, even though I have no real "academic cred", I know at least a little something about my subject matter.


So I often (and I do mean often) ponder, how can I combine those things? I read business books and listen to entrepreneurial podcasts all the time. I'm listening to several as we speak. The lessons tend to be the same.


Lesson One : People will pay you money if they think it will make them money. This comes in many forms and includes things like "if you save me time, that will save me money." But in general there's a whole big market out there for people to write "Succeed in Blogging Now!" and "Get Rich Slowly!" and all sorts of other items that clearly fit this pattern - if you buy this from me, then you stand a better chance of making more money because of it.


Lesson Two : Easing the "Pain Points". This one is a little trickier, because it basically says that a given group of people will pay money to change something that they don't like about their current situation. They won't make any money on their own, and probably won't save time (since that tends to be directly related to money), but they'll pay money anyway for the peace of mind factor. I think that golf is a great example here. No matter how much money you spend on golf, you're never going to make money (unless you're a golf pro, of course). But that doesn't stop people from spending a fortune on everything golf related you can imagine. The same with weddings, and so on. There's just certain things that people say "Yes, I'm willing to spend money to get what I want."


So, where does Shakespeare fit in? I can't see the business of Shakespeare, from where I sit, as having anything to do with the first lesson. Yes there are people that "do Shakespeare" for a living, so theoretically there are products that you could produce that would make their lives more productive. Therefore we could assume that these professionals would pay for those products. But that market's not really about Shakespeare, is it? It's about the business. Would a Shakespeare actor's iPhone application be basically the same thing as any other actor's iPhone application?


Lesson Two is more intriguing to me. I know that I, personally, have a pain point - my kids' education. I want my kids to know and love Shakespeare, and I work hard to achieve that. So I assume that there is another market of people out there in a similar situation - they are willing to pay money to increase the quality of their child's education. Maybe not many of them are specifically thinking about Shakespeare, though.


There's also the pain point group of "students who want the answers to their homework." That audience has been addressed many times over by Sparknotes and the like and, quite frankly, they don't have a lot of money. :) But still, it's a valid audience to target.


What about you? We all have Shakespeare in our lives, in one form or another. What sort of business needs are there? What application, or web site, or service or book or magazine subscription do you wish existed?


Yes, I'm trolling for ideas. :) I have many, but ideas are a dime a dozen. Market is everything. Never build a product and say "Is there a market for this?" because if there's not, you just wasted all your time and resources. For a long time I've been taking the "build it and they will come" stance to my Shakespeare Geekery, and I'd like to think that it's done pretty well. But no way am I on a course to ever make a living at it, and that's why I'm looking to hedge my bits with a little bit more traditional business thinking.



12 comments:

Brian said...

I think this is a great question- and one I've mulled over more than a few times.

Within the existing structure of theatre/schools - there is always need for dramaturgy, but these positions are few and far between.

Your post also reminds me of Richard Olivier's workshops. He took Henry V and transformed the lessons into a workshop on leadership (http://www.londonbusinessforum.com/events/inspirational_leadership_2)

I also came across a (very long) video recently, that talks about just this thing- how to turn expertise into business: http://www.expertsacademy.com/theplan

At any rate- all the best!

catkins said...

I think Shakespeare is very interesting to a lot of people. Those interested in a very scholarly way will require much more than you can offer. But the vast majority of people are interested in a different way and your talents are well suited to provide them with what they want. However, one thing that is obvious about the Internet is that although people love the vastness of the information available on it, they love it almost exclusively when it is free. My feeling is that it is hard to make money on Shakespeare.
I just got a royalty check from my book for $47.02
--Carl

Duane said...

Brian - I think it's a neat idea, though I'm not the personality to pull off the whole "leadership" thing ;).

Carl, I think you're right in a certain sense. For entertainment, people have come to expect free stuff. I don't think that gets at the "pain point" audience, though. Imagine that this hypothetical business transaction exists between you, and the desired outcome. "Hmmm, I've never read Ernie and Bert Are Dead, and I would like to. Is it worth $1.99 to me?" Probably not. Or alternately, "Hmmm, my kid keeps coming home with questions about her Shakespeare class and I can't help her, is it worth $14.95 to me to take an online course of my own so I can understand what the heck she's talking about and maybe actually help her when she needs me?" Probably.

Lately I'm liking the idea of that angle -- "Hey, parents, your kids are studying stuff in school that you never studied, and you don't know how to help them when they need you. Here's a series of guides to give you a crash course." Not really a "for Dummies" series, since the goal is different. More targeted at the ultimate goal not being "so you can learn Shakespeare for yourself" (which people likely do not want to pay for), but "so your kids can get better grades" (which people are more likely to pay for).

I've often thought that tutoring would be a logical thing, but I'm a 40something guy, and I think it'd probably be a little creepy. I expect that if I'm going to share my expertise with anybody it's either going to be via this online channel, books or other written content, or on the lecture/teaching circuit.

JM said...

"Yes there are people that "do Shakespeare" for a living, so theoretically there are products that you could produce that would make their lives more productive. Therefore we could assume that these professionals would pay for those products. But that market's not really about Shakespeare, is it? It's about the business."

I disagree, Duane. That "market", if you will, is, for the most part ONLY about Shakespeare. The vast majority of those of whom you speak are FAR from rich as a result of their efforts. I think you might quite possibly be confusing business with devotion here. If someone's major concern is how to "make money at Shakespeare", I'd be willing to bet that although everyone wants to be a success at what they do, most get into "doing it for a living" for other reasons that are just as important.
e.g.If "doing Shakespeare" were only about the "Business of Shakespeare" and how to make money at it, I wouldn't be "doing" IT. --I'd be a golf pro :)

Duane said...

You have to agree though, J, that there are plenty of folks out there making a business out of Shakespeare who are more about the business than the Shakespeare, too (how many mugs with the Droeshout portrait can you really ever have?) And there are professional Shakespeare houses where, presumably, people are able to make a living.

But I understand what you're saying. Most of us have to do it for the love of the subject first, and the money making second. That's the part I'm challenging. Let me put my original post another way - if there's a way that somebody with my love of the subject and my particular skill set *can* make a living at Shakespeare, I plan to find it and do it. :)

David Blixt said...

As someone who does make a living doing Shakespeare (acting, directing, choreographing fights, understudying, producing, marketing, lecturing, and writing Shakespeare-related novels), I think you and I should have a lengthy chat - not in the comments forum. But I have a few thoughts:

You're right to focus on the education portion. That's where the money is, whether it's high school kids or adults in continuing education.

My first suggestion, before monetizing it, is to get together a group of friends/neighbors and set up a Shakespeare reading club. You need to get together and read the plays aloud - not all of them, but the biggies. Meet twice a month, and read an act or two in a sitting. You'll learn more participating in that than in anything you can do on your own.

After a few months of that, you'll have a better sense of how to shape and present the material. Then you can create a second group - if your local city Recreation/Education dept isn't offering a Shakespeare class to adults, offer to teach it. It won't be much money, but again it'll help you shape your thoughts, and you'll have a professional credit under your belt.

Then I'd use the site you've built - very well, by the way - and have a partition: Paid, and unpaid. Leave the blog as is, but offer to personally answer questions from Shakespeare students of all ages - for a small fee. The great thing is, you've got a network where if you don't know the answer, you can get good ones from the rest of your readers.

Other ways to monetize Shakespeare - create a company, get a small group of actors (6-8), and get schools to bring you in to perform scenes or even a shortened show for the students. Half the professional theatres I know make their "real" payroll on the back of their education program.

I have more specific things I think you should look at, but that's the general idea for the moment. You should also have a conversation with my wife - she's the Artistic Director of the Michigan Shakespeare Festival and the Executive Director of A Crew Of Patches Theatre Company. She knows how to make money off the Bard (but she hates when he's called that).

Hope this helps. Cheers! - DB

David Blixt said...

As someone who does make a living doing Shakespeare (acting, directing, choreographing fights, understudying, producing, marketing, lecturing, and writing Shakespeare-related novels), I think you and I should have a lengthy chat - not in the comments forum. But I have a few thoughts:

You're right to focus on the education portion. That's where the money is, whether it's high school kids or adults in continuing education.

My first suggestion, before monetizing it, is to get together a group of friends/neighbors and set up a Shakespeare reading club. You need to get together and read the plays aloud - not all of them, but the biggies. Meet twice a month, and read an act or two in a sitting. You'll learn more participating in that than in anything you can do on your own.

After a few months of that, you'll have a better sense of how to shape and present the material. Then you can create a second group - if your local city Recreation/Education dept isn't offering a Shakespeare class to adults, offer to teach it. It won't be much money, but again it'll help you shape your thoughts, and you'll have a professional credit under your belt.

Then I'd use the site you've built - very well, by the way - and have a partition: Paid, and unpaid. Leave the blog as is, but offer to personally answer questions from Shakespeare students of all ages - for a small fee. The great thing is, you've got a network where if you don't know the answer, you can get good ones from the rest of your readers.

David Blixt said...

s someone who does make a living doing Shakespeare (acting, directing, choreographing fights, understudying, producing, marketing, lecturing, and writing Shakespeare-related novels), I think you and I should have a lengthy chat - not in the comments forum. But I have a few thoughts:

You're right to focus on the education portion. That's where the money is, whether it's high school kids or adults in continuing education.

My first suggestion, before monetizing it, is to get together a group of friends/neighbors and set up a Shakespeare reading club. You need to get together and read the plays aloud - not all of them, but the biggies. Meet twice a month, and read an act or two in a sitting. You'll learn more participating in that than in anything you can do on your own.

After a few months of that, you'll have a better sense of how to shape and present the material. Then you can create a second group - if your local city Recreation/Education dept isn't offering a Shakespeare class to adults, offer to teach it. It won't be much money, but again it'll help you shape your thoughts, and you'll have a professional credit under your belt.

Then I'd use the site you've built - very well, by the way - and have a partition: Paid, and unpaid. Leave the blog as is, but offer to personally answer questions from Shakespeare students of all ages - for a small fee. The great thing is, you've got a network where if you don't know the answer, you can get good ones from the rest of your readers.

Other ways to monetize Shakespeare - create a company, get a small group of actors (6-8), and get schools to bring you in to perform scenes or even a shortened show for the students. Half the professional theatres I know make their "real" payroll on the back of their education program.

I have more specific things I think you should look at, but that's the general idea for the moment. You should also have a conversation with my wife - she's the Artistic Director of the Michigan Shakespeare Festival and the Executive Director of A Crew Of Patches Theatre Company. She knows how to make money off the Bard (but she hates when he's called that).

Hope this helps. Cheers! - DB

David Blixt said...

Other ways to monetize Shakespeare - create a company, get a small group of actors (6-8), and get schools to bring you in to perform scenes or even a shortened show for the students. Half the professional theatres I know make their "real" payroll on the back of their education program.

I have more specific things I think you should look at, but that's the general idea for the moment. You should also have a conversation with my wife - she's the Artistic Director of the Michigan Shakespeare Festival and the Executive Director of A Crew Of Patches Theatre Company. She knows how to make money off the Bard (but she hates when he's called that).

Hope this helps. Cheers! - DB

Duane said...

Thanks, David! I'll definitely be in more direct touch with both of you after the holiday. There are places where your suggestions directly overlap some stuff I've got cooking already.

One thing about what you said intrigues me, though - you said about education, "whether in high school or adult continuing ed." I was going in an entirely different direction, what with my oldest only being 8. I've been wondering whether there's anything I could do to dispel that inherent assumption that it's not possible for kids to grow up with Shakespeare just like they grew up with Superman and Cinderella.

David Blixt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Blixt said...

Oh sure. Fifteen years ago, when I was teaching for the Ann Arbor Public Schools, I created an after-school Shakespeare class for 2nd thru 5th graders. Fun fun, and they all were great. Several of them I've worked with as they've grown up. BUT - they all had an interest in Shakespeare already. It was not a class that filled to overflowing. And most of them had taken other classes from me, so there was already a history.

My favorite was when I was teaching KinderDrama, and, having run out of games, started staging Shakespeare plays with Kindergarten kids. Their favorite part? Dying. After doing R&J and Mac, they all wanted a chance to die. So we did HAMLET. Loads of laughs.

BUT - that was less about the language than the stories. I made sure each kid had one actual Shakespeare line to say, but that was all.

(I deleted the earlier version of this post because I HATE typos.)