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Common Craft seems to forget what makes viral videos … well viral


Anyone whoas been around the web for any length of time will have at some point come across those great videos by Common Craft that explain the common, and yet confusing, aspects of the Web using great diagrams and whiteboard drawing. You can be almost assured that any new video from them will be an almost instant hit finding itself being embedded on blogs all around the blogosphere.

Well according to a post over at Techdirt the other day the folks behind these great video are know wanting to start charging people for the right to embed those great videos on blogs

Like most viral video efforts, the videos are hosted on YouTube, which makes them easy to embed and share. Except, apparently, that’s not working within Common Craft’s business model. An anonymous reader sent over a story about how the company has set up a new licensing scheme for embedding its videos on websites, and the fees get pretty high pretty quickly. Digital Inspiration notes that embedding one of those videos on a popular website or blog could cost thousands, since the prices are based on views.

As Michael Masnick at Techdirt quite right points out this is really a difficult move to see actually working.

I’m sure some companies will pay, but on the whole, it seems to break the value chain here. Common Craft could, instead, offer up the ability to make custom videos for companies, but on its website, it says that they’d rather just focus on their own videos — and points anyone who wants custom videos to a series of other video producers. The thing is, if you want your video to be viral, you can’t also charge for it.

That’s the thing about viral videos – it is the easy ability to share – on a global basis – a cool video that then others can share in the same fashion, hence the term viral.

What Common Craft is doing is literally chopping their faithful and passionate viewers right off at the knees. In effect they are killing off the very thing that makes anything go viral on the web – the freedom to share with no or very little cost.

This isn’t going to end well.

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2 Responses to “Common Craft seems to forget what makes viral videos … well viral”

  1. Lee LeFever

    [This is the third time I’m writing this comment – the window has randomly disappeared twice.]

    Hi Steven, thanks for the post. I’m the founder of Common Craft. I think you’re making a few assumptions about our business and business model:

    Assumption 1: We make viral videos

    Our initial success came as a result of viral distribution. That was 2007. We now have close to 30 videos in our library and I can name only a handful that went viral. It was clear early on that we could not depend on viral marketing forever. Instead, we’re focusing on making and licensing great content.

    Assumption 2: Our business depends on viral video distribution

    Since 2008, we’ve built our business around educational use of our videos. Every day people license, download and use Common Craft videos for use on Intranets, training programs and classrooms. This model now fully supports our company through multiple licenses. Why would we play the viral game if people will pay us for licensing? Unlike viral videos, the licensing model has a long history of being a successful business.

    Our current model (and the Web License) is based on the idea that we make valuable video content – content that organizations can put to work to accomplish their goals. By making the home of the videos, we can market our products in other ways.

    Assumption 3: We’re cutting our viewers off at the knees.

    Interesting. Let’s see, we still have over 10 of our earlier videos on YouTube, all ready to be embedded. All of our videos are 100% viewable for free on

    The Web License model is something that (as far as we know) has never been tried before. In the context of real viral videos, it would never work. But the value of our videos isn’t in virality, it’s in good old fashioned education – and that’s where you’ll find us in the future.

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