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Screen Wars

Five ways a web series can make money

Molly Wood Oct 6, 2014
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The web series “Frankenstein, MD” recasts Mary Shelley’s titular doctor as “Vicky,” fresh out of med school and vlogging with her assistant “Iggy,” who only moans “yes, master” sarcastically. The show is born out of a partnership between PBS Digital Studios and Pemberley Digital, which made a name for itself with similar adaptations of Jane Austen novels.

Bernie Su developed “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” and “Emma Approved” — webcam updates on “Pride and Prejudice” and “Emma” respectively — and now “Frankenstein, MD.” He says telling stories in four-to-five-minute increments “speaks to our modern culture.”

“People want to just get in and get out, get in and get out,” says Su. “What’s challenging for that format for us is when you’re talking about a long story, like a grand narrative.”

But Pemberley Digital’s challenge is even bigger than that. The studio doesn’t only update classic literature broken up into YouTube-able chunks, it creates shows with an eye toward building franchises and making real money, which isn’t something all web-series creators can say.

Here are five ways Pemberley has turned its web series into a business, starting with “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.”

YouTube Ads

YouTube’s partnership program allows Pemberley and other users to get a cut from ads shown before their videos.

Merchandise

The world of Lizzie Bennet and William Darcy has not only expanded to spinoff videos, but pins, a mug, posters and more.

Affiliate marketing

Similar to the YouTube ad program, if Su’s company links to another website and that site makes a sale, Pemberley gets a piece.

DVDs

You can still stream “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,” but Pemberly has also put the series out on home video.

“We’ve sold, I believe now, 7,000 units,” Su says. “Again, for a show that is available for free online, which is amazing.”

Book deal

Simon & Schuster published a novelization called “The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet,” which retells the series as journal entries. For those keeping score at home, Su says, “Lizzie Bennet is now “a book based on the web series, which is based on a book.”  

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