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Unwelcome changes

By March 22, 2013March 27th, 201331 Comments

Update: I have some con­firmed cir­cu­la­tion fig­ures from the paper itself. Even more depressing.

We inter­rupt nor­mal – slightly stut­tery – pro­gram­ming to bring you news of some changes in the Wellington media scene that might have an impact on the con­tent that you see here.

Pg1-iss3821-bigThe Capital Times news­pa­per will be ceas­ing pub­lic­a­tion on – I think – 10 April. The reviews that I re-publish here were all writ­ten for them and it is their Monday morn­ing dead­lines that I meet every week. Broader dis­cus­sion of the impact on Wellington’s loc­al media – it leaves only Fishhead as an inde­pend­ent print pub­lic­a­tion serving the city – and trends in tra­di­tion­al versus digit­al media in the struggle for advert­ising yadda yadda, will be bet­ter off else­where, but the impact on me per­son­ally? That belongs here.

The first ques­tion is simply “to be or not to be”. The Capital Times is a recog­nised Wellington media insti­tu­tion with a decent cir­cu­la­tion and a large audi­ence. I was told that they print over 15,000 20,000 cop­ies each week and the read­er­ship is estim­ated at between 40,000 and as much as 60,000. That’s sig­ni­fic­ant, and made it worth­while for me to write for and for exhib­it­ors and dis­trib­ut­ors to sup­port me by giv­ing me tick­ets, pre­views and screeners.

By com­par­is­on, the audi­ence here at Funerals & Snakes is in the hun­dreds each week. I cher­ish you all but I’ve nev­er been able to turn this site into a traffic mag­net . Has any­body in NZ man­aged to pull that off? Flicks, I guess (but their busi­ness mod­el is quite dif­fer­ent). Lumiere? Cinefile? It’s con­ceiv­able that I might have done more to pro­mote the site if it was­n’t for the built-in audi­ence that I had at the CT. In the mean­time, F&S has become a lovingly-curated archive and a way for out-of-towners to read my work.

Why do I do it? It ain’t for the money, that’s for sure. I have writ­ten weekly columns for the Capital Times for six and a half years – for free. The only con­sid­er­a­tion has been the free tick­ets and the occa­sion­al cup of cof­fee from a friendly cinema own­er. It has cost me money to pro­duce this body of work. I do it (did it?) for the audi­ence, for the know­ledge that I was hav­ing an influ­ence on people’s choices, that I was enter­tain­ing more people than just myself.

The CT was really good to me. They nev­er cut me – except for length occa­sion­ally when ad sales were down. They nev­er told me what to write or how to write it. They let me evolve a format that I am pretty pleased with. They let me find my voice.

I am real­ist­ic. Paid gigs for film review­ers are going extinct. It’s the same all over the world and it isn’t any bet­ter here. So I have not much hope that a bet­ter or more luc­rat­ive offer will come along from the main­stream media. At least until Simon Morris retires from Radio New Zealand.

I’d love to carry on pro­du­cing these columns and I’d love to grow the online audi­ence for them. Maybe I should recon­nect with the Wellingtonista – a won­der­ful resource that is kept going by enthu­si­ast­ic cit­izens with lim­ited amounts of spare time. Maybe there’s anoth­er online chan­nel that I can part­ner with. But how do I get those 40,000 news­pa­per read­ers to come to a web­site each week? To remem­ber to come to a web­site each week. (And Google Reader is clos­ing down…) And if I can­’t man­age that, where will those 40,000 get their film opin­ion from? Some films will simply not get a print review in Wellington now as the Dom-Post will only run three of Graeme Tuckett’s reviews a week (at most).

Even before this news, I’ve been think­ing about ways to gen­er­ate some rev­en­ue from all this con­tent – thou­sands of reviews. Is there a future for a paid sub­scrip­tion mod­el? Would people pay $1 a week for what I do? And if – lordy – 1,000 people choose to do just that, how influ­en­tial would those reviews be com­pared with 40,000 print read­ers? It’s the pay­wall argu­ment in mini­ature and – to be hon­est – is prob­ably moot in any case.

So, advert­ising then. Maybe I could cov­er the cost of host­ing with some Google ads in the side­bar to the right. But if Theatreview struggles to sus­tain itself with all of the spe­cial­ised con­tent that it presents, what hope is there for this site?

So, I throw the dis­cus­sion open to fans and friends – what should I do after the 10th of April?

  • Keep going for free (and hope that cinemas con­tin­ue to sup­port me with tickets)
  • Find anoth­er online or print part­ner (any ideas?)
  • Start a subscription-only ser­vice to try and recov­er some of my costs
  • Give it away and go and do some­thing more reward­ing but less fulfilling
  • Cross my fin­gers and hope that someone buys the Capital Times and works out how to keep it alive

Share your thoughts in the com­ments or Twitter or Facebook. Cheers.



  • Simon Vita says:

    I know the feel­ing, I’d prob­ably still be writ­ing news­pa­per columns if I had an outlet.
    I’ve got a blog that I update so infre­quently that it does­n’t bear a men­tion. As for the way for­ward, I don’t know. I’m not sure if the CCN stable is look­ing for a review­er, they might be keen for someone oth­er than their over­worked journos to file film copy. Other than that there is value in you con­tinu­ing to keep this site going, if only to keep your hand until a review­er gig pops up.

  • Martha says:

    I think you should write for the Wellingtonista, I’m sure you’ll get tick­ets and our read­er­ship will SOOOOOOOAR.


  • HJW says:

    I say you make a Funeral and Snakes app.

    I say you hit up Wellingtonista, Flicks, DomPost and oth­er film related media out­lets and get links to your app pos­ted every­where with prom­ise of spon­sor­ship (does it work that way?).

    Then, your read­ers can be updated as soon as you watch a film and review it with push noti­fic­a­tions, see a short review and read a longer one if they like, or be redir­ec­ted to the website.

    Commenting, retweet­ing, Facebook shar­ing and email­ing URLs can all be done from the app. You’ll be the first NZ flm review­er to have an app. And it’ll be open nation­wide to down­load like the web­site instead of just Wellington news­pa­per readers.

  • Hugh Lilly says:

    The audi­ence for my blog was, at its peak in May and June of 2010, also in the mere hun­dreds each week. If I had put a dona­tion box on the site back then, I would have been lucky to have taken in $50 to date.

    I was extraordin­ar­ily lucky to have the oppor­tun­ity to write for the Listener for three months last year, but doing so revealed to me just how little arts cri­ti­cism is val­ued — in mon­et­ary terms, and oth­er­wise — in this coun­try. Film reviews are val­ued even less than, say, theatre or book reviews: a few people might still want to pay for journ­al­ism, but no one feels like the need to pay for a film review. 90% of people who go to the movies don’t even read reviews. Why would you need to ana­lyse some­thing that’s meant only as entertainment?

    Now that I (finally!) have a 9–5 job, I’m find­ing it more and more dif­fi­cult to motiv­ate myself to write — not that it mat­ters, since I’ve been black­lis­ted by every dis­trib­ut­or except Trigger; even if I wanted to write for free about films put out by Fox/Sony/Paramount et al., I would­n’t be able to.

    While I was writ­ing for the Listener, Paramount barred me from attend­ing their press screen­ing of MOONRISE KINGDOM. If I had­n’t seen it at the film fest, there would have been no review of it in the magazine, and Paramount would have been fine with that. It was the only five-star review I wrote for the magazine (out of 7 columns total).

    I firmly believe that most film dis­trib­ut­ors in this coun­try would love to do away with review­ers full-stop. Most of them have enough in their mar­ket­ing budget to off­set a bad review, and I’m sure they’d love to spend that money elsewhere—e.g. put­ting on more friends-and-family/word-of-mouth screen­ings. The Herald’s borderline-sycophancy w/r/t major-studio releases is, I’m abso­lutely cer­tain, more about appeas­ing dis­trib­ut­ors than think­ing crit­ic­ally about the movie at hand. The head of Fox NZ, Mark Croft, told me dir­ectly that he saw no value in invit­ing me to press screenings.

    So it’s not simply a case of news­pa­pers and magazines fold­ing or provid­ing less and less space each week or month in which to cov­er new-release films, it’s about insanely risk-averse dis­trib­ut­ors act­ively pre­vent­ing crit­ics from see­ing their films for fear of a bad review.

    That risk aver­sion is becom­ing more acute year on year: it’s now pretty much a giv­en that any­thing even vaguely adven­tur­ous or inde­pend­ent will screen only in the film fest­iv­al, and then have only a 50–50 chance of get­ting a home-video release nine to 18 months later. The most obvi­ous prob­lem here is one you and I have dis­cussed (in often­times heated debates) on Twitter: films get released in the US in theatres, and then on home-video, many months before their cine­mat­ic run here. A recent example is Park Chan-wook’s STOKER: ori­gin­ally slated for NZ release around the end of this month, it’s been pushed back to August 29 by its loc­al dis­trib­ut­or, Fox. It’s been in US cinemas for a few weeks now, and gets a DVD and Blu-ray release there in June. It won’t screen in our film fest­iv­al, and when August 29 finally rolls around Fox NZ prob­ably won’t even both­er to hold press screen­ings of it.

    Sorry, I got off-track there a bit. Back to your clos­ing ques­tion: I would keep writ­ing for free as much as you can men­tally, fin­an­cially and phys­ic­ally handle, but apply for fund­ing from any­one you can—except the Arts Foundation’s new faux-crowd-funding ini­ti­at­ive, Boosted, which seems to exist only to give already-established artists even more money. (Plus, there’s no indic­a­tion that they’re inter­ested in fund­ing pro­jects that dis­cuss and cri­tique art, only ones that pro­duce it.)

    Don’t put up a pay­wall, but do put up a dona­tion box. Keep doing the great work you’ve star­ted with Cinematica, and don’t be afraid to get in people’s (by which I mean dis­trib­ut­ors’ and exhib­it­ors’) faces—who knows, maybe some of them will start to see value in what you and oth­ers like you do.

    • Dan says:

      Thanks for the kind words and the pos­it­ive rein­force­ment. Much appreciated.

      So it’s not simply a case of news­pa­pers and magazines fold­ing or provid­ing less and less space each week or month in which to cov­er new-release films, it’s about insanely risk-averse dis­trib­ut­ors act­ively pre­vent­ing crit­ics from see­ing their films for fear of a bad review. 

      That’s not the case here in Wellington though as I have always been well-supported by exhib­it­ors. The only obstacles that dis­tribs put in my way nowadays are the lack of screen­ers and even that can be got­ten around.

      The reduc­tion in media though, and the lack of money slosh­ing around, is a thing.

      And you know how I feel about release sched­ules – every­one in the world has a griev­ance about releases and the noisy ones should all just grow up a bit. 😉

      Congrats on the day job, though. Was won­der­ing why things were so quiet.

  • Grant Buist says:

    I’ll prob­ably con­tin­ue draw­ing ‘Jitterati’ online, if any­one’s interested…

    • Dan says:

      I’ll host it for you here, if you like.

      • Grant Buist says:

        Kind offer! I have a ser­vice­able webpage, it just needs some tweak­ing. We can do links, though. I don’t feel as bad as I did when ‘City Voice’ blipped out of exist­ence, maybe because we have a bit of notice this time. With your writ­ing rep you should have some inter­est­ing opportunities.

  • doug says:

    To add to the stat­ist­ic­al ana­lys­is, we (mean­ing Auckland Cinephile) seem to hov­er largely at 20–50 for a post … super-popular ones get up to 150, and that’s with Lumiere, Dan, et al retweet­ing them. (I don’t know if those num­bers factor in RSS, or if they only count URL clicks vs people who go to the site dir­ectly every Thursday, if in fact such people exist.) 

    We’ve only been going since September and haven’t mar­keted it hard, and we’re not a tra­di­tion­al review site so slightly dif­fer­ent focus … but look­ing at the num­ber of Twitter fol­low­ers Lumiere has, for example, I don’t think there’s a huge upper ceil­ing we’re not hit­ting. But maybe I’m wrong.

    • Dan says:

      Do you know how many RSS sub­scribers you have? Also, the future of RSS is in doubt at the moment which I find extremely frus­trat­ing as I use it all the time.

      But none of that com­pares to a well-distributed print pub­lic­a­tion and yet advert­isers are tak­ing their money else­where. Perplexing.

      • doug says:

        I don’t know how many RSS read­ers I have, though there must be some­thing hid­ing in Blogger that would tell me.

  • Chris Hormann says:

    I nev­er real­ised you did the CT reviews for free Dan, which makes it astound­ing that you have kept going for so long and so enthu­si­ast­ic­ally. But I think you have made your mark with the Wellington cinema-going com­munity in that your CT reviews are very widely read (dare I mas­sage your ego by men­tion­ing you win­ning the annu­al pop­u­lar vote in the CT awards regularly).
    For me, hav­ing some­thing tact­ile to read on the bus, or when I’m grabbing a cof­fee makes it more likely that I’ll read a review than if it’s on a blog. I tend to read blog reviews only when I’m act­ively doing research on a film rather than cas­u­ally brows­ing. I know that does­n’t help as the print media out­lets for film reviews in Wellington are rap­idly dis­ap­pear­ing. I do hope there is a gap that can be filled for some­thing in print for Central Welly and that you fig­ure some­where in those plans.

  • I’d echo a lot of the sen­ti­ments that are being expressed here. I main­tain a site ( that is get­ting around 7000 vis­its a day – and is still not break­ing even. I’m facing the exact same prob­lems that you voice here – and com­ing to the con­clu­sion that if I can­not find anoth­er rev­en­ue stream then the site has to bite the dust. I’ve suc­cess­fully pro­duced about one review of 1500–2000 words a day since 1999 but it is near­ing the point where the entire site is going to have to bite the elec­tron­ic eth­er as the amount com­ing back in is not even enough to cov­er basic host­ing fees.

    I left liv­ing in NZ for Vancouver a few years ago. The situ­ation is not quite as dire over here as Hugh says. In my exper­i­ence, access to screen­ings depends on the dis­trib­ut­or and the degree of schmooz­ing one is pre­pared to do. Some are friendly and wel­come crit­ics, espe­cially the small arts out­lets. The worst to deal with are 20th Century Fox.

    The main prob­lem I find is in deal­ing with press out­lets that are still stuck in print media format with a view­point that is entirely loc­al. All the focus is on get­ting mater­i­al out on open­ing week in the loc­al area. There seems no under­stand­ing of the idea that you would pub­lish for an audi­ence all over the world. Not to men­tion the idea of archiv­ing mater­i­al for his­tor­ic interest. Also in that I am review­ing genre mater­i­al, you end up being regarded as the nerd cous­in who is seen as too socially ill adept to be invited to the party – no mat­ter the fact that my demo­graph­ic is the very one that the mater­i­al I am cov­er­ing is being sold to.

    This kind of small-mindedness and repris­al to adapt to the new media is going to bite dis­trib­ut­ors, if not leave them in the dust. All that ends up hap­pen­ing is that you shrug and go “oh well, I can down­load that one in a mat­ter of weeks.” The prob­lem with dis­trib­ut­ors mar­gin­al­ising out­lets like this is that it cre­ates an Us and Them situ­ation. With the ease and avail­ab­il­ity of down­load mater­i­al, it only becomes a mat­ter of time before pir­acy down­load sites fig­ure they could get a lot more traffic going their way by throw­ing some advert­ising at the blog­gers and even less time before impov­er­ished blog­gers fig­ure what the hell about main­tain­ing mor­al scruples about watch­ing mater­i­al leg­ally and start tak­ing the money.

    I’m slightly off track. I’d urge hanging in there. Apply for arts grants, whatever you can do to keep the site going. Seek as many links as you can to boost your SEO. Also switch your domain from .net to .nz – that way you’re rank­ing high­er in loc­al NZ searches.

    • Dan says:

      I’m glad you are still going, Richard. Your slightly mas­ochist­ic post­ing sched­ule was def­in­itely an inspir­a­tion for me when I started.

      Thanks for the tip about .nz too.

  • Mike D says:

    I really appre­ci­ate Auckland Cinephile ( pop­ping into my RSS feed each week, keep­ing me up to speed with what’s open­ing and with any spe­cial screen­ings; if it were bundled with Slevin-like reviews it’s a ser­vice I’d pay a little bit for, espe­cially giv­en I hardly both­er buy­ing the Herald any more. I love Cinematica but don’t get time to listen to it every week, so some­thing I can read in a few minutes would be great. Bearing in mind I usu­ally check Metacritic before head­ing off to see a movie, so gen­er­al reviews are not as inter­est­ing as know­ing what screens/soundsystems/discount movie nights some­thing might be play­ing at loc­ally. Local con­tent would be the selling point here, espe­cially when a large or small film fest­iv­al is com­ing up. So maybe free stuff on the web (with a search­able archive) and a value-added app, sub­scrip­tion, or email for a small fee? Jitterati too would be nice.

  • Jeremy Rose says:

    Hi Dan, keen to have a chat about pos­sibly run­ning your reviews on scoop. Let me know if interested.

    • Dan says:

      Hi Jeremy

      That’s very nice to hear. The sup­port from all over this week­end has been very grat­i­fy­ing. I’ll be in touch.

  • Grant Buist says:

    Problem solved!

    Stuff Nation assign­ment: Be a movie review­er for Stuff

  • tony m says:

    At the Lighthouse Cuba is a wall with poster of the films screen­ing, next to each is …not crit­ics quotes, but Rotten Tomatoes fresh ratings.
    I know you are all pas­sion­ate about your per­son­al bod­ies of work, and your rela­tion­ship with your audi­ences, etc , but as evid­enced by my first sen­tence, i’m afraid your ser­vices have gone the way of the dodo.
    Please dont shoot the mes­sen­ger. I’m merely con­vey­ing the real­ity of the paradigm shift that has changed from earli­er last cen­tury, when com­ment­at­ors ser­vices were baro­met­ers of cul­ture , whose opin­ions were of vital import­ance to the gen­er­al pub­lic. In the 21st cen­tury, for the vast major­ity of cinem­a­goers (who are under 30, and have media sat­ur­a­tion ADHD), a glance at thumbs up or down, or a fresh­ness rat­ing high­er than rot­ten is simply a faster way to decide wheth­er to watch a movie, than wad­ing through the opin­ion of an anonym­ous stranger with the label ‘crit­ic’.
    Its a sad fact. but a reality.

    • Dan says:

      But where do those Rotten Tomatoes rat­ings come from? Out of thin air?

      No, they are the res­ult of informed and intel­li­gent review­ers writ­ing up their feel­ings about films.

      The responses to this post have shown me that people do care, do make decisions about view­ing based on review­ers, do like to debate. So, I dis­pute your obser­va­tion and your conclusion.

      • tony m says:

        You missed my point. Audiences these days dont even both­er to read the RT reviews. They simply respond to the ‘fresh’ rat­ing. Eos.
        And no , they dont come out of thin air…the vast major­ity of them are from little fish review­ers writ­ing for under the radar sites, no name blogs, . Heres some reviews from RT’s LIFE OF PI page (picked at random).

        Eclipse magazine, Sci-fi Movie Page, Movie Metropolis, Fan the Fire, KWQC-TV (Iowa),, Cinema Crazed, MovieDex, 3AW,
        The Mercury, The Popcorn Junkie, Cinema Autopsy, ABC Radio Brisbane, HeyU guys, View London, (it goes on for anoth­er 9 pages, but you get the point)

        How many do you fol­low? and how many do you trust in terms of taste, judge­ment? Unless you fol­low them all, how can you make the blanket state­ment that they are informed and intel­li­gent? All you can safely say is that they are writ­ing up their feel­ings about film. 99% of todays vei­wers dont care the opin­ion of a film by someone they dont know.

        You say you had 40K CT read­ers, and you have had less than a dozen replys to this post, yet you dis­pute my con­clu­sion. C’mon…eleven people dont prove to me “that people do care, do make decisions about view­ing based on reviewers”.
        Like i said, dont shoot the mes­sen­ger, but you are liv­ing in a dream world if you believe that to be the reality.

        • Dan says:

          Tony (if that’s your real name…)

          If what I’m doing is so point­less why are you here arguing the toss about it?

          I’m sure you have far more inter­est­ing things you’d rather be doing and so do I.

          • tony m says:

            i could­nt give a shit to be hon­est. its just excru­ci­at­ing hear­ing film blog­gers whine about how hard it is to sur­vive, how dis­trib­ut­ors are scared of blog­gers with audi­ences less than 100. You write reviews for the grat­i­fic­a­tion of yr own ego. Eos. Your audi­ence is infintes­im­al, the mar­ket is glut­ted. Its all one huge blob of same­ness, aver­age to bad writ­ing and no aston­ish­ing insights to stand out from the mediocrity.

            you can puff it up with lofty terms like ‘my body of work’, and delude yrself that your intel­li­gent opin­ions are cher­ished by read­ers. Send your reviews to a mail­ing list of those who enjoy, but please, dont elev­ate your status to that of indis­pens­ible taste guide to the great unwashed, who of course, know no bet­ter and indeed need guidance. 

            The real­ity is that film review­ers, in print, and online are ignored by 99% of the demo­graph­ic that the stu­di­os are chas­ing for $$$. They rely on their peers for decid­ing what they watch. eos. The cur­rency you trade in, i.e hav­ing watched alot of movies, in the cur­rent cli­mate is is as over-inflated and worth­less as a Zimbabwean tril­lion dol­lar bill, You ser­i­ously over­value your stock, because guess what- EVERYONE has seen alot of movies. hon­estly, i dont know any­one under 30 who both­ers to read reviews. Seriously.
            Sorry to point out the obvi­ous point­less­ness of it all. no need to be petu­lant in the face of reality.

          • Dan says:

            You write reviews for the grat­i­fic­a­tion of yr own ego.

            Actually, I write reviews to make people laugh. And enough CT read­ers enjoyed what I did that they gave me a prize every year. Judging by your anonym­ity – and the IP address – I’m guess­ing you are the same per­son who was rude about Cinematica when it star­ted, so you obvi­ously do seem to give a shit – at least more than you let on.

            So vis­it or don’t vis­it. Read or don’t read. It’s all the same to me. I don’t expect to be enjoyed by every­one. But don’t come into my (online) home without intro­du­cing your­self and then insult me. Go and do some­thing else, like watch a movie maybe. A movie you chose by – I don’t know – lik­ing the col­ours on the box cov­er or the typeface on the poster.

  • sue says:

    well i think ithe ista is the best most won­der­ful option EVER
    , there is a firmly estab­lished read­er­ship and you are beloved by aevery­one involved. Perhaps maybe for you film fans a spe­cif­ic link is in the side­bar that goes to just your film reviews

  • Sam McCosh says:

    I was very sur­prised to hear that you don’t get paid for your out­stand­ing work with the CT. It’s a real shame for Wellington cinema lov­ers that the news­pa­per is shut­ting down. While I do believe that online is the way of the present/future, there are still so many people who read papers, even if it is simply because it is there in front of them. 

    I hope that you can find anoth­er out­let to support/host your great writ­ing. Until then I really hope that you con­tin­ue to write about film – even if it isn’t about new releases. You have a great voice and I would truly miss you writing. 

    Have you thought about chan­ging F&S to a .com ? Also, do you/have you thought about adding your reviews to IMDB? A large per­cent­age of my traffic comes from people click­ing on my reviews through the “crit­ics review” sec­tion for films on IMDB.

    Best wishes Dan.

    • Dan says:

      Hi Sam

      Thanks for the kind words.

      I haven’t looked in to IMDb or RT for a while now but as I recall you have to meet cer­tain arbit­rary stand­ards like only review­ing one film per post and writ­ing a min­im­um of 300 words on every film.

      Neither of those restric­tions appeal to me but I’ll look again.

      Things are a look­ing up though. Updates soon.

  • Max says:

    Maybe put Flattr but­tons up?

    That way people can sup­port you with a click! 🙂

  • Theresa says:

    Dan, as an ex-Wellingtonian (I lived in your fair city two years), I remem­ber well your insight­ful reviews. I hope that you con­tin­ue to write them, and har­ness the power of social media to get the word out to the masses. The Wellingtonista is a great place to cross-post: I’m still an avid read­er of it, 2.5 years after leav­ing Welly.

    • Dan says:

      Bless you, Theresa. Thanks for your com­ment. Wellingtonista will def­in­itely be part of the strategy.