Giving stuff away for free is bad business, right? Wrong. You’ll probably already know that anyway, especially if you read “Free” by Chris Anderson, or if you use any of the plethora of Google goodies – and who doesn’t. Free is everywhere.

But what about a small business that doesn’t have that huge backing and scale that can reduce the marginal cost to zero and then benefit from the ad revenue that supports it?

Videocopilot.net has become my favorite website right now. It provides tutorials on After Effects (AE) from Basic Training to advanced expressions and camera work – Free. It makes money by selling plugins, footage and audio. But then it even gives some of these away, including a bunch of presets to help you follow and complete the tutorials, not to mention  the tutorial files. So far I have a bunch of great presets, plugins, royalty free textures and clips.

Now anyone could do this (they don’t though) but Videocopilot.net goes further by being incredibly personal. Andrew Kramer presents all the tutorials and injects his own sense of humor into every one. It’s not false or scripted just a guy talking you through how to do cool things. You are as much waiting to see what the next line will be as what the effect will look like. I’ve watched a lot of tutorials and nothing comes close to what Andrew and team do here. Usually they are a pretty stuffy affair or take themselves really seriously as “designers.” Andrew makes fun of himself with his trademark intros to tutorials.. “Andrew (pause) Kramer here.. Video CO Pilot dot Net” in his best film trailer voice on each and every episode. In short he brings personality to the show.

If you look at the Adobe site and check out their good but not fantastic tuts, you will see that they get around a few hundred to a couple of thousand clicks and barely a comment. The things that are covered on the Adobe site are incredibly basic and don’t go into anywhere near the depth that VC does. Videocopilot gets over a million views on many of it’s tutorials (latest one got 240,00 in the first month) and hundreds of comments. Many of the comments are sharing back the things people have made and learned from the videos. Here is a selection:

“Dude your videos are awesome, I just started a couple days ago, and this is the first site I got referred to so ya, Keep on rockin!”

“Man took forever to get to the end of the comments, amazing tutorial you are amazing for letting us view these for free! Very well done. Lol Decepticons XD I think he meant dementors”

“I’m just wondering why you guys offer such great tutorials for free. This place is like going to Graphic Art school with a full scholarship! If I get ever get good at this stuff and make some bills off it, I’ll sure be donating to keep this project alive. Right now I’m in uni and completely broke..so yea.”

“God bless you guys! Seriously.”

“Dude you and your team have done wonders to get my knowledge off the ground. Just got hired for my first major gig. Can’t thank you guys enough.”

It’s pretty clear from the comments that many of the people watching them are from all over the world. They are appealing to people in Asia and Africa where teaching of this nature may not be easy to access. Think about it, it’s not easy here or cheap.

So what is Andrew and the team getting out of all this? Btw, the team is only 10 strong. They get exposure, word of mouth marketing, reputation and buyers. They are generating a market of people that go on in some cases to work in the field and use their products. By developing the skills of others they are creating value (an awful phrase) at no cost to me or you. People buy the stuff they make, they feel like this is something they are doing together. Videocopilot provides the free education and people that may never have ever considered buying a DVD of orchestral music or sound effects; HD live footage or design elements pay up for the products.

The community that has now grown around VC is what sustains it as much as the money it gets from the products and that’s come about by giving before expecting anything in return.

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