The Frustrated Users of Withoutabox


Anthony Kaufman, writing for Indiewire:

in emails Withoutabox threatened participating festivals to "deactivate all third party submission services in order to avoid disruption to your Withoutabox service." And 10 festivals dropped the new service.

Reddy calls Withoutabox's exclusivity claims "ridiculous." "The tech industry would NEVER stand for this," he said, in an email. "Imagine Hotmail threatening to block access to your emails if you tried Gmail. The tech world will chew them to bits. Amazon knows this, but somehow feel like they can get away with bullying small festivals outside the tech world. They have a lousy product and rather than work on building a better one they stoop to these exclusivity clauses."

There are some interesting quotes from festival directors here about the problems they have with Withoutabox (WAB), the automated submissions system for filmmakers sending their films to film festivals. 

As DC Shorts director Jon Gann points out in the article, this situation is unlikely to change until someone steps up to "challenge the goliaths." In this case, I think that means that a handful of prominent festivals (with typical annual submissions numbers upwards of 2000) would have to commit to using a different system. This will be accompanied by a blow to the number of submissions they receive, but introducing competition to the world of festival submissions might be worth it to them in the long run. The hard part of WAB's business to copy is its access to a large number of filmmakers with films ready to submit to fests. But if the only way to submit to some of the larger festivals were through an alternative solution, even that database of filmmaker prospects could be replicated over time.

(As an aside, I suspect that number of "400,000" filmmakers is mostly bogus. There may be 400,000 registered emails in the WAB system, but the chances that all – or even most – of those people are still actively submitting films to festivals is, in my humble estimation, pretty unlikely. It would have been nice to hear from a filmmaker or two in this article, since they are the people ultimately paying the bills.)

I think it's important to say here that, other than those emails enforcing the exclusivity clause, Withoutabox (WAB) isn't behaving in a particularly evil way.  The people who work there are generally terrific and the service is the backbone of the film judging process. Unfortunately, WAB is a cog in the great Amazon/IMDb machine. Amazon is perfectly content to let that cog continue spinning as it has always spun, feeding other parts of Amazon's business. And without competition to threaten the way that cog spins, there is very little incentive to devote development resources to improving WAB's software, service, or pricing.

Regardless, festival staffers will likely continue their love/hate relationship with Withoutabox for some years to come. Here's one of my favorite rants from the festival perspective: the criminally under-watched "Bitch Fest" from Project Twenty1.