Mark Mayerson

Writer, Cartoonist, Sculptor

Pitch Audiences, Not Gatekeepers Part 5
(April 11, 2014)

Part 4 is here.

Simon's Cat was an accident. Simon Tofield created the initial short as a way of learning a software package. When he was done, he put it on his reel. Somebody saw it on his reel and uploaded it to YouTube. While it is a horrible thing to use an artist's work without permission, in this case it turned into a blessing.

After six years, that initial short has now been viewed more than 48 million times. The Simon's Cat channel on YouTube has almost 3 million subscribers. [As of 2019, 4.9 million subscribers.] There are now dozens of Simon's Cat shorts available for free. How is Tofield making money from this?

First, there is advertising. YouTube is owned by Google and Google places ads and splits the revenue with Tofield. Then there is merchandise. has a shop where you will find all sorts of merchandise for sale, including books, calendars, cat products, T-shirts, fine art prints, ceramics and kitchen items. There are mobile games available through the iTunes app store. The books are also available through Amazon. The site has room for fans to upload pictures of their own cats, so there's user generated content helping to keep the site fresh.

Simon Tofield is doing many of the things mentioned in these articles. He's built the films around a continuing character. The shorts are comparatively fast and cheap to produce. There is no colour. There is no dialogue, so the films can be understood internationally without subtitles or dubbing. There is no music except over the main title and that gets re-used. The films are short, usually less than three minutes and sometimes less than two.

He uses Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest to stay connected to his audience and let them know when something new is available.

Tofield has taken advantage of another thing: an existing community. Millions of people have cats as pets. They are a ready-made audience for these cartoons. It is far easier to aim a work at an already existing audience than it is to try to build an audience from scratch. Creators should examine their own lives and see if they are part of some community besides art and animation. Does a creator play a sport, collect something, have worked in a particular business, etc? If so, the knowledge and experience in this area makes a creator qualified to talk to an audience of people with similar experiences. That audience may be large enough to provide a living.

Continued in part 6.