Early a decade ago, Matthew Buchanan and Karl von Randow, web designers based in Auckland, New Zealand, were looking for a passionate project. Their business, a boutique web design studio called Cactuslab, has developed apps and websites for a wide variety of clients, but they want a project of their own that their team can embark on. do when there is not much to do.
Buchanan has ideas for a social media site about movies. At the time, he reflected, he used Flickr to share photos and Last.fm to share his music preferences. IMDb is a database; in essence, it is not social. That leaves a void in this area. The result was an app and social media network called Letterboxd, which its website cleverly describes as “Goodreads for movies”.
After being introduced at the Brooklyn Beta web conference in the fall of 2011, Letterboxd has gradually grown a modest but passionate film fan base with a desire to follow their movie-watching habits, making their name known. favorite movie books, write and publish reviews. However, by 2020, the growth of the website has exploded. Letterboxd has seen its user base nearly double since the start of the pandemic: They now have more than 3 million member accounts, according to the company, up from 1.7 million at this time last year.
And it’s not just having more users. It gets used more: “We saw more activity per member,” Buchanan said in a recent Zoom interview. “Our metrics have all increased across the board.” Their revenue has grown, from advertising and optional paid membership, offering users additional features. The company is no longer just a side project of Buchanan and von Randow, and over the past year, it has attracted a few full-time employees.
The pandemic wreaked havoc in the film industry, with theaters almost closing and popular blockbusters like “Tenet” underperforming. But for Letterboxd, all time at home is a boon. “We love talking about film,” said Gemma Gracewood, Letterboxd’s editor-in-chief. “And we’re talking more about what we love lately because we’re all stuck in the house.”
Initially, Letterboxd primarily appealed to movie enthusiasts: fastidious movie enthusiasts, statistic enthusiasts and professional critics looking to put their published work under one roof. home. Mike D’Angelo, a longtime contributor to Entertainment Weekly and Esquire, has been using Letterboxd to record every movie he has seen, since January 1992. In addition to loading his old reviews. On the platform, he also uses the website as a way of his diary for further insights.
“If I’m writing a professional review, then I’m writing for the general audience,” he said on a recent phone call. “Meanwhile on Letterboxd, I don’t worry about procedural things like plot summaries. I joke and reference you will have to have quite a deep film knowledge to understand. I find it much more liberal ”.
That freedom gives the text on the Letterboxd a wild west quality. What comes out at the top of most popular reviews is the wild scope: There are obscure memes, facet essays, and scattered documents packed with scholarly jargon. You can find the political guts written with breathtaking enthusiasm: “The most destructive act in the world, the source of more war, death and exploitation than anything else. that the world has known since the introduction of slavery, imperialism is the highest, the lowest, the most terrifying aspect of capitalism, and we oppose it. ” Of course, it’s a review of “Wonder Woman.”) Or you might find a confusing sentence, such as one of the site’s most popular reviews of the movie “Joker”: “This happened to my best friend Eric. ”
In the spirit of non-editing, Letterboxd’s anything may not be appropriate: D’Angelo admits that he feels “upset” when the writers “use all lower case letters” or refuse “use normal grammar or punctuation, which usually happens on the web. But the lack of rules or structures can also lead to some interesting, unique criticism and provide a foundation for voices that may not be heard. On Letterboxd, you can discover not only new movies to watch but also new critics to follow.
Sydney Wegner, a single mom in rural Texas, started using Letterboxd in late 2012. Under the username @campbart, she wrote vivid, free-form reviews (mostly plain writing). about sci-fi, horror and action movies, including a heartfelt work on “Minions” read as a poem in praise of her daughter. “I wrote that way because that’s what I love to read,” she said recently. “I find criticism very boring unless there is a personal aspect in it.”
Wegner said she “never intended to write professionally”, but as her account started to have a lot of followers, she soon realized she was asking for paid work as a reviewer. . She has appeared as a guest on film podcasts, conducted screenings for screenings, and commissioned by editors at several film review sites, such as Film Freak Central.
Lucy May joined Letterboxd in 2015 and today she is one of the most popular users with nearly 60,000 followers. The 26-year-old lives with her family in her hometown of Illinois, where she works at a cinema, and in her spare time often watches movies and writes about them on Letterboxd.
Although May says she is “first of all a movie fan” and not a professional, she now considers herself a critic. “I call myself a Letterboxd critic,” she said. She finds this “modern wave of criticism” on Letterboxd very interesting, “because so many old rules are being thrown out the window.”
She said: “It’s less embarrassing now that lower ratings are given to older movies and there are more people who love things like rom-com. “I find that honesty on Letterboxd is appealing. I don’t go to school to write or anything like that, but I call myself a critic in that sense. “
Letterboxd’s growth boom is actually on a young trend. On the app the company reports is how 75% of users access Letterboxd, the biggest demographics are 18 to 24-year-olds. “There has been a dramatic increase in the number of younger members,” Greenwood said. And she says once drawn to the platform, these young members often see their tastes begin to develop soon. “They are watching ‘The Switch Princess: Switching Again’ and exploring ‘Cherbourg’s Umbrella’, she said.
That change towards a younger user base means that Letterboxd is finally starting to expand beyond the niche market for movie buffs – and more than a million new users by 2020 represent a lot of people are “not purely moviegoers,” explained Buchanan. The development has taken the foundation to a new level of success and Buchanan sees even greater potential. “For example, there are tens of millions of Netflix users. We know we’re not going to get everyone to Netflix, but we also know that the appetite for movie content is on the rise. “
The spike shows that while the film industry has been ravaged in many ways by the door ban and the catastrophe of the pandemic, the film culture itself is still thriving. We may not be able to go to the movies, but as Letterboxd’s success shows, we still want to talk about them.