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What’s Letterboxd? The Social Media Platform Going Mainstream

by Alexis Campbell

Matthew Buchanan, a web designer from Auckland, New Zealand, was looking for a passion project at the start of the last decade. Cactuslab is a small web design company that developed websites and apps for many clients. But they wanted to start their own project so their team could be involved when there was nothing else.

Buchanan had an idea for a social network site that would be about movies. He thought that he was already using Flickr to share pictures and Last.fm for sharing his musical tastes. IMDb was a data base, but it wasn’t social. This left a gap in this field. Letterboxd was born as an app and social network. It is also known on its website “Goodreads for Film”.

Letterboxd was launched at the Brooklyn Beta conference in 2011 and quickly gained a loyal following of movie lovers who wanted to keep track of their movie-watching habits and create favorite lists. They also liked the ability to write and publish reviews. However, Letterboxd’s growth in 2020 was rapid. Letterboxd’s user base almost doubled since the outbreak of the pandemic. They now have over 3 million members accounts , up from 1.7 million in the last year.

It’s more than just having more users. It’s more valuable: Buchanan stated in a Zoom interview that “we saw more activity per members.” “Our key figures can be found across the board.” They have increased their revenue through advertising and optional paid members that provide additional features. This company is not just Buchanan’s or Randow’s side business. It has hired many full-time employees in the past year.

The film industry has been devastated by the pandemic. Most cinemas have closed down and blockbuster potential blockbusters such as “Tenet” are performing below average. Letterboxd has found being at home a blessing. Gemma Gracewood is Letterboxd’s editor-in-chief. “We love talking movies.” “And we still talk more about what we love lately because we are all trapped inside.”

Letterboxd was initially a site for film enthusiasts: cinephiles, statistic fans, and professional critics looking to publish their work. Mike D’Angelo is a long-time contributor to Entertainment Weekly, Esquire and used letterboxd for a retrospective log of every movie he saw since January 1992, by date. He uploads his old reviews to the platform and uses the website to keep track of more random thoughts.

He said that a professional review is written for general audiences when he spoke to him on a recent call. Letterboxd doesn’t care about the pro forma details like the plot summary. References are not what I meant. You would need to be very familiar with film history to understand this. It is much more liberating for me. ”

This freedom gives letterboxd an almost Wild West feel. The page listing the most popular reviews is full of bizarre memes, diaristic essays and sprawling floors of pseudo-academic terminology. There may be political disquisitions with a breathless enthusiasm: “As one of the most destructive actions in the world, a cause of more wars, death, and exploitation than any other thing this world has known since slavery’s birth, imperialism is the highest, most mean, and the most horrible aspect of capitalism, and we are against it.” “That’s a Wonder Woman Review, of course. You might also find one cryptic phrase like the Joker movie review: “This happened to my friend Eric. ”

The raw spirit of Letterboxd can be a disconcerting one: D’Angelo admitted that he doesn’t think it’s normal for writers to use lowercase letters or to not use standard grammar and punctuation, which is what the site does quite often. The lack of any rules or structures can lead to unusual criticism that is not possible elsewhere. It also provides an opportunity for people to voice their opinions and creates a platform for those voices that may otherwise be silenced. Letterboxd allows you to discover new movies and you can also find new reviewers.

Letterboxd was founded by Sydney Wegner, an unmarried mother from rural Texas. She uses the username @campbart to write lively and free-flowing reviews on science fiction, horror, and action movies. One of her most touching pieces is about “Minions”, which reads almost like a poem in tribute to her daughter. She said that she wrote it because she enjoys reading it. “Unless there is an aspect of me personally, I find criticism boring.”

Wegner stated that she never intended to be a professional writer, but as her account grew in popularity she began posting requests for paid work. She has been invited to film screenings and appeared on film podcasts.

Lucy May joined Letterboxd as a user in 2015. She has almost 60,000 followers. 26-year old Lucy May lives in Illinois with her family and works at a movie theatre. She watches movies in her spare time and writes extensively on Letterboxd about them.

May stated that she was a film buff, but not a professional. However, May now considers herself a critic. She said, “I would consider me a critic of letterboxing era.” This “modern wave” of criticism of Letterboxd is interesting to her, she said. “Because many of the old rules have been thrown out of the window.”

She said, “It’s less of a shame now that prestigious older movies get lower ratings and there is more love to be involved in things like romance-coms.” Letterboxd’s honesty is fascinating to me. Although I didn’t go to school for writing or any other purpose, I consider myself a critic. ”

Letterboxd’s rapid growth is still very young. According to the company, Letterboxd has 75 percent of its users. The largest age group in the app is 18-24-year-olds. Gracewood said that there has been a tremendous increase in younger members. Gracewood said that younger members often find their tastes developing quickly once they are attracted to the platform. She said, “You saw The Princess Switch: Switched Again’. Then you discovered The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”.

Letterboxd’s shift to a younger user base is a sign that Letterboxd is now expanding beyond the “hardcore” niche of movie lovers. The more than 1,000,000 new users in 2020 represents a lot of people who are “not exclusively cinephiles,” Buchanan stated. Buchanan believes that the platform has reached new heights of success and Buchanan sees great potential. “For instance, there are many millions of Netflix users. While we know we won’t target every Netflix user, we also know the growing demand for movie content. ”

The film industry is in a state of flux, suggesting that lockdown orders and pandemics have had a devastating effect on it. However, the growth spurt suggests that film culture continues to flourish. Although we may not be able go to the movies as often, Letterboxd’s success shows that we still love to talk about it.

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