Early last decade, Matthew Buchanan and Karl von Randow, web designers based in Auckland, New Zealand, were seeking a passion project. Their business, a boutique web design studio called Cactuslab, developed apps and websites for various clients, but they wanted a project of their own that their team could plug away at when there wasn’t much else to do.
Buchanan had an idea for a social media site about movies. At the time, he reflected, he used Flickr to share photos and Last.fm to share his taste in music. IMDb was a database; it wasn’t, in essence, social. That left a gap in the field. The result was an app and social media network called Letterboxd, which its website describes, aptly, as “Goodreads for film.”
After it was introduced at the web conference Brooklyn Beta in the fall of 2011, Letterboxd steadily developed a modest but passionate following of film fans eager to track their movie-watching habits, create lists of favorites, and write and publish reviews. In 2020, however, the site’s growth was explosive. Letterboxd has seen its user base nearly double since the beginning 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 more users. It’s more use: “We’ve seen more activity per member,” Buchanan said in a recent Zoom interview. “Our metrics are up across the board.” Their revenues have increased, from advertising and optional paid memberships, which give users added features. The company is no longer just Buchanan and von Randow’s side project, and over the last year, they have brought on several full-time staff.