Secrets of Selling Your Movie Online (Don’t Get Screwed)

Today’s question comes from a filmmaker who is puzzled over how to sell his movie online.

Since the world of video on demand distribution is changing the ways in which movies are seen and sold, having a solid distribution strategy that you can implement is essential for success. And selling your movie online is going to be a big part of your strategy.

Question: When deciding on how to sell your movie, what are the advantages to DVD, On Demand and Video Downloads?

Response: Congratulations on realizing that the world in which movies are seen in selling is changing fast. When you are ready to sell your movie, the first thing you have to decide is whether or not you want to hold out for a dream distribution deal.

Selling Your Movie Online

Selling Your Movie Online

After helping over 100 filmmakers get their movies to market, I can tell you most filmmakers wait for a dream distribution deal. And as a result, the typical time between film festivals and selling your movie online takes 5-7 months!

This is because many distributors and sales agents come out of the woodwork and tell you that your gazillion dollar check is right around the corner – So you better sit around and do nothing!

I don’t agree.

In fact, I personally think this “wait and see” philosophy is hogwash.

And here’s why. After waiting months and months, many of these traditional distributors circle back and with some sort of strategy for selling your movie online… A strategy that you could have executed yourself.

“We are going to get you onto Amazon and iTunes. And we will try to get you special placement.”

Take Your Movie To Market

If you’re ready to take your own movie to market, I have good news. The market is accessible. And in my opinion the easiest market to access is also one of the largest in the world. If you go to CreateSpace (they pay me  to promote) you can get your movie onto Amazon.

Simply sign up for a free account. From there you will decide if you want to sell your movie as a video-on-demand rental, video-on-demand download, DVD, or combination of all three. You will then enter information about your movie and upload artwork.

When complete you will be given a title ID that you will use to label a simple autoplay DVD that you will send to Amazon. In roughly 2 months your movie will be available within the Amazon marketplace.

The only challenge with CreateSpace is – While the service is pretty straight forward, they aren’t set up to deliver high definition. To do this, you will need to go through an aggregator with a direct relationship at Amazon.

Find A Video On Demand Aggregator

In addition to Amazon, there are many other marketplaces for selling your movie online. My bias leans towards iTunes, Hulu, some web based transactional players and possibly cable video on demand.

To access these marketplaces you will you need to utilize a video on demand aggregator. Your aggregator will then send you a list of the appropriate deliverable specifications.

The aggregator typically works with an encoding house. And the encoders are looking for an uncompressed video file, high-resolution artwork and selling points they can utilized to make the pitch to the various platforms.

Depending on the marketplaces you choose, it could take anywhere from three to six months to see your title live.

The reason for this oftentimes has more to do with technical challenges than your content. When it comes to selling your movie online, many of the platforms are very strict about the quality of the viewer’s experience.  And if even one frame does not match specification, the encoding house  will have to pull your content for repairs.

This creates significant delays.

Execute A Movie Marketing Strategy

Assuming you go the distance and get your movie into the various marketplaces as both DVD On Demand and Video Downloads you will still need to implement a marketing strategy. Your goal is to use your movie website as a hub.

You will work both online and offline to drive targeted traffic to your site, and then funnel that traffic towards a desired point-of-sale, such as Amazon, Hulu or iTunes. Additionally, you may choose to also include an embeddable player right on your movie’s website.

At times selling your movie online can seem like a whole bunch of confusion. If that’s how you feel, you may want to download my sell your movie checklist. In it, you’ll get a more detailed overview of modern film distribution.

How Do I Sell My Movie On Amazon?

If you ever asked yourself: How do I sell my movie on Amazon, you are not alone.

One of our Filmmaking Stuff readers wrote in, asking some very good questions about how to find a VOD platform and how to choose a website domain. Here is the question:

I have had one frustrating year of trying to launch my film for sale onto the internet and I am really interested in what you have to offer. After listening to your audio downloads and having read your blog, I have many questions running through my head. How do I sell my movie on Amazon? Aren’t they a middleman? So how much of a fee do they charge? Also, my film is 700 MB big and will I be able to upload onto whatever you are offering? And I have not bought a domain name for the film yet. I am thinking of using GoDaddy.com. How many years should I subscribe for the domain?

– – –

First of all, congratulations on finishing your film. This is a feat that very few filmmakers get to experience. And it is something that you should be proud of.

In response to your movie distribution questions, there are quite a few platforms that allow you to promote and sell your movie online. Since you mentioned Amazon, let’s start there.

If you live in the United States, it is fairly easy to get your movie seen and selling in the Amazon marketplace.

Before I go further – just know the companies I’m about to mention pay me to promote.

Sell Your Movie On Amazon

Sell Your Movie  On Amazon

Simply visit CreateSpace and send them a copy of your DVD.

In addition to Amazon, I recommend you research both iTunes and Hulu as two other options.

Hulu operates on a slightly different model than Amazon and iTunes. Unlike transactional video-on-demand platforms, Hulu operates in ways similar to traditional TV.

Their revenue is based on advertisements. After submitting your movie to Hulu, they will then pepper your movie with blocks of advertisements. Hulu then splits ad revenue with the filmmaker.

If you are based outside the United States, and you wish to enter the US Amazon marketplace,  you will have to go through a third party, US based aggregator. One such company is called Distribber.

Regarding your question related to website domains, GoDaddy.com is a pretty straightforward service.

sell your movieHowever,  if you are looking for a way to reserve both your domain and hosting, I also recommend researching bluehost.com – In full disclosure, while both of these companies are good, they do pay me to promote. So make sure you conduct your own due diligence.

In terms of length, I suggest that you reserve your website domain for at least two years, if not longer.

If you need additional help, check out the Indie Producers Guide on How To Sell Your Movie.

Changes In The Movie Industry

Yesterday I had breakfast with a studio executive from one of the Majors here in Los Angeles. Much of what we talked about revolved around changes in the movie industry and how many of the studio folks are slow to implement new ideas.

With an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 independent movies flooding the market each year, the movie industry is experiencing what happens to any industry when cheap labor, inexpensive production technology and efficient distribution enters the equation. Your once high priced product is now competing with cheaply produced, comparable goods.

In the past, studios controlled distribution which provided immunity from outside competition. So even if you made a movie – odds were good it would never get into the mainstream market. But the internet has forever changed this. These days, any filmmaker can get their title into digital markets like iTunes, Hulu and Amazon.

To put it into perspective, let’s say you have the biggest and best Frozen Yogurt shop on your street. Then one day, over 10,000 small Frozen Yogurt shop competitors open shop next to you. What would happen? Would you spend more to market? Would you create flavors nobody else could emulate? How would you keep the business?

This is the dilemma with the studios. And this is also your dilemma as an indie filmmaker.  With all the competition, how will you make your movies profitable?

VOD Submission Prep

As a filmmaker, getting your movie into the various VOD marketplaces takes way longer than it should. The reason for this is simple. Every platform including iTunes, Amazon, NetFlix, Hulu and The Watchbox and Chill all want great content.

The delivery standards required by some of these platforms are so high, that if even one frame is messed up, your title will be rejected! This is why video aggregators work with amazing encoders. With a reputable encoding company, the encoders will do their best to fix any hiccups in your source. In some cases the encoders are successful. In many cases they are not.

In the event your title fails QC, your source (usually a portable hard drive) will be returned to the filmmaker in hopes of getting things fixed. This obviously delays the process significantly.

So my advice for VOD submission is this: Follow the specs provided by the aggregator. This will save you time and potentially money.  And if you are asked to deliver your title via Hard Drive, the one that most encoders endorse is the LaCie Rugged All-Terrain Hard Drive.

DVD Distribution Is Dead

Do you remember retail DVD distribution? Do you remember walking into a video store and renting a video?

Those days are gone. The demise of retail DVD distribution means that you can no longer depend on some video rental chain to buy 5,000 copies of your DVD. The advent of the internet and the rise of internet movie distribution means that your movie is no longer a physical product. It is data.

Yet despite these changes, filmmakers still talk about the difference between traditional movie distribution and self-distribution.

I have news for you. If you mention the words self-distribution around me, I will whip you with a wet noodle. (Actually, I won’t really do that. I just used “wet noodle” to get your attention.) But the reason I am adimant about removing “self-distribution” from our filmmaking vernacular is because there is no such thing as traditional internet distribution.

This is because internet movie distribution is too new to be traditional!

But most filmmakers don’t get it. Whenever I give talks about internet distribution for filmmakers, someone invariably shares a story about some traditional distributor turned VOD aggregator, promising to get their title into iTunes and Amazon and Hulu.

And I’m like: “So what? Any filmmaker can access those platforms. Why do you need a middle-man?”

Blank stares.

Aside from getting your movie is on iTunes, Hulu and Amazon –  unless your “traditional distributor” is conducting verifiable and measurable marketing, there is no additional value.

But before you run into the streets naked with excitement (or fear), keep this in mind. Just because you can access the popular movie marketplaces and fire the middle-man does not necessarily mean you are guaranteed success. Think about it – there is a reason the movie studios spend millions of dollars marketing studio produced features.

The problem is, most indie filmmakers do not have millions to spend on marketing. This changes the game.

Here are THREE essential filmmaking skills you need to master:

1. Become an Internet marketer: Or team up with someone who is. Why? Because there will come a time when there is no delineation between the Internet and your television. Or your mobile device. As a result of these changes, you will need to drive targeted Internet traffic to your desired point of sale and convert these visitors into customers.

2. Find Out How To Crowdfund: Running a successful crowdfunding campaign requires social networking, real-world networking and Internet marketing. Aside from raising money, your goal is to test all your movie concepts before you dive in both feet first. And if successful, your goal is to snowball your supporters into one giant mailing list so you can gain their support for your next projects.

3. Your Audience Is Your Business: Marketing nerds have a saying, “The money is in your list.” It is now no different to filmmakers. Your ongoing goal is to create work that encourages people to sign up for your mailing list and become a fan of you and your movies, for life. Then with each project, your ongoing goal is to continually grow your list.

For some filmmakers, mastering internet movie distribution is easier said than done. I get that.

If you are like most filmmakers, you have probably spent your whole filmmaking career imagining that your movie would get “discovered” and you would be propelled into instant fame and fortune. And while I would never discourage you from thinking BIG… It is equally important to have a pragmatic approach to your work, complete with manageable expectations.

But do me a favor – despite any emotion you have towards distribution, please stop using the words “self-distribution.” It makes you sound old. Instead, repeat this mantra: “If my filmmaking success is meant to be, it’s up to me.”

And if you like this stuff, you can always grab your copy of the indie producer’s guide to digital distribution.