Do you want to know what really chaps my ass about self distribution?
I get annoyed when I hear other filmmakers (and industry gurus) drone on and on about self distribution, as if it is a new concept or a last resort. Here’s the deal. Anybody who is still talking about “self distribution” (as if it’s a choice) is old school.
For a little history lesson lets revisit the the old days (like five years ago) when movie distribution survived and thrived as a business to business model.
Back then, in order to get your movie into the hands of the end consumer, you’d have to make a deal with a distributor. The distributor would then license your movie to a retail business like Blockbuster. And because Blockbuster operated on a business to consumer model, it was their business to get your movie into the hands of your audience.
“My distributor made a deal and sold 5000 DVDs to Blockbuster.”
Blockbuster only did business with trusted distributors. For this reason alone, many filmmakers took whatever deal came their way. And if you didn’t make a deal, you had two choices. You could try to sell your movie directly to the consumer (also known as self distribution, which prior to the internet was very expensive) or you would forget about your movie dreams and go back to your day job.
For this reason, the concept of “self distribution” was derogatory.
Filmmakers only did “self distribution” as a last resort. And if you were caught self distributing, you filmmaking was not considered “real.”
But that was then…
The Great Self Distribution Hoax
Over the last decade, the DVD market has slowed down. As a result, big box retailers like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video have imploded. And online marketplaces like iTunes and Amazon are the norm.
Without the fixed revenues associated with manufacturing and distributing physical DVDs, many traditional distributors have had to pivot out of a business to business model, into a business to consumer model. Ironically, this means distributors now have to utilize self distribution tactics to reach the end consumer.
As you can imagine, making this shift is incredibly challenging. Most distributors do not have the resources to market directly to the end customer. And for these reasons, many distributors still pretend that uploading a movie to iTunes is the same as selling 5,000 physical units to Blockbuster.
It is not the same.
Just like you, your distributor must now source and grow an audience around each title. And sadly, many distributors have no idea what they are doing. Sure, many claim to market movies. But upon closer inspection, the social reach, email and word of mouth campaigns mostly target other filmmakers. And filmmakers are not your audience.
This is why many distributors work to acquire more than 10 titles per month. They want to throw your movie into the digital marketplaces to see what sticks. This hope and pray digital strategy is a major reason distributors can no longer offer filmmakers substantial advances or minimal guarantees.
Still, even with this knowledge, many filmmakers will take a crappy deal. The truth is, it is validating to get your movie “picked up.” And it is reassuring to believe the distributor knows what’s best.
But I can assure you most do not. They can’t. Not without a comprehensive marketing plan for each title and the advertising money to back it up.
And without a solid marketing plan for your title, most distributors are left uploading your movie to iTunes, proclaiming that they know the guy who can get you special placement for a few weeks.
For them, special placement is the only, remaining remnant of the good old days when relationships reigned supreme.
So yes. While there are still traditional distribution deals out there – unless the deal is great, you should consider a self distribution strategy.
There are now enough case studies to show that it is more than possible to make money with your movies. But like any start up, growing your movie business does not happen by chance. Successful films like Food Matters and Camp Takota are the result of a carefully planned marketing strategy.
In both examples, the producers knew their audiences. They had a plan for reaching their audiences. And when it came time to execute, the filmmakers were ready. If you look closely at the examples, these filmmakers did not stop with merely making a movie. Instead, they continually market related merchandise, products and similar movies directly their audiences.
Even after reading this, many filmmakers will refer to this model as self distribution. But that is limiting.
You are an entrepreneurial filmmaker. And as such, you have always been responsible for developing your product (your movie is your product) and producing your product. So why on earth would you ever rely on someone else to market and sell your product?
I would ask instead that you start thinking of developing, producing and selling as the three essentials of your complete mini-movie business.
To further clarify the self distribution hoax, let me use my frozen yogurt analogy.
I happen to love frozen yogurt. I’m addicted. But anyway, let’s say I someday decide to realize my dream of owning my own frozen yogurt shop. Making my shop a success will involve providing an awesome product and coming up with a marketing and sales strategy. I will need customers. More importantly, I will need repeat customers.
Let me ask you this: Would it make sense to hire some other company to come into my frozen yogurt shop to manage my sales and marketing? In exchange, would I pay their expenses and give them more than 20% of my margins?
And if I decided not to go that idiotic route, would I then describe my activity as Do It Yourself?
Could you imagine explaining this:
“Well, I opened this yogurt shop and decided to do all the sales and marketing myself…“
Why would you think about your mini-movie business be any differently? You created your movie. And as a result of the internet, you can now access the same VOD marketplaces as the BIG distributors (iTunes and Amazon) – so why on earth would you lock up your VOD rights for 7 years or more?
If you like this stuff, you’ll love my film distribution guide.