Addendum Dec. 2017: VHX is now part of Vimeo, and Kinonation is known as Filmhub, and other details have probably changed since I wrote the following in 2015.
I’ve worked on two video projects that turned into actual, physical DVDs: A Doll’s House, produced by Kyle Cassidy, and Curio’s Romeo and Juliet. I taught myself Adobe Encore by designing the menus and assembling the feature and extras into an attractive DVD. Kyle did the packaging for A Doll’s House, and I did the packaging for Romeo and Juliet (using his poster photo as the front cover). It was worth the work. It’s one thing to put a video onto YouTube and have people post appreciative comments… but it’s a great feeling to hold something that looks and feels like a professionally-made product.
But it’s an expensive feeling to earn. We used Discmakers for our projects, and although their work was of excellent quality and performed at a competitive price, it costs to make DVDs. To manufacture about 300 DVDs, including a basic package, could run between $700 to $900. This is a very rough estimate, because Discmakers offers a lot of options, and the costs adjust if you decide to get a plastic case or a cardboard eco-case, or just an envelope, or whatever. The nice thing is that economies of scale kick in fast: if 300 DVDs might cost you $900, (that’s $3 per), making a thousand DVDs is only two or three hundred more, so your per-unit cost drops very quickly. In some cases, even a really nice DVD package could be made at a dollar-per-unit, but you’d have to make about two thousand of them, and pay between $1500-2000. And if you’re selling them at $20, that’s a huge profit margin.
But this is still a problem. Because now you have boxes of DVDs to get rid of. You have to sell them, market them, set a price, and very likely, you’ll have to be the schmuck paying postage and shipping and mailing them out to people. You wind up wishing for two ways of distributing your video: perhaps a service that takes the orders and manufactures the discs upon demand, or pure video-on-demand via a service like Netflix or Hulu. This is when you start to understand why the entertainment industry loves digital distribution so much… and why it’s a terrific opportunity to us free-lance videographers.
I decided to test digital video marketing with my ambient video project, Wissahickon Moods. The video is a collection of shots I took in Philadelphia’s Wissahickon Creek, which I edited to a rough outline of themes, and scored using music by composer Chris Zabriskie. The main reason for this was that the video was pretty much my own creation; other than Chris’s music, acquired through Creative Commons licensing, the material was mine and mine alone.
I found two companies that offered made-to-order DVDs. I decided to not go that route for several reasons. One company had some terrible customer reviews. I could have tried the other company. But it occurred to me that customers might feel more secure in purchasing something from a known retailer, rather than a relatively unknown DVD company. This is not a completely rational and hard-headed market analysis, I admit: but I can always try that company in the future.
Instead, I looked into the major digital distribution channels, such as Amazon On Demand, Netflix, iTunes, Vimeo, and others. Most of these required a lot of advance work and some degree of money. Vimeo’s paying service requires purchasing a membership at $200 a year, which is very cheap. On the other hand, Apple charges close to two thousand dollars for the privilege of letting them stream your video onto iPhones, and you have to have four other videos and a history of making good product. Netflix just isn’t an option for an independent filmmaker without a studio distribution deal.
I found three outlets that showed immense promise, and I was able to place my film with all three for next to nothing but work. VHX and Kinonation had no up-front costs, and Amazon Createspace was extremely cheap.
VHX (https://www.vhx.tv/) was the first. This is a distribution company of streaming hi-def video that works with a lot of indie filmmakers: I think I heard about it because they were handling a film David Cross was working on. They seem to accept almost anything– they’re not undiscriminating, just flexible– and they offer their materials in “packages” akin to a DVD with extra features. You upload your materials, and set up a page for your feature, and you’re up and running. They take about 10% of the sale plus fifty cents, which is a small price to pay. (I should mention that, in the first month Wissahickon Moods went on sale, VHX moved six copies. That earned about sixty-nine dollars, and VHX’s cut was only nine bucks.) They also recently set up a deal with Roku, so that’s a bigger market to reach, and it means more customers for you.
Kinonation (http://kinonation.com/) is a different story altogether. Kinonation takes your materials, and then attempts to market it to larger distributors. Since these include Amazon On Demand, Xfinity, and Hulu, Kinonation can get your material before some very large audiences used to streaming video. There are no up-front costs, but there is a LOT of prep work. Lots of data to put into their system, like IMDb links, caption files, language data, and more, plus several differently-configured thumbnails. And your video cannot be the usual MP4s you’ve been uploading: Kinonation requires high-bitrate DNxHD Quicktime files, which are massive. This is because they recompile your materials for the various outlets they deal with, and having a high-quality original is a must. (My one hour video was more than sixty gig in size. But their upload interface is efficient and allows for interrupted transfers.)
(Addendum 3/22/2015: Kinonation has placed Wissahickon Moods with Amazon Instant Video. So now it’s streaming in hi-def, and available through my TiVo.)
Amazon Createspace (http://www.createspace.com) is how so many people are self-publishing novels, and Amazon’s expanded into video distribution as well. It’s a combination of streaming video and made-to-order DVD sales. You have to compile your materials onto a DVD, upload the ISO file to Createspace (or mail them a DVD), provide some designs for DVD covers and thumbnails, and you’re good to go. You can market your video three ways: through Amazon, through your Createspace site, and as video-on-demand.
But there’s a few things to know in advance. First of all, your video cannot be hi-def. It has to be standard-definition, 720×480, at best. Createspace accepts only single-layer DVDs. Also, the DVD itself can’t have more than one video file on it. Createspace takes the DVD and extracts that video for streaming, so you can’t sell a DVD that has a film and a making-of documentary. Your DVD has to be No Extras.
After you send Createspace your ISO file, you’ll have to wait up to 10 days before they finish their review. At this point, you are asked to purchase a proof to review. This costs perhaps $10-12, so it’s not a huge cost, and checking a proof of the disc is always recommended.
What about the money? Well, Createspace takes a much larger piece than most. Let’s take Wissahickon Moods as an example. The DVD costs $15. If it’s sold through Amazon directly, they take $7.80. If it’s sold through my Createspace page, they take $3.30. If the film is sold or rented through Amazon Instant Video, they take 50%. I don’t know how you feel about these percentages, but I figure that offering sales to Amazon’s massive customer base is worth the cut. It’s certainly better than not selling to them.