Comments from a distributor

An old friend of mine for­warded my last post to a friend of his in dis­tri­b­u­tion. That friend very kindly allowed me to post her thoughts on the dilem­mas of dis­tri­b­u­tion and rights, from a documentary/educational perspective:

 [T]his whole dis­cus­sion has been quite an alba­tross for a long time, mostly because the nature of dis­tri­b­u­tion is con­stantly chang­ing (I’m famil­iar with that Peter Brod­er­ick arti­cle). We are (pri­mar­ily) an edu­ca­tional dis­trib­u­tor and we have a cer­tain niche so there­fore we only acquire cer­tain types of films. And each film has dif­fer­ent rights asso­ci­ated with it. Some of our films we don’t have home video rights for (and get shit from cus­tomers who think we’re try­ing to “keep valu­able info from the pub­lic” — I have to respond to those nasty e-mails quite a bit), some we don’t have dig­i­tal rights for, many only carry US/Canadian rights, etc. etc., and part of the rea­son why I’m being laid off soon is because our DVD sales have gone down con­sid­er­ably since 1.) we haven’t really been acquir­ing any new films of note, and 2.) many of our cus­tomers are now mov­ing over to digital/streaming, espe­cially in the col­lege mar­ket where more and more stu­dents are tak­ing distance/online courses and aren’t phys­i­cally in a classroom.

This has been a huge dis­cus­sion among us and all sim­i­lar indie doc­u­men­tary film dis­trib­u­tors. Hav­ing all our con­tent online will be a HUGE under­tak­ing and we have to square away the rights to each and every film, and then fig­ure out where and how to host it, etc. etc. We’ve exper­i­mented with Net­flix (2 of our films are there now — DVD not stream­ing), Ama­zon, Fora TV, iTunes (not suc­cess­ful there — HUGE Pain in the ASS), Vudu, IndiePix, and other short lived ser­vices that sounded like the next big thing but failed mis­er­ably. It’s SO hard to keep up with all the lat­est technology.…for now I just got my reg­u­lar ol TV and Satel­lite Dish and DVR and that suits me just fine. ugh!!!

While these are very dis­tinct prob­lems for extant prod­uct, they are also valid points to remem­ber for pro­duc­ers when they are sign­ing away rights for dis­tri­b­u­tion. What rights are you sign­ing over to whom? How long is the term? In the dig­i­tal age, a week is like an eternity–are you sure you want to let some­one else have your con­tent for years?

As more pro­duc­ers elect to pro­mote and dis­trib­ute their own works, this model is going to keep transitioning–I doubt that what we have even two or three years from now will look a whole lot like the cur­rent dis­tri­b­u­tion landscape.

In the next cou­ple of days, I’ll be post­ing about a com­pletely dif­fer­ent model that micro-indies could poten­tially lever­age to great effect…



One thought on “Comments from a distributor

  1. It’s inter­est­ing to note the dif­fer­ences between the (highly suc­cess­ful) dis­tri­b­u­tion of dig­i­tal music vs. stream­ing visual media. I hadn’t really con­sid­ered it much in the past, but I’ve been read­ing through your blog and the jux­ta­po­si­tion of these two forms of dig­i­tal media dis­tri­b­u­tion really high­light the stark con­trast between the rela­tion­ships we as con­sumers have with the dif­fer­ing content.

    We want music two own. Only really avid movie buffs will tend to own a huge col­lec­tion, and that, in my opin­ion, typ­i­cally as much for show as for actu­ally watch­ing. Mean­while, a col­lec­tion of 800+ CDs (when CDs were a going con­cern) would barely raise an eye­brow. Any­one over the age of 6 who watched the same movie as many times as I’ve lis­tened to any *one* of my Mar­il­lion albums would most likely be con­fined to some sort of unpleas­ant institution.

    Just some thoughts…

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