The Mechanics of DIY, Part 1: Educational Distribution

There are many components to a successful distribution plan.  One that is often overlooked is educational distribution.

What is Educational Distribution?

Educational Distribution is the sell of DVDs to universities, colleges, high schools, research institutes, nonprofit organizations, libraries and other institutions that use film for educational purposes, be it research or as a teaching tool.

While home video DVD sales are slowing, the demand for DVDs in the educational market is still strong.  And at $300 per DVD (on average) it’s a profitable market to exploit.

There are many distributors out there that specialize in the academic field, from Women Make Movies, who focuses in films by and about women, to Cinema Guild, arguably the strongest distributor out there.   Most offer no MG and the profits lean in favor of the distributor (around 50-70%).

What do the distributors have in their favor?  Bulk.  They have big catalogues that go out to every institution known to man, giving them a great deal of exposure.  But with large catalogues come huge competition from all the other films that are in the catalogue, many over-lapping in subject and appeal. And educational distributors don’t spend much time or effort promoting films individually.

How can you get in on this market?

This market is accessible to filmmakers employing DIY strategies to their distribution plan.  Done correctly, it’s an easy way to make some good cash.  Here’s the breakdown:

  1. Identify the educational value in your film. What areas of study could lend well to the topic of your film?  US History?  Gender Studies?  Molecular Biology?  Most likely your film will have more than one area of interest.  Write them all down.
  2. At least six months before your DVD release, contact library review journals (both printed and web-based).  There are dozens of journals that review content for librarians.  These journals help librarians filter through the throngs of catalogues they receive.  If you can get your film favorably reviewed, it brings attention to your film.  And that’s free publicity.  But remember that these journals are written by librarians who don’t necessary have the pressures of time that filmmakers do.  They work slow, so send in your film at least six months before you would like the review.  And then follow up every now and then to make sure they have their sights on your film.
  3. Ask for reviews of your film from academics.  We all want Variety to review our film, but film industry reviews won’t be as important to an educator as a review of the film from within Academia.  You want a review that says something like, “This film is a great tool for understand calculus.” Or, “That film brings to light the history of the Velvet Revolution in an accessible way.”  If you don’t personally know any academics, ask friends and relatives if they know anyone.  If you still come up empty, do some research online and find out who the important professors are in a given field.  Contact them and ask them to help you out.  They will usually be flattered and agree to write for you.
  4. Once you have your areas of interest defined and a couple of quotes from within Academia, make up a small brochure that gives info about the film, who you are, and how to order the film.  These will come in handy when you are at screenings of the film and attending conferences.  Gear these brochures to the academic market and promote the qualities that lend it to the educational market.
  5. Richard Dill.  LibraryeLand and Richard Dill is probably the best resource for finding the right mailing lists.  After a career as a librarian, he retired and took all his information about the world librarians with him and started a service for filmmakers.  It’s pretty straightforward.  You tell him about your film and he will provide you with a list of librarians to send emails to.  The price is unbeatable:  1000 emails for $150.  He is always updating his lists so the information doesn’t get stale. He will also consult with you on how and when to send your emails.  He’s a great asset to have.  His email is
  6. Go to conferences.  Most areas of study have academic conferences.  Do some research, ask around and find out when and where the conferences are.  Many have mini film festivals that you can screen your film at.  It’s a great place to pass out your brochures, talk about your film and encourage educators to purchase you film.
  7. Make it easy to buy your film.  I always recommend setting up a Paypal account.  It’s the easiest way to sell DVDs from your own site.  But some librarians don’t have company credit cards so you need to make it easy for them to send purchase orders.  A purchase order is a request from a company to buy goods or services.  They send you a PO (purchase order) with a PO number and you send them a DVD.  In turn they send you a check, usually within 30-60 days.  It s a slow process so don’t look for these purchases to relieve you of your immediate financial burdens.
  8. It’s a good idea to have a link to a terms and conditions page.  This is page where you set the conditions of purchasing a film through your site.  It should include your return policy, how to make an exchange, and the terms of usage of the film.
  9. Speaking of terms.  Many librarians will ask if the DVD has public performance (PP) rights. This is a kind of license that gives the buyer permission to screen your film to the public.  I always include PP rights in the purchase.  In my Terms and Conditions section, I state that a PP rights include screenings to the public for free, up to 100 persons.  This will allow a student union to set up a screening of your film for their members or a library who programs monthly film screenings to include your film in the line up.


The pricing for an academic DVD varies but a good average price for a new release of feature-length film is $300.00.  Hard times have not spared this market so you might even think of lowering the price to $200.00 to bring in a greater number of sales but I find that most librarians are comfortable with $300.00.  And one of the benefits of being the distributor is that if a school can’t afford your list price, you can decide if you want to offer it for a lower price to that particular school.

Keep in mind that the pricing for high schools differs substantially.  A good price for high schools is usually $75.00.

Regarding public libraries, it’s very difficult to sell films to public libraries directly. One must go through a kind of distributor called “a jobber.”  These companies handle the purchase and cataloguing of titles for libraries.  Jobbers usually want to purchase films at 40-50% off the retail price of a title and only order films from you as they get orders, which means that you send one or two or three films at a time.  It’s not a very productive way to sell a film.

Do the research

The best way to get familiar with all the aspects of the Educational market is to search on line for educational distributors and see how they have set up their websites.  Model your site after other successful companies.  The more professional you look the better success you will have with this market.

Also, partner with other filmmakers to make the job easier.  Combine films into a larger catalogue, split the cost of a conference, go in on a mailing list.  This market is an easy way to work cooperatively with other filmmakers, which means you spend less time and money.

Good Luck!