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Old April 7th, 2009, 08:06 PM   #1
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How to Market and Distribute a Nature Documentary?

Hi everyone,

I completed a wildlife documentary a couple years back thatís received a fairly positive reception, considering I finished it when I was 19 and all my filmmaking skills are self-taught. I published my film on DVD with Kunaki, itís aired on local PBS 5 times, it got an honorable mention from the International Wildlife Film Festival this year, and Iíve sold hundreds of copies at $19.95. Almost all my sales have been from people living in the remote area where the film was shot (northeastern California). Iíve sold my film via: my website, a couple local art galleries (who collect a commission), in person at 3 public screenings, and at one local fair. I had the most concentrated sales at my screenings and at the fair. The most sales occurred over a weekend at the fair (about $700 worth of DVDs). Lately, sales have been low, which makes sense. Iíve earned more money locally than I originally expected to and now I need to branch out. Plus, current economic crises have probably restrained some peopleís purchasing habits.

I recently got an e-mail from Prowess Entertainment congratulating me on the appearance of my film (they didn't say which) in last year's International Film Festival of Cultures, Nature & the Environment. My film never appeared at that festival, none of my films appeared in any festivals last year, and Iíve never heard of the festival mentioned. After some searching it looks like the festival is actually Montana Cineís International Film Festival, which is affiliated with the International Wildlife Media Center and Film Festival. Anyway, I donít trust Prowess Entertainment Group, which claims to be a producer representation and consultation company who can help me distribute my production to the highest bidders. They also want a screener copy of my film, so they can determine how we could do business. Based on their isolation from fact, we wonít be doing business.

Anyhow, the e-mail made me wonder about marketing strategies. How should I go about selling my product to video distributors, especially those who specialize in outdoor/nature productions? Does anybody know of distributors who may be interested? I think a lot of money could be made selling my film on DVD if more people knew about it and it was available in more stores.

Also, there are some stores in my area who might sell my DVD, but I havenít approached them yet. Whatís an effective way to approach stores in an effort to get them to place DVDs for retail sale? Last summer, I sent out about 20 DVDs with a letter to various local stores offering to sell them DVDs at a discounted price (about 50%), so they could re-sell them. I got only one response, which actually helped net me a lot of $. Anyway, my letter approach didnít work too well. I was thinking that proposing a commission arrangement where retailers and I only get money if DVDs are sold would have been a better marketing pitch. If thatís the case, generally how should that arrangement go? One gallery that sells my DVDs charges a 30% commission on the sale and I get to keep the rest. Also, how effective is visiting stores in person vs. sending them letters, e-mails, etc.? Personally, I like the convenience of not dealing with people directly, but others have told me a key to salesmanship is to gain trust in-person.

Any input would be appreciated. Thanks.

-Tristan
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Old April 7th, 2009, 10:44 PM   #2
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Tristan... An interesting dilemma and one not dissimilar to the one I find myself in. I've shot a couple of seasonal nature pieces in the White Mountains and I'm still trying to suss out the right marketing approach. The difference between our works is that I intend mine as an impulse buy for tourists visiting the region. I have no aspirations for sales outside of this region.

All my instincts say you're right in not responding to the company that contacted you. I don't think much good would come of that.

You may have reached critical mass in the passive approach to distribution. You're going to have to find ways to push into markets where there are prospects interested in your type of work. If you've made any contacts in the wildlife film realm, you should think about contacting them for advice. There's no substitute for experience, connections and direct contact.

You might want to think about taking a road trip up to where you shot your piece to hit some potential retailers you might have missed. If you have contacts in the area, you can do some preliminary G2 with them on who to approach. Visitors to the area are your best local prospects, but knowing NoCal it's not the hottest tourist area.

Your piece obviously has something going for it since it's received external recognition. Perhaps you could call them to discuss your options. Email won't cut it here. An interactive discussion is key. Don't be afraid to ask for help. The person you talk with either will say he's too busy or take a moment to listen. If you get that moment, be prepared with your questions. Find out what you need to do to market your video. This can be a very valuable business experience for you. At some point down the road you'll want to sell something or learn something. Learning how to do it at your young age will stand you in good stead.

As to retail sales, set a retail price. It's commonly known as "manufacturer's suggested retail price" or MSRP. Depending upon the retailer, low volume products such as yours will require giving them a 30-50% margin, which means they'll want that much of your MSRP. Margin and volume have an inverse relationship. The more units you sell, the smaller the margin. I wouldn't consider yours a high volume item. Your retailers have a real and perceived cost associated with the sales of your product.

Making people aware of your product isn't enough. I stumbled across a DVD about a musical artist I loved many years ago but I didn't buy it because the marketing was lame. I also wasn't convinced that an order placed over the Web would actually be fulfilled. Marketing is a complex issue and your competing against people with big degrees and real budgets. It's hard to be heard above that. That said, it certainly can be done because passion for the project can overcome many hurdles.

As someone with over 30 years more experience, I think you're making a great step in pursuing this. Push on into this, learn the lessons and reap the rewards and it will help you down the line. I wish that I could connect you with the right people, but I don't know who they are.

I wish you good luck with this.
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Old April 8th, 2009, 08:49 AM   #3
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Amongst the retailers you have contacted have any of them been outdoor outfitter stores? Seems like they would have a large segment of nature enthusiasts coming through their doors. Also, what about wildlife organizations in the area? They may want to sell your DVD and you could work out a deal where a certain percentage of the proceeds go to fund the non-profit group. The International Wildlife Film Festival should have some contacts with distributors a call can never hurt. I'm sure they would love to see a film that that originally screened get a mass distribution deal because the DVD can have their festival laurels on it which is free publicity to them. Start working the phones. Are there agents who focus in this specific niche?
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Old April 9th, 2009, 05:15 PM   #4
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My wife and I have produced nature and local interest DVDs for eleven years and find that consignment is the best way to go. We use an acrylic 20-count display (with or without header) and periodically visit and restock, billing the retailer for what they've sold. We encourage the retailer to display the DVD if possible and if the location is large enough to warrant it we provide the monitor/DVD player. This way there's no risk (money up front) to the retailer and we get a better deal: We suggest $16.95 retail and we bill for $10.95. We've sold tens of thousands of units over the past eleven years in North Carolina and Florida.
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Old April 9th, 2009, 08:41 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Arthur Hancock View Post
We use an acrylic 20-count display (with or without header) ...
Arthur... Where would one get some of these? I'll look around, but I'd be interested in your source, if you'd care to share.
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Old April 9th, 2009, 09:57 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Tripp Woelfel View Post
Arthur... Where would one get some of these? I'll look around, but I'd be interested in your source, if you'd care to share.
We worked with Clear Solutions in New Hampshire to design the 20-count (2 tiers with ten units per shelf). It's a minimal footprint display and comes with hangers for a header.

Phone: 800-257-4550

I belive Mel is our sales rep. They're an excellent company and ship the displays UPS individually boxed and well packed. We've yet to have one arrive damaged and they've held up quite well in the stores.

Clear Solutions - Acrylic and Wood Displays - Book Displays, Card racks, Calendar Displays for Stores, Museums, Libraries

We usually order twenty at a time and the unite price is around $15 per plus shipping.
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Old April 9th, 2009, 10:01 PM   #7
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I just looked at Clear Solution's site and don't see our display. Ask for the one for Arthur Hancock/Time Capsule Video and tell them I sent you.
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Old April 12th, 2009, 10:01 AM   #8
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Arthur... Thanks! I checked out the site and they have some interesting stuff.
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Old April 12th, 2009, 08:04 PM   #9
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Tripp, thanks for the lengthy, informative response. I wouldnít be surprised if I reached critical mass with my passive approach to distribution. The road trip idea sounds like a viable prospect and is something my dad has suggested to me many times. I might take a marketing road trip when I go home this summer after college graduation. Yeah, northeastern California isnít exactly a tourist hot spot, but tourists are a marketing demographic I want to tap into. I actually contacted a nearby national and state park and offered to sell them my film so they could put it in their gift shops, but they ignored me.

Yeah, it looks like interactive discussions are probably the way to go. In these incipient stages of my career, Iíll keep a mindset of hoping to learn with anything extra (i.e. an actual sales deal) being a bonus. My MSRP is $19.95 and I think Iíll set my margin at 50%. 50 is an appealing number and it makes math easier. Thus, more people may be enticed to do business with me. If I actually sell well, I may change the margin. I think my cover art is straightforward and generally aesthetically pleasing, but I do all the cover art in addition to filmmaking, so I havenít taken the time to make stuff super fancy. Hopefully, weíll both find some of the right people to be connected with for successful distribution. Thanks for the wishing of luck.

Edward, some of the stores fulfilled outfitting capacities, but I donít think it was anything too major. I did try to target stores that catered to the hunting/fishing/camping crowd, but my area is so remote, that there really arenít many relevant stores. The wildlife organizations angle sounds like a viable idea, which I have not pursued yet. There are local chapters of Ducks Unlimited, The Mule Deer Foundation, and The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation active in my area. Contacting them might be useful. Mule deer and waterfowl are the main stars of my film. I might contact the IWFF, but I think they have their plate full dealing with filmmakers. The festival gets so many entries that many low-level films (like mine) are judged but not screened.

Arthur, consignment sounds like a good way to go, especially after my local art gallery experiences. Providing a monitor and DVD player or at least encouraging retailers to use them is also a good idea. My film was playing at the fair booth where I made my most concentrated sales on record. Your display case sounds like a practical design. Going to the retailer with everything ready to go seems to be the way to go. Plus, it can make your product stand out from other items in the stores. Iíll have to get some good display cases. Now, I finally know a source.

I recently got an e-mail from Jim Clinton, who owns Forest Pursuits Marketing. According to the companyís website, they do business analysis, marketing research, and custom marketing strategies. I sent a reply inquiring about those services. Going through some sort of consultation entity may be great option, but I suppose it depends on the entity.

To everyone: thanks for all your comments. If I have significant developments, Iíll keep you up-to-date. Take care.
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Old April 12th, 2009, 10:16 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by Tristan Howard View Post
My MSRP is $19.95 and I think Iíll set my margin at 50%. 50 is an appealing number and it makes math easier. Thus, more people may be enticed to do business with me. If I actually sell well, I may change the margin.
It's a very enticing margin. At that rate you shouldn't go consignment. I think you're giving too much away.

Keep in mind it's way easier to lower prices or margins than to raise them. Pick a percentage you can live with for the long term and stay there. Finding the sweet spot is a real art form.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tristan Howard View Post
I think my cover art is straightforward and generally aesthetically pleasing, but I do all the cover art in addition to filmmaking, so I havenít taken the time to make stuff super fancy. Hopefully, weíll both find some of the right people to be connected with for successful distribution.
Keep in mind that your cover art is your first introduction to your potential buyers. Use it to show them what's inside. No small task that. I think I'm getting decent at it but it's hard to gauge what motivates the buying public.
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