Thursday, December 31, 2009

AMAZON.COM’S CREATESPACE: THE ULTIMATE FILM DISTRIBUTION MODEL

Disclaimer: First off let me say I do not work for Amazon or it’s affiliates. However I am always open to new potential prospects and or employers. :)

As An Amazon Customer
I have been an avid Amazon Customer since they went online years ago. I have spent thousands upon thousands of dollars on their site and have only had one problematic experience (and that was with one of their affiliate vendors, not Amazon per see). In Seattle during the late nineties and early oughts we felt the internet boom/bubble more than any other city. Amazon was one of ours. It was an incredible time. The mighty Microsoft was our .com ships anchor. Bold new ideas and creative thinking about how we shop, communicate and live were being presented by new companies every other day. I remember going to house parties and everyone there talking about a new .com they were developing, pushing, looking for investors for or investing in. Money was everywhere and we couldn’t get enough of the new internet commerce. Fast forward ten years and few are left standing. Amazon did survive the bubble bursting and rightly so.


CD-R, DVD-R On Demand
I’m not going to get into the history of Amazon. Google it for yourself. Suffice to say they started as an online retailer, later partnered and expanded until now you can buy almost anything from their massive website. I won’t get into the history of CreateSpace either. They used to be called CustomFlix and are a part of the Amazon empire. They started by making books and printed material on demand much like CafePress.com, except your completed titles were (almost) instantly available on Amazon.com- the worlds largest online retailer. Incredible creative thinking for a such an already successful company. Next CreateSpace delved into the CD and DVD arenas, much like DiscMakers.com Short Run Services, but again, your titles are available on Amazon. Using CD-R and DVD-R technology CreateSpace enables a musician or film maker to upload art files, content files and then mail in larger DVD content files to be made into finished retail ready DVDs and CDs. They are made as you or your customers order them, not stashed in a warehouse, garage or closet until they are ordered or in some cases thrown away. Also understand CD-Rs and DVD-Rs made by CreateSpace and other Short Run (less than 500 unit) Manufacturers are burned or “duplicated” discs, not replicated. Whats the difference?

Replication Vs. Duplication
Replication is an injected mold manufacturing process in which CDs or DVDs are professionally manufactured from raw plastic, molded into the shape of the disc. Minimums are usually 500 to 1,000 units. The more you run the cheaper the per unit price. I use Atlanta Manufacturing Group exclusively for my runs over 1,000. Prices are between $ .97 to $1.90 per disc. Cost depends on if the title is a CD or DVD and the type of printing and packaging you desire. Their website is http://www.amgcds.com
Duplication is a process in which smaller quantities of CDs or DVDs are created or “burned” using recordable media (normally in runs less than 500). With CreateSpace these discs are virtually indistinguishable from replicated discs, with perfectly printed full color surfaces and cover art, Norelco or jewel cases and the ever unenvironmentally friendly shrink wrap. CreateSpace discs do have the standard purple (DVD-R) and green (CD-R) undersides (sometimes called purple and green bottoms) that characterize recordable media. I have seen duplicated silver bottoms from other manufacturers (exactly like replicated discs), but I believe CreateSpace prefers to let people who understand burned media easily know that these are, in fact, duplicated and not replicated discs. Amazon also has a disclosure saying something to that effect on their website. This is important as older CD and DVD players may have difficulty reading CD-Rs and DVD-Rs. All newer players should not have a problem. Some retailers will not carry Duplicated Discs. More than anything, this is to discourage the Home Burner from submitting ugly, inferior, non playable media. In three years, I have never had a customer complaint (knock on wood) about CreateSpace CD or DVD play quality. Remember, Duplicated Discs can be made “On Demand” reducing overstock and the need to run 500 or 1,000 units that you may not be able to sell. This also eliminates upfront replication costs (usually $700-$1,200 plus set up fees). With both replicated and duplicated discs, the more you run the cheaper the per unit price, however duplication will almost always cost substantially more per disc than replication.

The Member Dashboard

Once you have set up an account with CreateSpace, your home page is referred to as your “Member Dashboard.” This is the area where you can check messages from the CreateSpace Team, add new titles, edit titles, delete titles, buy copies of your books or discs (more on that later) and view sales reports. Very user friendly.

Set Up- Four Basic Steps:

To set up your title on CreateSpace, you have to go through four basic steps.
1.) Title Setup. This where you list the title, description, release date, copyright notice, etc. Slightly different for CD and DVD releases.
2.) Artwork. This is where you upload you titles artwork files. It’s pretty straight forward, but you need to get your files ready before attempting this step. I am a graphic artist with years of Photoshop and Illustrator experience and with a decent internet connection this step is a breeze.
3.) Sales Channel Management. This is where you set your price (more on that later), Amazon keywords, eStore settings (CreateSpace gives you an instant web page to sell you title from- especially cool if you do not have a website) and Amazon Video On demand settings (more on that later).
4.) Title Setup Submit. The area to proof your title information and artwork and then submit it to CreateSpace/Amazon. After you submit and during processing, you cannot change your titles info or artwork, but once your title is “available” you can fine tune or change things to you hearts content.

Changing Information, Pricing and Artwork

One of my favorite things about CreateSpace is the control you have over your titles listing. Earlier this year my film Hot Rod Girls Saves The World was accepted into the Backseat Film Festival. I got a little Festival Wreath from the Registrar and added it to the DVD cover artwork. Quickly I uploaded the new artwork file to CreateSpace and within a few weeks the new artwork was on Amazon! Now this is huge people. When you run 1,000 DVDs you are stuck with that artwork until you make another run. Not so with CreateSpace. This flexibility is a key selling point (in my opinion) to using their services.
Later I received a “Great!” review from Film Threat Magazine. I added it to my artwork file and bingo, everyone who saw the discs on Amazon knew that Film Threat liked my movie.
On another front, a few months before Christmas I decided to drop the price of my film Hot Rod Girls Save The World by a dollar. This was to encourage sales and be in-line with my sales strategy and price point for the amount of time the film had been available (since December 2008). I opened my CreateSpace Account, bopped over to the edit page and adjusted the price. Two days later the Amazon price was set at my new price point.
This flexibility also applies to title information (forgot an actor just add them) and whether you even want your title on Amazons V.O.D. Service or Amazon itself anymore. Try that with a 1,000 run and a typical distributor!

Buying Your Own Titles

With CreateSpace you can also buy your titles to sell on your own website. Duplication for orders less than 50 units is currently around $4.95 each. Prices per disc go down the more you order (example an order of 100 discs currently cost $2.97 each). Turn around is fast and you can select the type of shipping you require. On several occasions I ordered 200 discs a week before an event and received them with a little time to spare (though not much- so don’t do this!). You can also order multiple titles at the same time, however you only get a discount per title ordered, not in combination. For example if you order 30 units of one title and 20 units of another, you will not get the 50 unit discount. Another very cool aspect of CreateSpace is being able to create a DVD, Book and CD for the same project. We sell Hot Rod Girls Save The World as a Film, Screenplay and Soundtrack in this way. You can order all the various media versions of your project and have them ready to sell at your vendor booth with only one order! Lastly and most importantly- you can order titles to ship to customers instead of yourself. What you ask? Why would I need to do that? Many times I run out of a title and forget to order more. A customer will order from our website and I have no product to ship. "What to do," you ask? "No problem," I reply. Just order the title from the CreateSpace website and set the delivery address to the customers. This can be a life saver- but make sure you always check the “Don't show prices on the receipt“ button before checkout. Otherwise your customer will be asking you why the hell the invoice says the DVD only cost $4.95 and you charged them $19.99! This is also an excellent way to ship to small distributors. I have several guys that sell my movies at Car Shows, but only order 10-20 at a time. I just jump onto my CreateSpace pages, order the discs and have them shipped to their front doors. Addresses are stored on the CreateSpace site. They can be edited, saved and deleted at will. CreateSpace also gets better deals on shipping than you or I ever could, so it really makes sense to use this method for shipping from the US to the UK, Australia, Japan, etc. I would imagine, but can't say for sure, that if you lived in Australia or the UK you could use the US based CreateSpace to ship orders within the States much cheaper than if you shipped from your own country.

Direct Payment And Sales Tracking
Another great feature of the CreateSpace website is the direct payment plan. Once your account is active you can link your bank account for direct monthly royalty deposits. I have also set my business bank account debit card up as the default method of payment for my CreateSpace orders. This enables me to see my purchases and royalty payments on my monthly bank account statements. Invaluable at tax time. All sales records are available in the Sales Report section of the CreateSpace website. Excellent for tracking sales and projected sales trends for your titles. This year, in particular, I was able to see that sales for my most recent film were up 30% over last years Christmas buying season. Try asking a regular distributor for a sales report sometime. If the file will even open (many use these wacked out accounting programs) the mumbo jumbo they contain never seems to add up- “unsold units” “returns” “outstanding balances’ blah, blah, blah. CreateSpace is concise. X number of DVDs were sold in X month, X number of downloads in this month.

Amazon VOD
Much like what the MP3 format did for the music world, Video On Demand (or VOD- the delivery system name not format name like MP3) is doing for the film distribution world. Using CreateSpace you can select to have your film available as a VOD, both for purchase and rental on the Amazon website. Your deal with CreateSpace is non-exclusive, which means you can use other distribution services, but Amazon is the biggie so why not start at the top and work your way down? Be warned- some larger distributors will not touch a film that has been on Amazon as a VOD or DVD-R. I experienced this first hand, but honestly feel I am making more money with CreateSpace than I could have with this larger distro company. Additionally I have more control of my titles, which is something I really, really wanted. I like to be in the drivers seat- ya know?

UPC

CreateSpace allows you to use your own UPC and ISBN numbers or they can generate them for you at no cost!

Upfront Costs
Currently there are no upfront costs or set up fees to use CreateSpace (other than the purchase price of the titles you order). This is an incredibly cool deal, because in the past you would have to shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars for a disc run before you cold have professional looking merchandise in your hands. Then you would send it to the distributors to see if they wanted to carry it. CreateSpace cuts the time from project completion to online listing and sales down to the time it takes to receive your proof copy in the mail. This is also great for listing older titles or “back catalog” titles. Maybe you sold out of your last run of 1,000 DVDs and now only sell a few a month, but want it out there. Using CreateSpace, all your titles can “Stay In Print” forever.

Customer Service
Honestly in the last three years I have only had to call customer service once! I had a disc with a pop in it. They corrected the listing immediately and after I sent in a new content CD-R was good to go. Except this one time- my orders always show up, are correct, look and play great. No lost orders, mis-ships, women's panties in the box- it is amazing. Not so for their competitors Disc Makers. Every fifth order I made with Disc Makers seemed screwed up, had the wrong content on it (imagine getting someone else's music or film on your CD or DVD!), no shrink wrap (when you paid for it), CD booklets packaged upside down, etc. etc. I truly don't know how they stay in business.

WithOutABox.com and IMDb.com
Amazon also owns withoutabox.com and IMDb.com and has been trying to integrate these sites with CreateSpace and Amazon. With Out A Box is a film festival listing and submission site both for film makers and festivals. I have both types of accounts as besides my Record Label and Film Company, I run the annual Hot Rod Monsters Film Festival here in Seattle. I use WOAB to submit my work (shorts and feature) to potential festivals. With an account on WOAB you can send and pay for festival submissions from one website. They also let you know of upcoming festival deadlines and can tell you if your film meets format and style criteria for a certain festival. Very cool. IMDb or the Internet Movie Database is THE online listing for actors, crew, film and film companies. Kind of a whose who in the film world. Case in point- Wikipedia uses IMDb listings (and other means) to help establish the noteworthiness of a film for inclusion in the Wiki site.

Other Players
IndieFlix, YouTube, Hulu, Vudu, Netflix- ahh just Google it man.


CREATESPACE PROS:
-Near Instant Listing On Amazon.com Available
-Trust (Unlike Billy Bobs DVD Distribution, you know Amazon is a real company with real history)
-Direct Payments Both Fair and Accurate
-Extremely High Quality (In Media and Printing)
-Quick Turnaround For Your Short Run
-Competitive Prices
-VOD Download and Rental
-Did I Mention A-M-A-Z-O-N.COM!

CREATESPACE CONS:
-Not Enough Packaging and Media Options(Like Disc Makers)
(i.e. Colored Cases, Clear Cases, Double Sided Printing, Digipaks, Dual Layer Discs, BluRay, etc.)
-Could Have Easier Multi Disc Setup
(currently you have to list a tile twice and connect the two listings- very confusing)
-Front & Back Artwork Should Be Uploaded to Amazon
(I have several compilation style DVDs and would love to have the back cover viewable online. This would let people know what is on the disc as well and let them read the back cover synopsis, actors listings, etc. You can go on Amazon later and add images, but this is a real hassle and a consistent format would make Amazons titles look better)
-Full CreateSpace Community Integration with Twitter, Facebook, Etc.
(Much more could be done with the CreateSpace community pages and Amazon)
-Limited Shipping Address Book (Currently the CreateSpace address book is limited to a hand full of non-alphabetized addresses. You can only see six at a time and those six are the last six entered. A full feature alphabetized system would be appreciated for small record labels and film companies with multiple regular shipping destinations.)

Bottom Line
The future of independent film distribution is here- so get off you ass and finish that movie! CreateSpace is a great place to start.

In Closing
I would like to recommend that you not put all your eggs in one basket. I made that mistake with MP3.com (remember them) years ago. I had many rare music tracks listed on their site and when they were bought out, the new owners changed formats and all my work was “erased.” I have backups of the songs on CD-Rs someplace, but have never bothered to reload these songs onto another music website. God forbid Amazon goes out of business (don’t laugh monoliths GM and Chrysler almost did) or decides to sell CraeteSpace to Sony, but in this modern age, nothing is sacred and the shelf life of a .com is never certain.

5 comments:

Miles Maker said...

You're happy with these guys and I'm happy for you.

I've always believed the price a consumer should pay for your Art depends on how and where they discover it. Non-exclusive distribution platforms like CreateSpace empower the producer to make their Art available via multiple distributors so consumers have a choice. Some may trust Amazon and buy it there, while others may discover it on IndieFlix or Vudu and pay more/less. Price should vary based on the producer/distributor split, but more importantly, access and availability is essential to build consumer trust and credibility for your company with a strong Internet presence.

The beautiful thing is that new non-exclusive platforms are constantly emerging and independent content producers have numerous choices. CreateSpace is obviously a very good one.

Miles Maker
Story Author | Visual Artist (film/video/)
Socially mobile in real-time via Twitter:
@milesmaker
@mobisoaps
@directingactors
@BlogTalkCinema

Luci Temple said...

Great post, much appreciated :)

yongshuling said...

Thanks for the very informative post! I briefly came across CreateSpace a while ago but was a little skeptical. Having read this, I'm definitely gonna consider it as an option. :)

Angelo said...

You covered it in a nutshell -- a BIG nutshell. I've been an Amazon fan since the beginning as well. I'm even an Associate (not an affiliate). I'd like to add that the UPC label option is a definite PLUS when using CreateSpace it's FREE. Working with companies to get your own UPC label can cost $70. As Miles Maker says in earlier comments, the non-exclusive distribution arrangements are the foundation of hybrid self-distribution model. I'm offering my film "Broken Heart Club" on Amazon, IndieFlix and soon Netflix. iTunes turned it down.

Richard said...

I've had one of my Video offering approved via Createspace and "Submitted to Amazon.com." How long does can I expect that VOD to be for sale at Amazon?