Educational SalesThere is an established network of educational distributors alongside an emerging path of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) educational sales. For most educational sales, you must provide a documentary (one that deals with specific, education-related subject matter) or you must have a narrative film that deals with educational subject matter in a manner that promotes discussion.

What are Educational Rights?

Educational rights fall into two types: non-theatrical performance rights and purchase rights (of films of DVDs).

John Hoskyns-Abrahall, of the educational distributor Bullfrog Films, indicates that ninety-five percent of educational sales come from merchandise (i.e., DVD and tape sales). The other five percent of revenue comes from selling digital rights to educational institutions, giving them the ability to provide the content on demand through their Web servers. This also includes rentals to colleges, public libraries, hospitals, prisons, and religious organizations that do not charge admission or fees.

When a DVD or tape is purchased, the purchaser has also acquired a life-of-copy license. The license extends for the lifespan of the piece of media and ends when that media fails. When a library or school purchases a life-of-copy to use a tape or DVD, the distributor can determine whether that license includes provisions that allow the film to be circulated out of the library, shared with other schools, or shown in non-classroom, free screenings. Non-classroom screenings on college campuses, where admission is charged, become the domain of whoever controls the semi-theatrical rights.

What Can You Charge for Educational Rights?

While prices vary, it is common to charge $85-295 or more for a one-screening rental. Purchase of a DVD for classroom and library use can run from $50 for public libraries to $85/95 for high schools, to $295 for colleges and universities. Why are these prices so high? As Alice Elliot of New Day Films explains, these institutions understand that they are paying this fee so that filmmakers can create the content for the appropriate niche  that is suited to the educational market, and that without their payments, these films could not be created.

Educational Distributors

Some of the top names in educational distribution are: Bullfrog, Icarus, California Newsreel, and Cinema Guild. These educational distributors tend to take seventy percent of sales. Though this seems shocking, once you factor in the labor-intensive work of distributing in the educational market specifically, it makes more sense.

There are educational distributors that, in addition to wanting the education rights and non-theatrical rights, also want your home video rights. In fact, most educational distributors will not take your film if it has already been released on home video or DVD.

The educational films market is also beginning to go digital. Instructors like the freedom of on-demand access for their classrooms. Educational digital rights are separate from the rest of your digitals rights and any contracts governing them must state this explicitly if, and when, you make a deal with a digital aggregator, digital distributor, or online site.

You should always fight for the right to set up screenings through your website and, while you may not retain the right to non-theatrical college screenings, you should be able to request the right to semi-theatrical college screenings as well as community screenings. Educational distributors understand the blurring of the alternative-theatrical market and are usually happy to work with filmmakers in parsing these rights.

Approaching an Educational Distributor

Hoskyns-Abrahall advises the following tactics on how to approach educational distributors.

  • The best films for this market are documentaries or, for K-12 schools, animation.
  • Be prepared to present to distributors on why your film is right for them and for which target markets it is best suited.
  • Know what types of thematic modules and teachers guides would be suitable for your film.
  • Use clips and still photos from the film to sell  it; even the first three minutes of the film can be enough.
  • Send emails as opposed to calling, when contacting educational distributors, unless your film is a hot commodity on the educational market.

Why is an Educational Window Important?

There is one exception to copyright law that allows any legally purchased DVD to be used for classroom instruction. One of the downsides to this is that if an instructor can pay $24.95 for a personal copy of a film, the school will likely not want to purchase the educational version at a higher price.

That being said, there are restrictions on this policy. DVDs cannot be used by teachers or substitutes to simply take up class time, and they cannot be used at assemblies. They are also not to be circulated. Because institutions usually do not wish to police the media usage on their campus, the administration will usually opt to buy educational versions of all films shown. Additionally, home videos only reduced educational sales by thirty to forty percent . That still leaves sixty to seventy percent of the market available, with substantial potential for profit.

Most distributors will start out wanting a three-year educational window. A six-month window is considered very short. A three-year window is excessive for any film with the potential to do well in home video release. However, many films stand to do better on the educational market than for home video release. Additionally, with the currently slumping home video market, educational release is becoming an increasingly lucrative option for niche films.

Promoting Educational Sales with a Simultaneous Home Video Release

The following are some ways to reduce competition between educational and home video releases.

  • Create an enhanced honor system. Declare on your web store and on the DVD packaging that the DVD is for home use only. Offer the educational versions and/or licensing on your website (see www.bombitstore.com  for an example).
  • Add a warning message at the beginning of the DVD indicating that it is for home use only and not for public or educational screenings. This was successful for Robert Bahar, whose film Made in LA (2007) (www.madeinla.com) was released as a home video and educational film simultaneously.
  • Offer a special instructional disc for teachers when schools or institutions buy the film from you. Although this will not convince educational distributors to sign you, it will persuade many to buy from your as opposed to purchasing from Amazon.com.

Special Features for an Educational DVD

While Hoskyns-Abrahall emphasizes that initial film quality is the primary determinant of success on the educational market, here are some value-add features that institutions look for in educational films.

  • Closed Captioning: Departments of Education in all U.S. states require equal access for students with disabilities, including those with hearing impairment. This can cost in the neighborhood of $600-2000.
  • Chapterization: Teachers will often show sections of the film as opposed to a full screening. Dividing the film into chapters of around five minutes helps them focus on key scenes.
  • Study Guide: You can include a pamphlet or Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) file in the extra features section of the DVD, providing discussion questions, possible activities, or even sample lesson plans. Hoskyns-Abrahall suggests limiting the time and resources you devote to this unless you have already secured a budget for it. It is also noteworthy that colleges and universities use these types of resources less than high schools, so development of this feature should be contingent on your target audience.
  • Special Sections: In addition to chapterization, you may want to have some sections of the film separated in the extra features, specifically geared to enhance the study guide. Better still, you can provide extended sections where additional material is included with the section of the film. These are often called “thematic modules.”

Educational Film Cooperatives and New Day Films

Educational film cooperatives are comprised of filmmakers who are courting the educational market. The benefit of an educational cooperative is that while the distribution work is shared among members, each cooperative keeps nearly all the revenue from their films. This means that your revenue can range from seventy to ninety-five percent, as opposed to thirty percent with a traditional educational distributor.

New Day films is an example of a successful educational film cooperative. It has 60 active members and holds two semi-annual meetings that members are required prepare for and attend.

Filmmakers are allowed to choose to which part of the distribution process they contribute : website maintenance, email supervision, acquisitions, and recruiting. The total amount of work usually only amounts to about one week per year. For the first six months of your membership, however, you do not assist in distribution; instead, you focus entirely on promoting and launching your film. It is only after your film has reached the market that it can be considered for educational distribution, so this is an important first step.

Before joining New Day, you must apply and be approved. Your film will be vetted by a recruiter and you will be interviewed to see if you are a good fit for the cooperative. When vetting the film, they will be looking for its potential value as an educational product, preferably related to social action, and that it will support the existing collection (i.e., complement rather than compete with films already approved for the cooperative). Regarding the filmmaker, they want to make sure you are a team player who is not going to diminish the success of the cooperative, and who can complete required tasks successfully. After pre-approval, membership is voted on by current members.

If you are accepted, you will receive the assistance of a launch coach, who, for the first six-months, helps you start the educational distribution of your film. You are also given a sales list of proven buyers of films similar to yours. Additionally, the cooperative has an “email czar” who ensures that emails to the buyers are well paced, so as to give each film a chance at success. Additionally, filmmakers in the cooperative who are familiar with the same subject area create and share their own master lists of clients.

Lists in hand, it is time to begin your distribution campaign. New Day recommends approaching potential buyers through multiple avenues. Phone calls are not recommended; however, postcards, brochures, and emails are. In addition to these options, New Day encourages members to attend the annual conferences for their target niche in order to present and network. Members also attend the American Library Association meeting every summer and the NACA conventions.