How to Sell Digital Downloads of Your Movie

A few months ago, I started selling digital downloads of my movie “Did You Kiss Anyone?” It seems like a lot of filmmakers are considering this option but don’t know how to do it for themselves or rely on third-party platforms that take a big cut of their profits, so I thought I’d write a quick guide to setting it up. I’m using WordPress, PayPal, and Amazon Web Services S3. I’m going to link to a lot of sites/services here but none of these are affiliate/sponsored links. When we’re done, you’ll be able to put buttons like these on your site to sell directly to your audience.

Okay, you want to sell your movie like Louis CK? Here’s how….

First, the infrastructure…

Here are the things you’ll need:

  1. A web hosting account with WordPress installed. There are plenty of options and tutorials for setting this up, so Google it to find the best one for you. (Note: If you plan to store your video on your web host, make sure your plan includes enough disk space and unlimited bandwidth.) [I use Namecheap, if you’re curious.]
  2. A PayPal account. I signed up for a free business account so I can show my company’s name instead of my personal email. People don’t need a Paypal account to pay you and you’re able to accept credit cards. (Square is cool, but not currently supported.)
  3. Optional: Cloud storage – An Amazon Simple Storage Services (S3) account–or you can use Dropbox if you have a Public folder (your account has to have been opened prior to July 31, 2012). The key is using a cloud storage service that lets you link directly to the file. (For instance, Google Drive and Dropbox accounts created after July 31, 2012 do not currently allow you to link to the actual MP4 file.) Having an Amazon S3 account will also be more secure and reliable than your web host or a free service. If lots of people start downloading your movie, you don’t want them to encounter problems that will make them unhappy and take your time responding to angry emails. Amazon S3 pricing is here (about .12 cents per month to store and about .18 cents each time you serve a 1.5 GB video) but if you’re a new S3 customer, you’ll probably get most of what you need free for the first year.

Encode an MP4 file

If you’re going to sell your movie, it’s a good idea to make sure it will work on as many devices and operating systems as possible. Right now, your best bet is an MP4 file. I used the resolution 1280 x 720 because it’s technically HD and isn’t as large a file to download as 1920 x 1080. (My 96 minute feature is 1.75 GB. I think it’s best to keep a download under 2 GB.)

You should be able to export an MP4 from your editing software (Premiere, Final Cut, etc). Or you can encode an MP4 using a program like HandBrake or VLC. (I love HandBrake!)

I try to give the file a clear name so when someone downloads it, they’ll remember what it is. Avoid acronyms and spaces, use underscores. For example, instead of DYKA-HD-1280 x 720.mp4, use Did_You_Kiss_Anyone.mp4

Upload the MP4

Once you have the MP4 file encoded, you’ll need to transfer it to your web host or to a third-party cloud storage company like Dropbox or Amazon Web Services S3.

  1. Web host: Again, if you upload it to your web host, make sure your plan has enough disk space and unlimited bandwidth.
  2. Dropbox: If you upload it to Dropbox, place it in the Public folder. You’ll probably have to use the Dropbox desktop client (not their website) because the file is so large. If you don’t have a Public folder (because you opened your account after July 31, 2012) then you can’t currently use Dropbox for this.
  3. Amazon S3: Upload the files using your S3 Management Console. You will have to create a “Bucket” to put them in and once it’s uploaded, right click it to make it Public. There is also an Amazon S3 extension for Easy Digital Downloads so you can manage the uploading from WordPress.

Install the “Easy Digital Downloads” plugin for WordPress

Easy Digital Downloads is a free plugin for WordPress. This will make it easy for you to create a shopping cart environment on your WordPress site and deliver downloadable files to your customers who have paid via PayPal. If you’ve just started your WordPress site and only plan to use it to sell downloads, EDD has designed free Themes as well. (If you like the EDD plugin, consider buying the developer a coffee!)

To install “Easy Digital Downloads,” log into your WordPress admin console and go to:

  1. Plugins > Add New > Search for: Easy Digital Downloads
  2. Click Install Now.
  3. When it’s done, you should have a section on your WordPress admin menu called “Downloads.”

Personalize the customer experience

Go into the Downloads sections of your WordPress admin console and click Settings. There is a good YouTube tutorial and some official documentation, but here is what I did:

  1. General
    • Change the Purchase Page to “Checkout.”
    • Change the Success Page to “Purchase Confirmation.” (I also edited this page to be more personalized and gave contact info in case something went wrong.) 
  2. Payment Gateways
  3. Emails
    • Fill out all the fields with the necessary info: From Name, From Email, Purchase Email Subject.  (I used “Your download from mikevogel.com” for my subject.)
    • For the Purchase Receipt area, you can use their template tags to customize it.
  4. Under “Styles,” I changed the button to Orange (you can change this on the download page too). I didn’t touch the “Misc” tab.

Create your first Download product

Go into the Downloads sections of your WordPress admin console and click Add New.

  1. Title: I named mine after the movie title, then added (Download Movie) after. For example: Did You Kiss Anyone (Download Movie).
  2. Post: I kept it simple. A tagline and the trailer. The purchase button is automatically entered once it’s saved.
  3. Download Configuration: I also uploaded a Featured Image so a thumbnail image would show up on my downloads page.
    • Pricing: I priced my movies at $5.00, which is sort of the standard set by Louis CK and seems right for a feature.
    • Download Files: I named the file the same as the movie (Digital Download). For example: Did You Kiss Anyone (Digital Download). For the File URL, paste the direct link to your MP4 file. This will either come from your web host, Dropbox, Amazon S3, or some other cloud service.
    • Purchase Text: The default is just “Purchase” but I like to make it longer because once they click Purchase, the button changes to Checkout. It’s the same number of letters, so it’s hard to tell that the button changed. I ended up putting: Buy “Did You Kiss Anyone?”
    • Link Style: Button
  4. Here’s the link to Easy Digital Download’s tutorial “Creating your first download.

Test it out (with Discount Codes)

Go into the Downloads sections of your WordPress admin console and click Discount Codes.

I created two discount codes to test. One is a 100% discount and the other is 99% discount. I used the 100% discount code to check to make sure the emails are formatted correctly and that the download link works. Once that was squared away, I used the 99% discount code to check and make sure PayPal is working.

When you’re done testing, don’t forget to Deactivate or Delete the discount code.

Promote it!

You have different options when spamming informing your social networks…

Individual link: Each product has it’s own page, so you can send a link out to that specific movie:
http://mikevogel.com/downloads/did-you-kiss-anyone-digital-download-mp4-hd/

Link to all downloads: Or you can send people to all of your downloads, which show up on a /downloads page:
http://mikevogel.com/downloads

Widgets: It’s also important to keep links to your downloads present on your site. I added a link to my Downloads page on a Widget, so it’s available on any page. I also used the “Downloads Cart” Widget that comes installed with Easy Digital Downloads to add a shopping cart type presence in case someone wants to navigate to other products.

Shortcodes: Every product you create has a shortcode that can be found in your WordPress admin console under the All Downloads page or on each individual product. It will look something like this (but in brackets):

purchase_link id=”2560″ text=”Buy: The Waiting List” style=”button” color=”orange”

When a shortcode is pasted anywhere on your site, it looks like this (shameless plug!): 

You can also use Discount Codes to promote your movie. Since my movie has “kiss” in the title, I discounted it on Valentine’s day so it would only cost $2.14. You can also set limits on the number of times a discount code can be used, so if you want to give away 5 copies or give a 25% discount on the weekend, you can easily do that.

Provide Support

Remember to give people an easy way to contact you in case things go wrong. And reply quickly if there’s an issue.  I make sure they know they can reply to their confirmation email, and I have my Contact info on my website.

Do-It-Yourself, AGAIN!

If you’re reading this,  you probably took a DIY approach to making your movie. Don’t just hand that over to a third-party platform and give them 30% of your earnings (possibly tempting you to raise your price to absorb that loss) when you have all the tools to do it yourself. You made your movie, now go sell it. Make it easy for people to buy it. Cool (and famous, established) people like Louis CK are doing this. It’s okay to try and do something awesome too.

Published by

Mike Vogel

Hi, I'm the Writer & Director of Transmedia, Feature Films, Original Series, and Fiction. Portland, Oregon

27 thoughts on “How to Sell Digital Downloads of Your Movie”

  1. I love you, Mike. THIS is the answer to my dilemma! So detailed; I think I might actually be able to do it?? If not, are you for hire? I have WP site, but I so struggle with WP. And, do you have any updates to the process? Finally, does this uploaded film also use the menu function that is on a DVD?

    1. Awesome, Janel! Let me know if you were able to get it working. If not, I’m happy to try helping out. I don’t know if it’s possible to make DVD type menus for digital files. Please post a link here if you get it working!

  2. first of all, thanks Mike for spelling this out so simply. You’re a true resource. How can I buy you an e-beer? (…I’ll buy your movie) Wondering if Mike or anyone else out there has figured out a way to set this up as a digital download rental with a 30-day period, or something of that sort? Ideas?

    1. I think in order to do any sort of rental period you’d have to use some kind of DRM (digital rights management). I don’t know anything about DRM aside from the fact that iTunes uses it. Maybe there’s a “this file self-destructs in 30 days” plugin?

  3. I have implemented the same process. Question. How do you get past someone who purchases just sharing the .mp4 download link (once they have it) and bypassing the need to purchase? Thanks!

    1. I believe Easy Digital Downloads obscures the actual URL. If your mp4 is on AWS or some hosted server, your customer only sees a download URL from your domain. You can limit the number of times downloads are allowed from that URL. Even if you choose not to limit it, their order number is in the URL they’d be sharing so you would know who the culprit is.

      1. Thanks. I figured out how to force the file to download from AS3 on request. This prevents the file URL from being seen buy user. It auto starts the download. The limit feature on clicks works great. Thanks for reply.

        1. Hello,
          Could you please show where did you find the limit feature on the number of clicks? My question is that once you upload a file to the bucket and want to sell it to possibly infinite people, if you have a restriction on number of clicks, let’s say 2 clicks (2 times download) and the first person who buys it share it with another one then the click limit will be reached. Will the third person who buys the product be able to download the file ? There should be a limit on successful download per IP or something. I appreciate if you share your experience.

    1. As long as you own the rights to the movies (ie. you made them), it’s legal. It’s not legal if you’re ripping DVDs of movies you bought.

  4. Mike, Thanks for this info. I looked into “Namecheap”, because my current host said I can’t store files on a shared server. But the Namecheap rep I chatted with likewise directed me to their dedicated server plans, starting at $99/mo. What she said: “You cannot use a shared hosting because:
    1) File Storage is not allowed on our shared hosting servers. 2) Due to Resource limitations you cannot use all packages except Dedicated server”. Is that the kind of plan you’re using, or did I miss something? Thanks…

    1. Hi David,

      I actually use Amazon S3 to deliver the video. It’s free for the first year and then it’s super cheap after that.

      Then I use Namecheap as my host to run WordPress with the Easy Digital Downloads plugin. I think the ideal setup is to keep the big video file on S3.

      Hope that helps!

      Mike

  5. Thank you for this excellent writeup. I have a question tho. I’m prepping a Kickstarter for a video project, and one of the pledge levels might be to get a digital download of the final product. So I’d like to make the digital download available for free to supporters , via with a particular code which I’ll email to them. Is this possible with a discount code?

  6. Hey there Mike! Thanks for all of your awesome work and for sharing this with us – phenomenal! I have a question, Everything seems to be in order as you said and I am now (lastly) testing my work. When I go to check out and order a digital download (in the shopping cart page) it goes to the Payment Confirmation Page and shows the downloads, which are working fine. But I did as you said and filled out the info in the settings / Email section of Easy Digital Downloads, but for some reason it won’t email me the purchase receipt. What am I missing? Thanks Mike!

  7. My downloads are stored in Amazon S3. I didn’t see in this post how to connect to Amazon S3 from the Easy Digital Downloads.
    Can anyone help?

  8. Hi Mike! Thank you so much for this information! Im just curious to know if there’s a way to prevent any “redistribution”, editing, or piracy w/ these files. Or am I being too naïve?

  9. Thanks for this very useful information. I am from the UK and for some reason I cannot seem to find the currency changer to ‘£’ – can anyone help me?

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