A few months ago, I started selling direct 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.
Okay, you want to sell your movie like Louis CK? Here’s how….
First, the infrastructure…
Here are the things you’ll need:
- 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.]
- 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.)
- 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.
- Web host: Again, if you upload it to your web host, make sure your plan has enough disk space and unlimited bandwidth.
- 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.
- 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:
- Plugins > Add New > Search for: Easy Digital Downloads
- Click Install Now.
- 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:
- 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.)
- Payment Gateways
- 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.
- 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.
- Title: I named mine after the movie title, then added (Download Movie) after. For example: Did You Kiss Anyone (Download Movie).
- Post: I kept it simple. A tagline and the trailer. The purchase button is automatically entered once it’s saved.
- 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
- 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.
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:
Link to all downloads: Or you can send people to all of your downloads, which show up on a /downloads page:
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.
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.
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.