Are DVDs Worth It For DIY Film Distribution? Here Are 5 Case Studies

How many people will buy a copy of your film on DVD or Blu-ray? If you're planning a DIY or hybrid distribution strategy for your film, you need to think long and hard about the answer.

Nobody buys DVDs anymore, or so they say. And for some films, unfortunately, it's quite true! However, even with streaming and downloads, for other films, DVD sales can be the cash cow. Whether you're making expertly designed DVD trilogy packaging à la Gary Hustwit or handing off everything to CreateSpace to be sold straight from Amazon, your strategy for DVD sales can require serious navigation. Below are five examples where we've summarized the specifics of DVD sales provided by the filmmakers in relation to the overall release. Feel free to compare the films to your own, and read the full case studies for each.

Small is Beautiful (2015)

Credit: Small Is Beautiful Online Store

Synopsis: Small is Beautiful follows four people in Portland, OR as they seek a more sustainable and financially secure future by building and living in their own tiny houses.

The Release: The film was self-released worldwide online in April 2015 and in the first six months the film has grossed AUD $108K, netting a recoupment to date of AUD $57K. DVD sales represented only 1% of sales.

DVDs Sold as of October: (Estimate) 100

Gross/Net from DVD Sales as of October: AUD $2,044/AUD $1,926

From the filmmakers:

DVDs are prohibitively expensive for a global niche audience (postage + exchange rate issues).

Read the whole amazingly thorough Micro-Budget Case Study here.

Queen of the Sun (2011)

Credit: Queen of the Sun Online Store

Synopsis: A profound and alternative look at the global bee crisis from award-winning filmmaker Taggart Siegel.

Release Strategy: The director wanted to engage more grassroots audiences for a theatrical campaign through a hybrid strategy with Collective Eye Films. They booked their own event theatrical release. Total gross revenue from release was $473K and the total net revenue was $190K. Ancillary sales revenue (DVD, VOD, Netflix) was over $200K.

Gross Sales for DVDs Sold Through Distributor: $100,000

Net Sales for Filmmakers from DVD Sold Through Distributor: $50,000

DVDs Sold Direct-to-Fan: 5,800

Direct-to-Fan DVD Gross: $96,025

Educational DVD gross: $38,000

From the filmmakers:

The hybrid method of release was key for us making a profit in the long run, and we had to do much less work to get those DVD and VOD sales through existing platforms.  However we wouldn’t have made that money had it not been for our grassroots approach to theatrical and community screenings.

Read Jon Reiss's full case study Distribution Transparency: Four Filmmakers Give Up the Gold Parts 1 & 2. 

Indie Game the Movie (2012)

Credit: Indie Game the Movie Online Shop & Amazon

Synopsis: Indie Game: The Movie looks at the underdogs of the video game industry, indie game developers, who sacrifice money, health and sanity to realize their lifelong dreams of sharing their visions with the world. 

Release Strategy: The film premiered at Sundance, opened theatrically in the US & Canada, and was released online on iTunes and DRM-free through their VHX powered site. The film spent four weeks at #1 in the documentary category and peaked at #14 of all films on iTunes, & peaked at #7 of all titles on Steam.

DVDs Sold: Unknown

Filmmakers opinion on DVD:

Ideally we would have wanted to release the DVD/Blu-Ray in conjunction with the digital release is June. However, we needed time to make it / put it together. As a result, the DVD/Blu-Ray actually was released later on in the summer. It was of those time/effort management moments of being forced to pick our battles. In Spring/early Summer, it was too late to hand off the DVD, and there was still some production to do on it. We knew we couldn't deliver on launch date. But we did think that the audience would overwhelmingly be digital customers - so it was a compromise we were begrudgingly willing to make.

Having said that, the DVD and Blu-Ray is now out and selling well. A lot of people really enjoy having that physical disc on their shelf. We're also finding a lot of people wanting to share the movie (and by extension their world) with non-gamer or non-digital creative types . And a lot of times, a DVD/BR is needed for that - digital is still a barrier for many. So, yeah, the physical is still very relevant. Probably less critical for this movie than others. But still important.

Read the full case study here and here.

I Am Breathing (2013)

Credit: I Am Breathing Distrify Powered Store

Synopsis: I Am Breathing follows the last few months of Neil Platt’s life, while he is dying of Motor Neurone Disease (MND, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

Release Strategy: The main goal was to create awareness of MND/ALS. They did more than 300 screenings around the world in 50 countries, and acquired 4,660 emailable supporters for the film (1,202 through Distrify, 692 from film audience members).

DVD Sales: $5,836

Takeaway on DVD Launch: It happened too late -- four months after global screening day -- because they were holding out on Oscar Qualification which required windowing. The film's PMD (Producer of Marketing and Distribution) Ben Kempas on the four month delay:

If you ask me about one thing I would do differently that would be it for sure.

The full case study and many others can be found in the Film Collaborative ebook "Selling Your Film Outside the US" and can be downloaded free from co-author Jon Reiss here.

A Liar’s Autobiography (2013)

Credit: A Liar's Autobiography on Amazon & HMV

Synopsis:  Not a documentary, not a Monty Python film, A Liar's Autobiography is a 3D animated biopic that takes us through the highs and lows of Graham Chapman’s life.

Release Strategy: A multi-platform strategy of simultaneous Theatrical and VOD release closely followed by the DVD/BD release. After premiereing at TIFF, the film's 3D Theatrical bookings earned around £40,000, and over 6200 digital downloads.

DVDs Sold: 15,000

Gross/Net from DVD Sales: (Estimate) $30,000/$15,000

Filmmaker opinion on DVD Launch:

The DVD and Bluray first shipment was just under 15k units, down from an anticipated 17.5k. This was largely due to the demise of HMV at the end of 2012/ early 2013. A Liar’s Autobiography was the first independent title to find its way back on the shelf of the freshly rescued retailer. A Liar’s Autobiographywas also placed on general stores shelves in Morrissons ,Tesco and ASDA but sales were overwhelmingly Amazon/HMV lead.
In retrospect, a better home entertainment strategy, in addition to the cross-platform marketing message, would have been to release the DVD and Blu-ray in synch with the event screenings/ VoD release. Earlier and more inclusive marketing of the DVD material could have potentially achieved higher sales.

Read the full Case Study courtesy of BFI here.

The more filmmakers are willing to share this kind of information, the easier it can be to come up with a release strategy that makes you enough money to have a sustainable career. If you know of other relevant case studies that we can add to the list, please share!

Or even better, if you've had your own experience with DVD sales in today's market, we would love to hear about it.     

Your Comment


Amazing article, loved it!

December 19, 2015 at 12:37PM


i love phisical support, i had over 2000 vhs, 1800 dvds and i started later with bluray (be cause most of first bluray ediction are rubbish, an upsampled version of sd movie .... ).
when i release my movie i think first to theatrical and Ondemand distribution, be cause i must see not what i like to have, but what market use, now, that mean DoD, Streaming, Itunes, Amazon video, and similar...
Naturally i will do dvd and bluray iperEdition with lots of extras and Backstages, but only for fans, a very limited edition, less than 1000 copies for all, be cause... i think only people that love my movie could by it, and i want to produce my special way to tell thanks to people that will love my movie, like peter jackson did with The frightneers that produce a special contents for laser disk and three disk edition of dvd and bluray, with all that himself want to see behind a movie.

December 21, 2015 at 5:14AM

Carlo Macchiavello
Director (with strong tech knowledge)

Case Study: Space Trucker Bruce (
Cost to make: around $10,000
Festival entry costs: $500, accepted festivals: 3 prize money: $100
Theater Sales: around $2000
On Demand Sales: around $500
DVD Sales: around $2000

The interesting thing about my micro-budget movie Space Trucker Bruce is that when I showed it at theaters, people came out and wanted to buy DVDs. I had no idea that selling DVDs after the movie would be a successful source of income. Festivals were a complete waste of money as I spent over $500 and only won an award at a local festival. The cost of applying, traveling to the festival, and promoting it was way too expensive for my micro-budget and not necessary with the internet. I used Createspace for my DVD's and VOD (and Vimeo Pro). Having a professionally packaged DVD was wonderful. They made it easy. I consigned with a local store to sell DVDs and they've sold a bunch. I order a box of DVDs from Createspace then sell them myself. After about a year I put my movie up for free on YouTube where I've had lots more views but make no money. I don't mind as my movie's budget was all my own money and I wasn't intending to make a profit.

December 21, 2015 at 1:26PM

Anton Doiron