If you haven’t already heard, Distribber – one of the most popular indie film aggregators – is going under.
As a result countless filmmakers have been hung out to dry, some of whom have been owed payments from the company for many months without any fair warning they were shutting down.
An aggregator’s primary function is to be a middle man between filmmakers and VOD platforms like iTunes or Amazon. For a flat fee, they handle the logistics of encoding/uploading your movie to the platforms of your choice, and are payed by each platform when your movie gets sold.
If someone buys your movie on iTunes, that money goes to an aggregator (like Distribber) and then they pay it out to you, usually in quarterly installments. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.
Unfortunately as many filmmakers have learned the hard way, nothing is set in stone. And even when you work with a company like Distribber, who was one of the top (if not the #1) aggregator out there for a long stretch, you can still get burned.
Personally speaking, I used Distribber as an aggregator for my last feature film, before pulling it from their platform last week. I was always paid what I was owed (or at least I think I was, based on the sales reporting on their dashboard), but there were some clear red flags along the way.
Communication with their team was initially great, but slowly got worse over time. They stopped responding to my messages in a timely manner, misplaced PDF documents/paperwork they needed to process my payments, and generally seemed to act with less professionalism each time I interacted with them.
Around the same time, I received a few emails from filmmakers telling me they had issues with Distribber too – in some cases resulting in not getting their payments at all. There wasn’t much I could advise them on, other than to suggest they continue to follow up with Distribber until the payments were issued. Staying on top of them worked for me, but I also run a popular blog which could have prompted them to act more swiftly.
In any case, it was no surprise when I got a call from Alex Ferrari of Indie Film Hustle last week letting me know that Distribber (and their parent company GoDigital) were about to go under.
I don’t know all of the legal details surrounding the company’s demise, but I’m sure we’ll hear all about it in the weeks and months to come. All I know is that many thousands of filmmakers were negatively affected.
Some filmmakers who were owed payments never received them. And even those who weren’t owed payment now have to figure out how to re-launch their movies on whichever platforms they were hosted on. Not to mention, they will need to pay another fee to another aggregator to handle the transition. This could potentially cost thousands of dollars above and beyond the money they already spent with Distribber.
On a side note – one option is to work with a service like FilmHub, who take no upfront free, but instead take 20% off the top of your sales. This may be a good solution for filmmakers whose movies aren’t making a ton of money on VOD, but still want to maintain their presence on the iTunes store without shelling out more money.
But it’s important to remember, what we just saw happen with Distribber could happen with any other company. It doesn’t need to be malicious either – an aggregator can simply get shut down by the competition, which could lead to similar challenges for filmmakers whose titles they represent.
What’s happening with Distribber is truly disgraceful, especially considering why aggregators like them became popular in the first place. But it’s by no means a unique situation, sadly –
For years, many traditional sales agents and distributors had taken advantage of indie filmmakers. There are countless stories of filmmakers who never received payments from distributors, or who were told their movies made money, but since the marketing costs were so high they would receive nothing. This wasn’t always the case of course (there are some incredible distributors out there), but unfortunately it became a common theme in recent years.
The antidote to these predatory type of distributors was said to be self distribution and the aggregator model. Distribber capitalized on this by appealing to filmmakers like us, offering a more transparent solution where we would be in full control… Or so we thought.
As we’ve seen this week, they operated no differently from the companies they claimed to disrupt, and now are going down in flames as a result.
The lesson here isn’t to look at aggregators or sales agents or distributors with distrust. As I said earlier, there are plenty of reputable companies out there. But no one knows what the future will hold, and as content creators (and owners), ultimately it is on us to steer the ship and ensure our films succeed over the long haul.
When you make a movie, you have to play the long game. Your film will have a shelf life of many years, potentially decades. Through that time, it will likely change hands and have financial ups and downs as the market continues to shift.
The best we can do is ride those waves and do our best to navigate the changing tides. Unfortunately right now, those of us who trusted in Distribber are finding ourselves frustrated (or in some cases down right furious) with the state of things.
We will get through this period and Distribber will be a distant memory before we know it. But this situation can and will happen again – in different ways and under different circumstances. None of us should be naive to that reality, and the more we’re aware of it the better we can protect our work.
If you’ve had issues with Distribber and want to share your story, be sure to use the comments below.