The royalties Amazon is paying to independent filmmakers is tiny, but the platform offers a route to an audience – so is it friend or foe, we wonder.

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Back in 2019 Amazon created a furore amongst filmmakers by slashing their royalty rates for independently uploaded content. Now, for each hour streamed on Amazon Prime, the owner of the content receives .01¢ (USA) or .02p (UK) That means indie filmmakers will never get rich by placing their films on Amazon… or does it?

Why did Amazon do this? The answer, apparently, is quality control.

The streaming giant was under pressure to enforce control on independent uploads and to ensure subscribers have access to good quality productions… the kind of quality they readily expect from Netflix. So the idea behind this strategy was that filmmakers who publish ‘compelling content’ get rewarded, whilst low-level material is effectively punished.

A by-product of this for Amazon is free marketing. As filmmakers are expected to self-market and drive audiences to their movies, they effectively become unpaid members of Amazon’s PR department. Ultimately Amazon’s main objectives are achieved: to compete with Netflix on an equal footing, and to keep Prime members happy with good quality material to enjoy. So it’s win-win for Amazon.

But what about those independent filmmakers amongst us who have invested blood, sweat and tears into our productions?

Firstly, it’s not all bad.

True, Amazon dropped its per hour streaming rate, but it then raised the maximum possible rate to .12¢ / .07p per hour. So the more minutes your movie gets streamed, the higher the rate you get paid.

This is what Amazon calls Customer Engagement Ranking (CER).

Amazon states: “The Customer Engagement Ranking (CER) is a percentile ranking of a title’s engagement level with our customers in relation to other titles published to Included with Prime (SVOD) via Prime Video Direct within a single territory.”

I won’t go into intricate detail of this, but more information can be found on the Amazon website.

It’s also worth remembering that Amazon now owns IMDb. So if your film is listed on IMDb and is uploaded to Amazon Prime, a link will appear sending IMDb users from your title to its Amazon page.

My experience with Amazon has shown that there are a number of ways filmmakers can utilise the platform, depending on the production and what the expectations are.

We uploaded our historical smuggling documentary, Gentlemen Of The Night, to rent or buy only in the UK. It’s an old film and we made most of our money in the pre-Amazon days from theatrical screenings and DVD sales. All these years later, we still receive requests to see the documentary, and so we put the film on Amazon simply to make it readily available to those interested.

With our debut feature film, Do Something, Jake, we signed with a US distributor who first made DVDs and Blu-rays available via a number of well-known online stores such as Walmart and Target, and a whole bunch of stores I’d never heard of. Amazon, of course, was top of the heap and the sale of physical media has been by far the most lucrative revenue stream. Prime Video not so.

We used the distribution platform, Filmhub, for our next movie, Cyberlante, where it went straight to Prime.

We could have gone the self-distribution route and uploaded Cyberlante to Amazon in the USA and UK ourselves, but decided to experiment with Filmhub as it was able to get the film in 60+ English Speaking territories.

To date Cyberlante is available in seven countries.

All three Amazon experiences have been a valuable insight, and based on what we’ve learned, I’m working on yet another strategy for our next movie release.

So will filmmakers make a healthy sum of money by listing their film on Amazon Prime? Unless you have followers in the millions, the answer is ‘unlikely’.

Having said that, the US market has 112 million Prime subscribers, and the UK 7.9 million, not including those who use Amazon without the Prime membership. And notably, you don’t have to use Prime as your sole means of distribution on Amazon.

By holding back on Prime and listing the film first to rent or buy, content providers will receive 50% of net revenue. Just because your film isn’t on Prime, doesn’t mean Prime members won’t pay to watch it.

In the end, it’s down to the strength of your marketing. If you can build awareness and reach a large enough audience, you’ll receive a tidy sum of money in return.

Don’t forget, love it or hate it, Amazon has given filmmakers an incredible opportunity to self-distribute content, which handled well, can reap big rewards… and not just financially.

When we first started out in film production (with the aforementioned historical documentary), there was no Amazon, no social media, and no all-singing, all-dancing smartphones. To receive any kind of attention, one had to put in a whole lot of legwork, hope that newspaper and magazine editors would look kindly on your press releases, and spam local stores with posters and leaflets.

Technology has afforded filmmakers a world of opportunity… it’s up to you to learn how to exploit it.

Images: BigStock

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