A filmmaker and distribution consultant I know in NYC, swears by the telephone. Whenever he wants to stir up some business and make a few bucks, he gets on the old horn, and spends an hour or two talking to academics he thinks might be interested in his film. For his trouble, which is not much trouble at all, he’ll usually walk away with a sale or two, and sometimes even bigger bucks, for a large screening. That’s because while email lists allow us to contact hundreds or thousands of potential buyers in seconds, at heart they’re basically spam…so so easy to ignore if you’re in the mood. A telephone contact to an academic buyer gives you a personal connection to someone who truly might have an interest.
When I first began this distribution odyssey, that was my sole method. With no knowledge that mailing lists existed, but aware of people called “subject librarians” in universities, I would search for email addresses to send my cover letters, then do a follow-up phone call a week or so later. (Here’s an example subject librarian list from Stanford University. These are the people tasked with building the collections in your area: http://library.stanford.edu/people/subject-librarians. How did I find it? By googling Stanford + subject librarians! Professors can be found in the same way).
Often the librarians would say, “Oh yes, I remember seeing your email. Tell me about it again…”. And sometimes it led to a sale. In fact, my buy rate with phone calls was sometimes as high as 30%, compared to the standard 1-2% for the email lists.
It seems to me the lesson is clear: take the to make a few calls. Who knows what you’ll turn up?