Price Gouging

Gary Handman (
Fri, 5 Apr 1996 09:18:54 -0800 (PST)

I'd like to spin this conversation in a slightly different direction and
raise a few different questions. First off, I must confess that, like
my colleagues,I am not particularly happy about having to pop big bucks for
quality indie-produced/distributed video (and I'm not cheered by paying
for rights for which I have no use). I'm also not amused by frequently having
to pay substantially more than public libraries and other institutional buyers
by virtue of my ACADEMIC LIBRARY status (who the hell ever got the idea
that we owned the fatted calf, anyways?) NONETHELESS: I've become fairly
stoic about the pricing issue over my 15 year tenure in this
business--and this aytpical (for me) equanimity is based on a couple of
facts: for one thing, when we're talking about non-theatrical video, we
ain't talkin' Walmart, folks! Consider the indie video industry (costs and
capitalization--or lack thereof); consider the market (or lack thereof);
consider the importance of diverse and challenging collections. The
bottom line, folks, is that NO ONE is getting rich in this business, and
with the collapse of NEH and other arts funding, I think there's a real
danger of a radically shrinking universe of quality non-theatrical
programming. I think the arguement that decreasing the unit cost will
expand the market is unfortunately naive. The market saturation for
indie video is almost always pretty low (vendors: correct me if I'm wrong).
While I don't want to sound like an apologist for high prices, I also think
that the relationship between libraries and related institutions and
video producers/distributors is a unique one--it's most certainly
different from the book publisher/library relationship...

It's difficult to know what "the answers" are: library budgets
(particularly budgets for video) are most certainly not gonna get any rosier
in the next decade. It may be that licensing for digital access is the
answer in the long run...the VERY long run. Until then, we need to
develop some mid-ground approach to pricing which keeps the producers
alive and our collection vital.

Perhaps this would be a productive VRT discussion forum topic for a
forthcoming ALA conference?

Gary Handman
Media Resources Center
Moffitt Library
UC Berkeley, CA 94720-6000