Re: PRICE GOUGING or GOOD BUSINESS? -Reply

Kristine R. Brancolini (brancoli@indiana.edu)
Mon, 8 Apr 1996 14:16:31 -0500 (EST)

I have a couple of thoughts in response to John.

On Mon, 8 Apr 1996, Bullfrog Films wrote:

> There are several points that I think most distributors would agree
> on in response to this discussion.
>
> The first is that the analogy with books just doesn't cut it.
> There's the huge discrepancy in the cost of production between the
> two media. There's the fact that professors assign books to each
> member of a class (boy, would video distributors love that kind of
> order!) And finally few book patrons come into a library for a joint
> book reading for their civic group, girl guides or whatever.

While agree that the book analogy has flaws, particularly in the area of
production costs, I don't buy the textbook argument either. Our library
is filled with millions of books that support instruction that no student
purchased. While each student may buy a textbook, each student does not
buy a copy of every book used in the course. That's why my department
has 15,000 books on reserve. These are books, of which there is only one
or two copies in the library, that students must read but they are not
expected to buy. Again, the library receives huge discounts on the
purchase of most of these books. We certainly don't pay more than the
individual. So they don't read in groups but each students buy a copy
either.

>
> Second important point is that most distributors do not sell a video
> to their customers, they license it. And we license videos for very
> clearly defined uses. It's in everyone's interest that people should
> read these licenses. They are not that different from computer
> software licenses. You own the physical cassette, but your rights
> to use the material on that cassette are limited to certain rights of
> exhibition.

The point of this discussion has been that we do not object to paying for
right we legally need. But we do not want to be forced to buy rights we
do not need.

>
> Obviously this becomes more and more important as we enter the
> digital age, and producers and distributors struggle with the
> question of how monies will be recouped if there is only a
> need for one master copy in the whole world.
>
> The answer it seems to me is some kind of payment based on the
> number of uses. This becomes clear when you consider a television
> sale. Of course we're going to charge based on the size of the
> station. And really this is what is behind the whole public
> performance issue, at least in the minds of the rights' holders. If
> you need to get a certain amount of money back to recoup your
> production costs, clearly you need to charge more to places which
> serve lots of people.
>
> So it is at root a question of fairness for us all. It doesn't
> require enormous brain power to see that social issue documentaries
> cannot compete pricewise with Hollywood hits, even though their
> production costs are much lower.

This argument ignores two-tiered pricing, in which a filmmaker or
distributor tries to have it both ways--sell expensive copies to
libraries and inexpensive copies to individuals. Bullfrog doesn't do
this so maybe you do not understand the frustration of librarians who do
not need public performance rights, yet we are forced to pay for them.
If no home video version exists that's one thing, but if one exists, I
want the opportunity to buy it. The fact that someone decided to release
it on home video suggests that it has a market beyond academic
institutions and libraries.

>
> Lowering our prices has brought down many companies already and with
> them festivals and other outlets for important productions. So when
> you talk to your distributor, let's keep the tone civil and pay a
> price you can both live with. It's not a field that people enter to
> get rich.

As Randy Pitman has pointed out, companies attempt to sell childcare and
other home video topics at premium prices. Some documentaries are sold with
public performance rights very inexpensively. _Weapons of the
Spirit_ is an interesting example. It was reviewed in _The Video Rating
Guide for Libraries_ in Summer 1991. It cost $59.95, home video, $490
with public performance rights. *Now* I can buy it for $39.95 with
public performance rights. I realize this film was made by someone who
may never produce another film, but what gives? He made back all his
production costs and now he will sell for a reasonable price? Obviously,
he wanted me to subsidize the $59.95 price for individuals. Is this
something my institution would be pleased to hear?

A final word on licensing. If you want to be paid on a per use basis,
you may find yourself losing even more money. I have checked our
circulation records and noted that some of our most expensive titles have
circulated only one or two times in the four or five years we have owned
them. Most of the students who use our collection are viewing in ones
and twos, not in large classrooms with 100 or 200 students. This is a
tricky situation... The point is that most specialized documentaries,
the most expensives ones I buy, are not our hottest items. There is
abolutely no correlation between popularity and price! I could give
you many examples, starting with _The Times of Harvey Milk_ and _The Life
and Times of Rosie the Riveter_.

Kristine Brancolini
Indiana University Libraries
brancoli@indiana.edu

>
> I look forward to feedback.
>
> John Hoskyns-Abrahall
>
>
> Bullfrog Films (800) 543-FROG (3764)
> PO Box 149 tel (610) 779-8226
> Oley, PA 19547 fax (610) 370-1978
> 1-800-543-3764 email bullfrog@igc.apc.org
>
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