RE: Interesting prices

Milos Stehlik (
Sat, 4 Dec 1999 08:31:07 -0800 (PST)

Having watched this discussion from afar, I think the most interesting
aspect of it has been the deafening silence from all of the distributors
who subscribe to this list.

On the other hand, the discussions show how much the idea of home video
pricing has pervaded the video library screne. If you can buy a feature film for
$14.95 - a film in which there are presumably PAID actors, why -
why ideed, should you pay $300 for an educational "documentary"
with some archival footage, a few head shots and a narrator?

I do think that some issues are getting confused. This discussion
started with a question of over-pricing: taking a title which is a home
video title, like Woman in the Dunes and artificially inflating its
suggested manufacturers' retail price. That, indeed, is the same
as going to a grocery store and paying an inflated price for the identical
loaf of bread (apologies to Teshigahara).

This, however, is substantially DIFFERENT from a nontheatrical video
distributor (who probably used to distribute 16mm at one time for
those old enough to remember) who always prices releases at a price
substantially higher than home video (in the several hundreds of
dollars per title range).

Ostensibly, what you are getting are some rights not available with
home video - public performance, perhaps the right to make a
backup copy. This higher-tiered pricing has always been consistent.
But yes, otherwise, a cassette is a cassette is a cassette.

In the early days of video, having sat through many agonizing meetings
and conferences on the part of filmmakers and distributors over how
home video technology was going to destroy the educational video market,
the argument offered was that titles with primarily an educational focus
were never going to gain a sufficient enough market share if the price
were lowered to justify lowering the price to a home video price ($20-$80)

I do think that these educational distributors were, in retrospect, correct.
Though virtually every public library has some video, let's face it, the
majority of it (just look at the Baker and Taylor best-seller list) is either
Hollywood theatrical, how-to, or education-lite (PBS spin-off).

Has video spending by libraries increased substantially? I don't think
anyone (ALA?) is even actively capturing such data.

Now we stand at pretty much the same place we stood 15 years ago,
except that the borders have blurred. If a Ken Burns tape sells for $19.95,
why should another Civil War documentary (probably with lower production
values) cost $300? This issue is confused even more by distirbutors
like New Yorker and others, who have both home video divisions and
'"educational" divisions, selling titles at two different price levels. Yet the
distributor who IS charging $300 may not be trying to "ripoff"
the market. The channels of home video distribution and educational
distribution are quite different, with very different economics. And perhaps
the content of his civil war title will never make it a mass-market item
because it is not "branded" with Ken Burns, PBS or some other middle-brow
seal of approval.

On top of it, there is the issue of new technology. This is always greeted
like salvation (If we all keep our addresses in a PalmTop instead of a
Rolodex, we will indeed be happier and more fulfilled). DVD is the newest
white knight. Yet I think that every new technology, by aiming at the mass
market, presents the greatest challenges for those titles which are, by
their very nature, specialty -- and NOT mass market. The issue is cost.
How many 16mm titles never made it to the video is an issue multiplied
by how many video titles will never make it to the DVD, both because of
'the still-high mastering cost, and because of the lack of additional
materials. These titles will simply disappear.

Because 99% of the 40,000 + titles which Facets carries are in the home
video price range, these observations are offered as an outside observer,
not as someone who has an ax to grind for high video prices - quite the
contrary. In the early days of video, I was once publicly accused of
trying to "strangle" a certain video distirbutor because Facets "dared"
'to sell a tape (not the same tape, at that) at $29.95.

The problem is the marketplace. We are the marketplace, yet that
marketplace now is very confused, because there are marketers on the
web selling videos at greater discounts, whose real agenda is stock value
and using stock holders money to subsidize the losses, not solvency.
But we, as a marketplace, have certainly not grown enough to allow - as
an example - an ethnographic documentary - to sell more than a
handful of copies a year in a nation of 17,000 libraries and more than
a hundred thousand schools -- and there is the dilemma.

The issues, in the past 15 years, have not become clarified, just, it seems,
even more obscured.

Milos Stehlik
Facets Video

-----Original Message-----
From: LaRoi Lawton []
Sent: Saturday, December 04, 1999 8:18 AM
To: Multiple recipients of list
Subject: Re: Interesting prices

Dear Fellow ViLibs:
As the media specialist at a community college in New York, pricing has
been an ongoing problem for me and my small and sometimes phantom budget for
many years. The pricing has been outrageous but I am of the opinion that
until colleges, and universities nationwide band together to make a formal
protest to those who dictate these prices, the problems will only get worse.
Often I have to weigh cost, versus student/faculty need with the price of
much of the material that is out there. While we have an extensive vendor
catalog, shopping around for a half-way decent price for any AV material is
a time-consuming process and requires more than one person. Many vendors
realize this what they don't make in a purchase from one entity, they will
from another. So no, WE are not alone with this gripe.
Maybe through this forum, we may be able to do something about it.

LaRoi Lawton, Director
Sage Learning Center
Bronx Community College
Bronx, New York 10453

-----Original Message-----
From: <>
To: Laroi Lawton <Laroi Lawton>
Date: Friday, December 03, 1999 3:31 PM
Subject: Interesting prices

>I just had a chance to read my e-mail after being on vacation for several
>days. I agree with everything that has been said about the prices. And
>while we're talking about prices, I have a few other problems. I buy
>for a medium sized public library, and most of our titles are
>informational/instructional. My question is - how are some of these prices
>decided? I mean, there are prices on videos anywhere from $150 to $300 for
>videos that are not even 30 minutes long. I understand that the makers and
>actors and distributers have to make a profit. I understand about public
>performance rights. But still, who buys these? Wouldn't they sell more if
>the prices were lower? I certainly can't afford this, if only for good
>patron relations. I don't want to tell a patron that since his/her tape
>player ate our video, they are out $200. And as far as public performance
>rights go, I rarely order tapes with these. Yes, we have teachers checking
>them out, but my understanding of copyright law is that if the film is used
>in conjunction with the curriculum, you don't need public performance
>rights. Or have I been wrong all these years? Or are these problems noone
>else has, and I have been struggling with these issues for no reason? Just
>a little venting, you know. I am about to do some preliminary selection
>our next year's order, and I am facing checking all these titles in a
>of databases from various vendors.
>Becky Tatar
>Unit Head, Periodicals/Audiovisual
>Aurora Public Library
>1 E. Benton Street
>Aurora, IL 60505
>630/264-4100 x 4116
>630/896-3209 FAX