RE: Interesting prices

Gary Handman (
Sat, 4 Dec 1999 09:24:35 -0800 (PST)

Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Milos. I think you are absolutely
right: the issues raised in the earlier part of this discussion regarding
relabelling and inflated pricing are substantially different from that old
devilish discussion regarding the differences between home video/mass
market video and independent, non-theatrical works.

The former issues are, in some sense, more immediately troublesome--they
have something to do with questionable business practices (in my opinion).
The latter
issue is a bigger one, and considerably less easy to address--it has to do
with market economies and professional education. The old bugaboo about
the differences between the $19.95 variety of video and the $300 variety
of video just isn't going to go away...nor will the reluctance of public
libraries and school libraries (and, yes, even some academic libraries) to
shell out big bucks for video--even unique and wonderful stuff. Educating
the profession about the reasons for these pricing differences is one
thing; obtaining budgets sufficient to allow a venture beyond the mass
market, and training/hiring staff who understand the differences and who
can lobby for diverse collections is quite another.

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

"You are looking into the mind of home video. It is innocent, it is aimless,
it is determined, it is real" --Don DeLillo, Underworld

On Sat, 4 Dec 1999, Milos Stehlik wrote:

> 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)
> level.
> 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
> videos
> >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
> for
> >our next year's order, and I am facing checking all these titles in a
> myriad
> >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
> >
> >