RE: Interesting prices

David Horvath (david.horvath@louisville.edu)
Sat, 4 Dec 1999 09:31:04 -0800 (PST)

Milos, thanks for giving us a thoughtful response to this discussion where I think you've correctly identified the factors that are confusing the issue for many of us. What we are now experiencing are the combined effects of both the marketplace and changes in technology, not unlike those you describe were present 15 years ago.

Since this library first began building an educational video collection only about 10 years ago, I was personally spared much of the loss of titles when 16mm was replaced (although I have witnessed this in other institutions.) I am however going to be seeing it during the slow transition to DVD and beyond.

Since the marketplace really should determine how important or valuable a title is, then the conclusion should be that if Film X is of quality, significance and usefulness then it will be sold in larger numbers, to more libraries and institutions and will most likely be transferred to DVD or whatever comes next. The price should also be also be lower for everyone. Many of these appear in the Facets catalog and we are purchasing them in larger and larger numbers.

As you point out, some titles, like the ethnographic documentary, are always going to cost more because they just don't sell enough to cover costs of production and distribution. But likewise , if they are of quality, significance and usefulness, many of us will purchase them anyway, regardless of the higher tier pricing. Another area with outrageously high prices is the professional training, business, and motivational video market. Again, the market may bear this but most of us won't pay $1500 for any video.

Appalshop Films and Headwaters Television in Whitesburg, Kentucky is a good example of the quality and price rule. Their productions are always top quality, they are unique and they have just reason to charge a higher rate for their films. They are also the exclusive distributor for their films so they don't have to suffer from unfair market pricing.

One thing which has become very important for my relatively small budget and the confusion in the marketplace is more thorough previewing and evaluation of titles. It takes more work and requires additional collaboration with faculty, but it keeps us from getting ripped off with arbitrarily high prices for low quality, out of date or deceptive repackaging. If it's not worth it, send it back.

David Horvath
Ekstom Library
Media and Periodicals
david.horvath@louisville.edu
502-852-7589

>>> milos@interaccess.com 12/04/99 11:30AM >>>
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