Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Anatomy of a Sale (or Lack Thereof)

Yesterday I was doing research on a TV series from the 1970s called Survivors. It took me a little time to suss out what the name of the series was called, by I remember catching glimpses of it during my childhood on WPBS in New York. Since I was developing a very similar series, I wanted to know more about the one I had faint memories of. In fact, I wanted to know everything I could: series story arcs, episode story arcs, number and types of characters, practical and budget considerations when creating episodes, etc.

A Google search turned up an in-depth review of the series with this disheartening addendum:

If you want to buy Survivors on DVD today then you’ve got a problem. Originally Survivors was released in three DVD box-sets: one for each series, which sensibly were available separately. Meaning that you could just buy the first series and forget the rest unless your are a fanatic or have no critical faculties. However, since last year, those individual box-sets are no longer available and all three series have been made into one huge box-set: not the most convenient of ways to attract new fans and obviously quite expensive. Of course there is still the second-hand market, but—as always happens—greedy sellers used the ‘deleted’ status of the individual box-sets to crank up the prices. I’m glad to say that the prices seem to be setling again to more realistic levels and careful browsing of eBay and amazon MarketPlace should yield reasonable results for the Series 1 box-set. Series 2 is still expensive, which isn’t a problem because its rubbish, and Series 3 is comming down in rice. Alternatively you could just suck-it-up and buy the Series 1-3 box-set and be done with it. Link.

Hmmm, maybe I could rent it on Netflix instead? I do a quick search and turn up zilch. Okay...

If I couldn't rent the series (just one episode was really all I needed), I could buy one of the DVDs. Next stop, Amazon. I clicked on the article's links only to find the DVDs were on Amazon's UK site for £28.19. Money exchange problems aside, UK DVDs won't work on US DVD players due to piracy restrictions—UK DVDs are Region 2 and US DVDs are Region 1. Fine, whatever. I'll just look up the first season on Amazon's US site and buy it in Region 1.

Not so fast. Amazon's US site was charging $169... for a Region 2 DVD. So I'd fare better by buying the bloody thing via their UK site and having it shipped to me internationally, if they'd permit it. Amazon also had this warning on the page:
This DVD will not play on most DVD players sold in the US or Canada [Region 1]. This item requires a region specific or multi-region DVD player and compatible TV.

Now I'm seriously ticked off. I'm staring at the screen, a furrow on my brow. Have I not been the good consumer? Did I not try to do everything possible to find the content and offer my money for it? My credit card is at the ready... I'm willing to exchange my hard-earned money for content already distributed in the market, but that content is frustratingly out of reach due to the market's outrageous prices and stupid piracy restrictions (stupid from my perspective). I'm not a pirate—I want to pay the series' producers money for their product—and they're not letting me. All they've done is throw obstacles in my way to an honest sale.

Rather than accept my fate and turn tail defeated, I now decide to pursue the matter unconventionally. I'm no longer interested in rewarding the producers and distributors with my money, and opt to ignore their dictatorial pay structure to get what I want regardless. First I turn to Wikipedia to look up their show and there I find a detailed episode guide which turns out to be extremely informative, even mentioning similar shows I might be interested in. Finally, I do a Google video search and find a couple of episodes online. After watching a few minutes of one episode, I've gathered everything I wanted to know about the look and tone of the series. The window where I was willing to spend money has been closed—forever. Too bad for them.

Let's review the stages from product interest to a (potential) sale... and then to piracy:
  1. Childhood memory of old TV show
  2. Google search
  3. Fan web site
  4. Netflix search
  5. Amazon (UK) search <— window opens to pay money
  6. Amazon (USA) search <— too expensive & too inconvenient: window closes to pay money
  7. Wikipedia search <— online synopsis available
  8. Google Video search <— piracy begins; consumer gets content anyway

The bottom line is, I don't feel bad watching pirated content when that content is outside my reach anyway. (If you think it's my obligation to buy a multi-region DVD as a workaround to see a single Region 2 DVD, that's crazy talk.) If the producers of Survivors had just make their content more conveniently available (non-region DVDs, Video On Demand, iTunes, Netflix Watch Instantly) or at a lower and more reasonable price ($169? Seriously? How about $69?), then I'd gladly have forked over the dosh. But why reward stupidity, lack of foresight, and greed?

By way of epilog, it appears the only watchable episodes of Survivors are listed through, which offers 5 minutes of a free preview and to watch the whole episode, you have to download their personal video player where they use ads to pay for the site. Maybe the producers weren't quite so stupid after all.

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