Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Anatomy of a Sale (or Lack Thereof), part 2

I just wanted to watch a movie, that's all. No big deal. I was willing to pay good money for it, too.

But here's the thing—there's no DVD of it. Not in America, at least.

Rewind. Someone told me about a movie. It's research for another movie I'm writing. The movie came out in 1991. It starts two A-List actors (1 is still A-List).

Step 1. I'm willing to rent it. I check Netflix. Not listed.

Step 2. I'm willing to buy it. I check Amazon. The first listing is VHS. For $35. No way am I paying that amount for a VHS cassette. Seriously? If I'm going to buy this movie, I want to keep it for a long time. So I check to see if it's on DVD.

Step 3. Amazon has it on DVD but it says, "Region 2.0 encoding (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." Fail.

Step 4. I check to see if it's listed there on DVD. Nope, only VHS. I could buy it for $18.00, but if I'm going to own a copy, I absolutely won't buy it on VHS. Does anyone even have a VHS anymore? Isn't the whole point of owning something to let you share the experience with your friends?

Step 5. I check Wikipedia to find out more about it. I find that the movie was released on VHS, and then a DVD was released in Europe, but the studio hasn't yet announced plans for a region 1 release, i.e., in the U.S.

So, now I come to the conclusion that a movie I'm willing to pay for isn't available to me. At all. I haven't even bothered to check iTunes because if it's not on Netflix, there's no way it will be on iTunes.

The clincher is that I would be willing to pay up to $10 or even $15 for a DVD. I guess I could scour the library for a copy (and the odds of an older film being at the library are about even), but if I'm going to get it at the library, that's essentially free to me... which leads us to...

Step 6. Watch Movies. Where I found the entire film posted on Youtube.

And we wonder why movie piracy is so commonplace?


Anonymous said...

Your experience was unique and is not why piracy is a problem. Your situation is high in the clouds above the reality of piracy. You clashed with obscure legalities of territorial agreements; your desire was specific; your goal was research-related; you sought to buy it.

I'm glad you found the movie. Perhaps you could send a payment to the distributor (there are rumors of sites being set up for exactly this purpose).

But here's the reality of piracy:

I co-produced a movie with a TV star with a unique fan base. It was "low-budget" but the money spent on it could buy a nice house in Los Angeles.

My movie was in theaters and has DVD distribution everywhere, including Amazon.

But my research shows that more people are stealing the movie online than ever paid for it.

Causing tremendous loss.

Every day I get a new bittorrent/etc. report showing that kind of traffic for my movie...I WISH WE HAD THAT TRAFFIC AT AMAZON OR THE THEATERS. There is no reason for this piracy--unlike your situation.

It's purely theft; instead of NOT seeing the movie because they don't want to spend the $10, these fans are deliberately stealing it. (I'd rather they did NOT see it all.)

That's the real world of piracy. It can't be justified as anything other than theft.

Anonymous said...

If your movie was any good, people would be paying for it. If you had a following you would make money. we should be forced by law to pay for it.

When you offer me a money back guaranty if the movie sucks, I will put up the cash, other wise I wil pay after I decide its worth it.

If you would rather Die in obscurity than have someone view your art without paying for it, YOU ARE NOT AN ARTIST.

Ross Pruden said...

My situation is far from unique. On the contrary, it is very typical.

1) Though I was researching something, it was an American-made film and should have been available in the U.S.

2) Others must seek out old movies and are not able to find them through traditional channels like Netflix, Cable, Blockbuster, iTunes, Amazon or

3) Obscure legalities and multi-region DVD codes only prevent international DVD sales by driving up prices. I won't buy a series for $169 when the same product is being sold locally for £29. That's price gouging.

When I know the film is out there, available to some but not all, and I as the consumer can't pay money to the producer/distributor to see that movie it, piracy is the next logical step (if not for me then thousands like me). And get ready—the next generation of kids won't ever think twice about being pirates.

But okay, I'll dance. Even if I wanted to send money to the distributor, I think it would be a really bad move because it would be rewarding dumb business decisions. If the distributor had simply made their film available on Netflix or iTunes—which costs them virtually nothing to do—then I might not have ventured into piracy. The way I see it, an act of piracy in this case is a way to illustrate 1) how incredibly short-sighted content producers are being but also 2) there is no way to control digital content once it goes online. Digital content will be infinitely distributable, or "pirated" because it is the very nature of the internet. Worse, by not allowing me enough options, I've been channeled to piracy web sites... which makes me (or, thousands like me) wonder why I need to pay for something I can get for free. (Which, I have an answer for, by the way.)

As for your own situation, you might sleep better at night if you mentally reframed those illegal downloads as free publicity for your movie. Who knows if those downloads are really lost sales or not? Probably not. Besides, how can you really call it theft when nothing has been taken from you?

The bottom line is, piracy is not going away. So how can you embrace the future?

Anonymous said...

I disagree. The people who stole my movie STOLE it knowingly, as they do with everyone else's movie. It's a deliberate choice.

I do NOT need the "FREE PUBLICITY", I think that's a non-argument. Nobody who downloads a movie is trying to help the filmmaker by publicizing the work, other than to promote how others can also steal it.

It cost me tons of money. In very real, destructive terms. If the thieves are so "moral", they can SKIP THE MOVIE if they really can't pay the $10 for the DVD or whatever. No, they are deliberately stealing it. Willingly. They have no need to steal it; not having it does not complicate their lives in any way; they are not restricted in finding it to buy. They deliberately steal it, and take money from the investor--if they NEED to see the movie, they should buy it. That movie will never recoup its investment, the financial ramifications to us are huge, and it crippled our opportunity to make more movies.

It is deliberate theft.

Anonymous said...

I *am* an artist. With the balls to identify myself.

If you don't like the movie, that's fine, I have never argued you must like the movie. If you don't like it, though, then why the hell steal it?

That justification is nonsense.

Ross Pruden said...

Then, Michael, perhaps it is time for us to sing, An Ode Before Dying.

Anonymous said...

Might as well add our Twitter conversation since this is an important discussion:

to @mrbarnard1 Before making sweeping statements like 'piracy is theft', take a closer look at the basic economics: #infdist

to @rosspruden I've looked very hard at it! Justifications abound. Morally, it's stealing. #infdist

to @mrbarnard1 Okay, piracy is morally wrong. So what? #infdist

to @rosspruden WHY ok to steal movies, which aren't even a "need"? Steal food. Why not? Steal your cell phone. Steal your car. #infdist

to @mrbarnard1 And here a historical perspective on "morality": #infdist

to @rosspruden Implies loss? 1) No, that is not the definition, morally or literally. 2) If the movie was worth stealing, then the loss of payment exists.

to @mrbarnard1 Digital content is an infinite good, i.e., meaning no stealing from the originator. Theft implies loss. #infdist

to @rosspruden THEFT: stealing of property: the stealing of somebody else’s property

david said...


Time for me to chime in. I'm not sure what point you are trying to make (if any) by trying to suggest that the film business is similar to the music and publishing businesses with these head in the clouds ideas that the content should be free and the experience is what you pay for bullshit.

I like the fact that you are a member of our fan funded project and I hope that you will get involved with some of the aspects as we move forward next week. That being said I think you need to have another look at your "model" as it pertains to are wrong.

1. tell me the name of the film that you couldn't find (since we're all about full disclosure in this age of whiny wannabes) and let me see if I can find it for you. How much are you willing to pay for it? if you say 5 bucks or less...I've proven my point in so many ways.

2. please describe to me how a 5 million dollar film should get made, recoup its earnings, and how the filmmaker and his investors should protect themselves and their capital investment? If you say 5 million is too much for a film....again...I win as most people who watch movies and steal movies are not stealing films that cost 5 grand.

now...about your HOUSE analogy. Let's see....if I build a house and someone comes along and steals the blueprints for the house, i might be mad but he still has to pay to build it. If he actually steals my house....hmmmm....i'd probably call the police, and they would probably lock him up with a bunch of other lunatics that got arrested for home stealing. Why...because he stole my house.

Are you getting MY point Ross?

dB said...

I think one of the reasons that people forget that this is stealing is that a digital file is a fleeting experience.

If you used the same logic to say, the Hope diamond, and you find out "it's not for sale," you would never argue that as justification for stealing it. "But I couldn't have gotten it any other way!"

If the movie is not available, that is by the choice of the copyright holder. If they have priced it above your price point, that's not their problem. This does not justify you stealing it. End of story.

I worked on a movie that is currently seeking distribution. I Googled it to see what the latest news is. The #1 hit? Bit torrent. This fact means that the movie will NEVER get released. People who think they are justified in stealing it have actually CREATED the reason it will never be available.

Ross Pruden said...

@David: You just called my ideas "retarted" and "bullshit"... sorry, bro, but that's really beyond the pale. Even if I disagree with you, I will never be that harsh. Be cool.

I never said "content should be free", just that it's difficult to impossible to control people paying for it if digital content is the only thing people pay for. However, it's much easier to control people paying for tangible goods like DVDs. But on the internet, the crowds have BitTorrent. In my view, fighting that kind of force head on is an unwinnable war. I really like Biracy because it invites people into the process.

I already told you how much I was willing to pay for the movie on DVD—$10-$15. I don't buy DVDs for $25... I typically only buy used DVDs for $5-$15.

I don't start by trying to justify how a $5 million film can be made. On the contrary, it's entirely possible that they won't be able to get made in the future. It's not about what I or you or anyone else wants—it's about what the market will bear. The world is changing, business models are shifting, and not everything is going to survive. I wish that weren't the case, but I don't have all the answers. I simply don't see the economics justifying large budget films (yet). However, I am working on a model; as you already know, I think Biracy and other crowdfunding models will help pave the way forward to funding larger budget films. All it takes is one Kevin Smith to get the SEC laws overturned to enable microfinancing.

And you completely missed the point of my house analogy. If I could wave a wand and copy your physical house digitally—such that you wouldn't even know I had copied it—then how can you legitimately call it theft? That's the driving idea of the Digital Age—copying content is not equivalent to stealing it. If I steal an apple from you, you will miss it: that's theft. If I copy an image of an apple, then we both have the image. How is that theft?

david said...

show business is tough enough Ross without armchair economists concocting theories and reasons for people to make it harder than it already is, and right now your picking fights with your comments and shenanigans even though you claim to be a filmmaker and purveyor of content.

pick a side Ross. we all know the trolls in the basement will steal films.

And while were at it...why don't you tell us of your grand theory or business model? The one where all of us who are now operating, are merely just acting as a gateway for your masterplan within motion picture economics.

In fact...put it in a video and put it on youtube. That way everyone can share your idea!

Anonymous said...

Well, I have nothing to gain by identifying myself but just call me Joe_Consumer.

You will get more respect from everyone if you stop trying to trample on the rights of your customers.

First of all downloading a movie is NOT theft, it is infringement, one is a criminal offense one is a civil offense. Theft would mean that you no longer have this tangible item to sell or make use of yourself. You can call it theft as many times as you want but it does not make it so.

Downloading is here to stay you should learn to embrace it or find a new line of work.

Make your works available at a fair price and easy to get. Stop with the stupid release windows and region encoding. If you do this, people will pay.

David You say it proves your point if he is only willing to pay $5 for a movie? Well, that is called free market economics, a product is only worth what one is willing to pay. I am not sure what your point is but I don't think you are making it. Just because you want something to be worth a certain amount of money doesn't magically make it so.

Stop with the lawyers and lobbying and figure out how to make it work in the market, or get out of the market and find something you know how to monetize.

For the record, I do not partake in unauthorized file sharing. I pay for netflix because it is easier than downloading and see an ocassional movie in imax because the experience is worth the extra cash.

I gave up on music when Metallica turned their backs on their fans especially because bootlegs is exactly how they created their followiing and got rich from it.

Just the point of view of a paying consumer that is happy to pay for something when I feel like it convenient and worth it.

Dennis said...

This is obviously a hotly debated topic in film now. Of course it's been going on in the music business for at least 10 years. What we learned from that is we can't sue our way out of this. We can't stop it. Ross it appears you are taking the heat for supporting piracy but that doesn't really impact the result one way or another whether you support or if every filmmaker condemned it. It's a reality we have to deal with and find solutions. Statistics need to be analyzed and interpreted. A percentage of these pirates download films and watch a few minutes before leaving. They might not be your customers or ever have bought the films they are stealing. The stat to look at is how many pirates are watching the film beginning to end? How many of them go and buy the dvd after watching the film? Debating the quality of the film clouds the debate IMHO and I hope we stay away from that as a qualifier. This is a very important issue but I think we need more data to know the whole story.

Anonymous said...

I had the same problem. PBS showed a recording of the live performance in London of Jeff Wayne's musical version of "The War Of The Worlds". I was blown away by the music and the staging.I became obsessed and had to have it. (This has only happed once before to me where I was able to buy the DVD from Amazon.)

I went to their web site, which said DVD, and ordered it but what they sent was the CD of the sound track with a couple of tiny video excerpts. Needless to say I was disappointed.

It isn't being sold in the USA but they may perform it in Canada in 2011. I'll be going. (We looked at going to Europe for the 2010 run but that seemed a bit extreme.)

I will buy the DVD the first chance I get and I to think piracy is wrong but I did find it somewhere ... I'm not say where. I wonder why they won't sell it to me? Who gains by them withholding it from the USA? The music is 30 years old now and they've been touring the show in Europe since 2006.

So what about copyright in general?

Do you think it's fair that copyright lasts forever, as practiced now? Are you in favor of government granted monopolies which stifle innovation? Is there any concept of the public good or is it only good if someone makes a profit? Should our culture be owned, controlled and only licensed to those who can afford the lawyers and the errors & omissions insurance?

Before you flame me too bad, let me say that I don't think I have the answers ... but what I'm trying to figure out is what are the best questions to ask.

It used to be that you could be put in prison for not paying your debts. We changed that. It used to be that interracial marriage was illegal. We changed that. It used to be women couldn't vote or own property. We changed that too.

Mac said...

I've had similar experiences.

I have a credit card in my hand, and want to buy a product. But nobody is interested in selling it to me.

After looking for a while I give up and just get it off a download site.

When the DVD finally becomes available in my region I'll buy it (if I remember) so that the film-maker gets at least some money ... but they are losing a lot by doing this.

And when I do buy the DVD, the film-maker will only be getting a small fraction of my money. If they'd simply had a 'view now' live streaming on their website for $10 (or even $20) I would have paid them instantly and they'd end up with the entire of the money - instead of the tiny fraction the local DVD distributor passes back to them.

BTW - this 'pay to stream' model is being tried out by youtube at the moment .. they had a handful of indie films as proof-of-concept about a month ago.

Clearly, it will never convert downloads into sales from people who are just downloading stuff out of mild curiosity - those who would never pay. Nor would it convert downloads into sales from the hard-core people who want to steal for the sake of it.

But it should have a big impact on the middle ground.