Diana King on DVDs for Libraries

My friend Diana King, who is a media librarian at University of California-Davis, has an interesting blog post concerning the headscratching that can occur when surveying the prices that libraries must pay for DVDs.

For those that don’t know much about this: A movie like Promises, 2001 Oscar-nominated documentary that follows Israeli and Palestinian children in Jerusalem, can be purchased for about $30 on Amazon. But if you’re a library, you must purchase it from Cinema Guild for $199. Or you can rent it for $55.

It’s this same pricing that has kept a masterpiece like Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep in obscurity (and on bootlegger’s lists). For years the film has only been available on VHS through Third World Newsreel. Cost: $325. Thankfully, Milestone is rumored to be releasing it on DVD later this year at a price the rest of us can afford.

The notion of higher “library pricing” makes sense — libraries should pay for the right to screen it in public. But as Diana asks: At what point are distributors pricing people away from purchasing work? It’s an especially keen question when it regards “issue” documentaries, which ostensibly have been made to spread the word about an injustice or societal ill.

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