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Warner Video Restricting DVD Sales to Libraries

   October 18th, 2011

Animaniacs see no Evil, Speak no Evil, Hear no EvilThe cataloger at my library found out last week that Warner Home Video has initiated a new policy that puts a serious crimp in the way libraries can buy DVDs - and I'm surprised it hasn't met the same uproar as HarperCollins' ebook policy.

The change is that Warner Home Video is forcing DVD distributors to:

  • place a 28 day embargo on sales of Warner feature titles to libraries
  • discontinue providing libraries with DVDs that contain all the bonus features, but instead only sell us the "rental" version that is just the movie

Midwest Tape explains the change on their website, and we also received an email directly from Ingram to the same effect. When our cataloger called Baker & Taylor to see if they were honoring it, they said our account had already been modified to bar us from ordering these DVDs, and they just didn't tell us they were doing it.

I see this policy has horribly misguided.

  • I presume it's designed to increase their DVD sales figures, but I don't think people who use library DVDs are likely to purchase these DVD on their own
  • this will likely increase pirated movies, because the people who want to watch movies for free will have to turn to illegal sources, instead of the legal copy they could have gotten at the library
  • not letting us buy the versions with bonus materials just seems vindictive - and since many patrons look for bonus materials, this is yet another instance that will require librarians to explain to patrons that it's the vendors that are keeping them from what they want, not us
  • although Warner is trying to pressure our traditional (and convenient) DVD sources from selling to us, libraries can still purchase the full versions as they are released from other sources, such as Amazon or local stores (although Warner is trying to force them to limit the number of DVDs someone can purchase at a time, but we usually only buy a few anyway)
  • besides patrons, Warner is mostly hurting its DVD wholesalers (like Midwest Tape, B&T, etc) - chances are we'll stop buying from them and go directly to retail outlets, which might lead to an erosion of their distribution network as a whole

A discussion has begun on the Publib listserv, and someone mentioned that this isn't a big deal because it's only one studio - but it only takes one to start the domino effect. However, I really do think this will all come down to sales, and I seriously doubt Warner will see any bump in their sales as a result.

For more information, or to express your opinion, contact Warner Home Video directly at 888-383-9483.

Update 10/19/11: Check out Library Journal for more on this.




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23 Responses to “Warner Video Restricting DVD Sales to Libraries”

  1. Chris Skaryd Says:

    That is plainly ridiculous.

  2. threegoodrats Says:

    I too have been surprised there hasn’t been more of an uproar about this. It seems legally shady to me – how can you restrict sales to certain parties and not others?

  3. Warner Video Restricting DVD Sales to Libraries | Library Stuff Says:

    [...] Video Restricting DVD Sales to Libraries Swiss Army Librarian – “The cataloger at my library found out last week that Warner Home Video has initiated [...]

  4. Jennifer Wharton Says:

    *blink* Well. I hadn’t noticed this b/c while we have purchased our AV from Midwest Tape for the last couple years (and I really looooove their website) cost issues have pretty much moved us to Amazon. We buy maybe a couple hundred dollars worth a month (we are not a big library).

    This is…remarkably dumb

  5. Cari Says:

    Oh, trust me. I am mad. I just haven’t had time to sit down and figure out how to write a calm blog post and/or strongly worded letter about it. Complicating matters is the fact that my husband works for an affiliate of the offending company.

    Many libraries I have spoken with will be purchasing the retail editions from Amazon or big box stores like Best Buy, and because I’m in a consortium environment and those titles are going to build holds, I will have to do so as well.

  6. Diedre Conkling Says:

    I think there has not been as much of an outcry as with this as there has been with ebooks simply because there are other sources to go to to purchase the materials. There is no other option with ebooks.

    I wonder if Warner will eventually, and quietly, backtrack when they don’t see an increase in sales.

  7. Jason Says:

    My understanding of this policy is that it applies to all “lenders” of DVDs; I suspect that means Netflix and Redbox are the real targets here– libraries are just caught up in the middle. Personally, my feeling is that we can be mad all we want, but between Harper Collins and this, the writing is on the wall that content producers are going to do everything they can to limit what is available to us. Arguing about whether they are right or wrong is pointless and unlikely to change anything. Ultimately, if we continue to focus on lending out “stuff” as our primary purpose, we are headed for oblivion.

  8. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Jason: I agree – I think it’s totally misguided, but because distribution isn’t as easy to control as it once was, content producers are circling the wagons to retain whatever control they can.

    I also agree that physical items as content containers are on their way out – I actually had a big section on that in this post, but I deleted it all because it took the discussion in an entirely different direction. But, like you said above, whether the content is physical or electronic, the models are changing and we’re going to be faced with a new marketplace for both acquiring access and delivering it to our patrons. Libraries have to keep up with content options, but also explore new services and resources to offer our patrons.

    But I don’t think that’s any reason not to fight to retain access to anything we feel we should have access to (like these DVDs). If we don’t speak up for our point of view, content providers will just keep rolling out one profit-minded bad idea after another.

  9. Warner Home Video | BIBLIOTHEKSPOLIZEI Says:

    [...] http://www.swissarmylibrarian.net/2011/10/18/warner-video-restricting-dvd-sales-to-libraries/ [...]

  10. sharon Says:

    Speaking now as a patron, this isn’t going to impact me very much. I used to watch the “bonus” materials, but found that most of the time they were very tedious, especially right after watching a terrific movie. I might occasionally watch a movie a second time with the director’s or actor’s commentary on, but that’s only with very special movies–I think the last time I did that was with “The Namesake.”

  11. Swiss Army Librarian » Warner Video Restricting DVD Sales to Libraries :: Brian Herzog | Public Library Circulation | Scoop.it Says:

    [...] Swiss Army Librarian » Warner Video Restricting DVD Sales to Libraries :: Brian Herzog [...]

  12. Jim Dunbar Says:

    Because I’m not involved in ordering, I wasn’t aware of this policy until Brian blogged about it.

    I sent out an email to my peers enquiring about this policy in Canada. Then yesterday afternoon Duncan Hamilton, Chief Operations Officer of Library Bound Inc. in Waterloo, Ontario, sent out the following email:

    “Good Afternoon to all;

    Some of you may have received an email stating that Warner Brothers has instituted a new policy whereby any new Warner theatrical DVD releases will be held for 28 days before libraries and rental stores will receive there copies.

    Please be advised that this policy only pertains to American (U.S.) Libraries and Rental Stores and therefore will NOT affect the release dates for any CANADIAN Warner Bros. releases.

    All LBI customers will receive there copies of Warner DVD releases, such as Harry Potter Pt. 2 on the published release date……with absolutely no delay.

    If you have any question regarding this matter please feel free to contact me by phone or email.

    Thank you as always for your continued support

    Duncan Hamilton
    Chief Operations Officer
    Library Bound Inc.

  13. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Jim: curiouser and curiouser – although I shouldn’t even try to divine the intent of the business mind. Good news for Canada, though.

    And your comment, along with some other discussion I’ve seen here and there, makes me want to make sure everyone know that Warner’s new policy isn’t a law or anything like that. It is not illegal for libraries to buy the full version of the DVDs where you can find them – their policy just prevents their distributors from selling them, which the distributors can choose to honor or not (probably at their own peril of carrying Warner titles).

  14. Didi Says:

    I think the difference between this and the HarperCollins fiasco is that Harper would cost libraries more money. They were restricting the number of times an e-book could be checked out in an effort to force more sales. This is just saying you have to wait a month before you can purchase a new release. It doesn’t hurt your bottom line. It doesn’t force you to purchase another copy once the first has been checked out some arbitrary number of times. So…it’s not even close to the same thing.

    I know this won’t be a popular opinion – but…it’s not our job to make sure the public can see a movie immediately after it’s released. It’s nice when we can do it, but it’s not vital. It’s not essential. It’s just a very nice convenience, and it keeps people happy so we don’t have to deal with as many complaints. But, we’re not the free version of netflix or a video rental store. If someone wants to see it for free, I don’t see how it’s such a terrible thing if they have to wait 28 days. I mean, even the networks are starting to restrict free online access to their prime time shows until a certain amount of time after it’s originally aired (e.g., Glee – you can’t watch an episode online till 8 days after it aired). Hasn’t killed anyone yet. I imagine it will be the same for this policy.

  15. Matt Amory Says:

    Thin edge of the wedge. I fear this will happen with books in the future. “Why sell the cow when you can sell the milk for a premium”

  16. DianeG Says:

    RE the comment from the PubLib list serve about it only being one studio… Just a bit more information on Warner Brothers and their home video arm…

    Per Warner Home Video’s own marketing information (found here: http://tinyurl.com/66dblmw) WB dominated the marketplace in 2010 and has been–for 14 consecutive years!–the number one studio in overall sales.

    This is not “just one” company. This is the “largest distribution infrastructure in the global video marketplace.” <—a direct quote from the aforementioned website.

    Thanks for bringing this issue to a public forum, Brian!

  17. Noelle Says:

    After reading all the comments, I can see Warner is just looking for ways to get more sales out of their DVDs. And it is interesting if they are that scared of losing revenue to be making this change.

    But the bottom line is that if I am getting to see that film for cheap or free now, I won’t be buying it just to watch it earlier. If I waited this long to see it, what’s another 28 days? Or, if I am clever enough, I’ll just find another illegal way to get it. So, end of the story is Warner won’t make any more money, libraries will buy the movies from other vendors, and feathers will remain ruffled all around.

  18. Rob Pollard Says:

    I agree completely with Didi. This is not remotely the same as HarperCollins.

    My guess is two of the biggest consumers of DVDs at a library are a) families and b) cinephiles. The large majority of family DVDs (e.g., Thomas, Curious George) are not theatrically released, so this policy doesn’t affect them.

    If a family really needs to get Harry Potter and can’t wait 28 days, they can go to Blockbuster or use VOD and pay $3.99 for it. If they choose to steal it, that’s on them (which I think is less likely for the average library patron anyway, in this case — I mean is the dad going to say, “Well, they don’t have Harry Potter. Let me go home and spend some time finding a good feed on bittorrent and we’ll all sit around the laptop and watch it?” Maybe, but not very often).

  19. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Didi & @Rob: I don’t disagree, but I’ve had enough patrons asking me to help them make sure they request the version with special features that I know this will affect people.

    Also too, the larger issue for me is the principle of the thing: what is the point of discriminating against libraries? As @Matt points out, the more we just give up when businesses change the rules to benefit themselves (or try to force legislators to actually change the laws), the more we’ll continue to lose in the long run. If I’m willing to fight for anything, I’ll fight to keep libraries from being marginalized.

  20. dustbury.com » The Dread Pirate [your name here] Says:

    [...] ebooks, which were duly mocked in this space. Apparently that wasn’t hilarious enough, since this maneuver is nearly as perverse: Warner Home Video is forcing DVD distributors [...]

  21. Time Warner Imposes 28 Day New Release Library Delay – Because This Will Clearly Save Sagging DVD Sales? | Appenheimer Says:

    [...] impact on DVD sales, and has been busy imposing similar delay requirements on library loans. The Swiss Army Liberation blog and MidWest Tape note that Warner Brothers is now placing a 28 day embargo on sales of Warner [...]

  22. Emilie Says:

    Possibly the reaction to this issue is merely being delayed.

    Libraries are getting the short end of the stick with both this decision by Warner and also with the HarperCollins ebook fiasco; that’s clear. But as Didi says, librarians made the HarperCollins decision a high profile issue in a short amount of time because it cost libraries additional money (and there’s little enough funding to begin with).

    Warner’s decision does not appear to cost extra money to libraries (in fact, it sounds like it will save them), but the COST is in the VALUE of the materials for library patrons, and once they realize this, I think that’s when the major complaints will rise.

    Does this mean budgets are taking precedence over service? I hope not.

    Even without a cost differential, the idea that companies would strip their products of value-added extras for library patrons is appalling. There SHOULD be more talk about this issue NOW, within the library community, and I’m glad you took the time to write about it, and that you are voicing the importance of “fight[ing] to keep libraries from being marginalized.”

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