Category Archives: Off topic

Wanted

Things that I’m forever looking for that I’ll pay unreasonable sums for:

  • 9.5mm film entitled Une photographie originale or The Camera Never Lies or any other language 9.5mm film that could conceivably translate to either.
  • The same goes for A travers les flammes / Through Fire.
  • The same goes for Captain Blood / Les aventurers de mer. Odd reels too, if you’ve got ’em.
  • And it goes for A Cold-Blooded Animal, La petite espiegle, or La petit angel gardien / Little Angel.
  • Looking for lobby cards and/or production stills of Pampered Youth (Vitagraph, 1925). Lobby cards particularly — I have a partial set, but not all of them. Promotion material (e.g. newspaper or magazine ads) or anything else containing images are welcome as well. Let me know what you have. Send images (I won’t steal them, but low resolution or watermarked if you’re afraid I will).
  • Looking for the same for Black Beauty (Vitagraph, 1921). Lobby cards, production stills, any other images or promotion material. Same goes for the especial interest in lobby cards — I have a number, but my set is not complete.

(Let’s not get nuts about what unreasonable means, but above market value at any rate.)

Contact me however you do. I think you can through WordPress, maybe, I don’t really know, but you can assuredly reach me at wanted@harpodeon.com. I’ve been told by somebody that a Harpodeon Facebook group exists. Don’t contact me through that because it isn’t me — we have no Facebook presence and our Twitter account is little more than a newsfeed, to be honest. I don’t understand social media and don’t care to. Oh, or you could send a private message through YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/harpodeon) unless Google has eliminated that. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if they did. Eliminating basic functionality with each upgrade is Google’s MO. You could go through the website’s contact form — that’s always an option. Point is, I want to hear what you’ve got and are willing to part with.

Edit: Heralds and programs too, of course. Forgot to single out them.

An Update

An Update

What is it I said in my last post about not wanting to run a subscription-based service because I could drop dead at any moment? Speak of the devil…

I was ill with what I believed was the flu at the time. Whatever it actually was, I declined rather quickly and contracted pneumonia. I could keep down neither water nor food, and after a week of that, my electrolytes were horribly out of whack. I was in a great amount of pain. I didn’t know at the time that it was my organs slowly failing — kidneys first, then the liver, my lungs were going fast and my heart was dangerously overtaxed. Then I began seizing. I’ve never had a grand mal seizure before, and as far as my memory goes, I still haven’t. The couple weeks prior to the seizure are mostly wiped from my mind — I’m relying greatly on my diary to recall them — and the few days afterward are simply a blank altogether. I bit my tongue almost off. I fell, fracturing my sternum, a number of ribs, and a vertebra; getting a severe concussion; and breaking the rail on the footboard of my bed. The next thing I remember, I’m in the hospital getting hemodialysis with a respirator down my throat. I was there for three weeks before I had enough and left. They wanted to keep me a month longer for monitoring and physical therapy, but I had stuff to do and I was frankly going stir-crazy — I couldn’t even have visitors because of this silly plague going around. I’d lost almost twenty pounds.

I had a number of bad reactions to the drugs I was prescribed, particularly aplastic anemia. Atop the iron-deficient anemia I already had, my skin went from very fair to ghostly white and it left me so completely exhausted that I would have to lie down or else I’d faint simply by walking from my bedroom to the adjoining bathroom. Bad, bad edema as well — my feet were swollen like water balloons — I was retaining about ten pounds or more of fluid.

Ever since, I’ve been to my primary weekly to run new labs on my blood, urine, and stool to see whether I’m improving or worsening. Improving, especially since I stopped taking everything I was told to take. My kidneys, liver, lungs, and heart seem to be fine. I’ve been told by a few doctors how remarkable it is to go from multiple organ failure to a-okay in the span of just three weeks, but here we are.

I’d initially been taken to the local hospital, but they airlifted me to a larger one in Lewiston when they realized how close to death I was. For the first two weeks I was in ICU and I honestly don’t remember much of it. The last week I was in a medsurg unit with a skeleton staff, due to three-quarters of the hospital’s staff being laid off due to the plague — that was part of the reason I didn’t care to stay; I wasn’t receiving any care and was, indeed, being actively harmed. I might have been flown to Mass General, and if I was conscious, I’d have insisted that I was. Mass General is a real hospital. There aren’t any real hospitals in Maine. The pay is too low to attract any but the desperate and the ethics too shocking to retain any but the least competent. I actually can’t follow up with the nephrologist who saw me because he was a new guy who quit before I was even discharged. I go to Boston when I need medical attention.

I’m mostly saddened by the broken foot rail on my bed. It’s an antique and not easily replaceable. Repairing it well will cost about $1,000 to $1,500. Drop in the ocean compared to CMMC’s bill, which is a bit more than half a million dollars. If the case worker doesn’t figure something out I’m just going to be bankrupt for the next several years, but I think she will.

It’s a month late, but the HD remaster of Heaven Will Protect a Woiking Goil is finished and available on the website. Prime will take a while yet (two days my eye — even at the best of times, videos take a week and a half to process). I’m very pleased with the score — it incorporates all the song references in the intertitles. At least, all those that I recognized. “Heaven Will Protect a Working Girl”, “Proud Beauty”, “And the Villain Still Pursued Her” — I knew all those tunes already. The country girl in the city title might reference any number of songs, but I went with one that fit. I tried to see if “yawning chasm” was an allusion, but I couldn’t find anything at all.


Available from Harpodeon

To Stream a Video

To Stream a Video

Prime being what it is and what it’s become, let us now discuss other streaming options. I’ve been asked a number of times why I’m not on Netflix. Let’s talk about that.

Places like Netflix, iTunes, cable/satellite or whatever, aren’t interested in dealing with small fry distributors — at least, not directly. You’ll need to go through an aggregator like Quiver or Walla (or one of dozens of others, but they’re the ones I’m familiar with). Aggregators don’t work out of the kindness of their heart: Walla is $1,000 plus 15% of the gross revenue and Quiver is a flat $1,400. That’s per title, per platform, and there may be issues of exclusivity, with or without carve-out. In the book publishing world, people would tell you that all of this is backwards — that it’s the publisher who should be paying you, not t’other way ‘round, but that’s how it go with videos on the Internet.

It gets very expensive very quickly. Netflix is a little cheaper — about $800 to submit a film — and if they pick it up, they give you a substantial amount of money for distribution rights, but there’s absolutely no guarantee that they will pick it up. More likely than not, you’ll just find yourself out $800. Netflix is barely in the distribution game anymore. They see themselves as a two-bit production house now. They want original material. You might have noticed that their classic content has vanished almost entirely, but pull back a little and take a look — their selection of non-original content has constricted to almost nothing in general.

(Edit: Seriously, look at it. Their selection is about 5,000 titles. The average video rental store in the ‘90s carried 10,000-15,000 and larger stores in college towns could have as much as 40,000. Netflix carries nothing. It’s a serious problem in film schools because films that were once on the syllabus are simply unobtainable now for most students.)

Similarly, Comcast, DirecTV, Dish, premium TV channels like Starz, etc., are closed systems, meaning you can’t just throw enough money at them to take your content — you’ve got to pitch it. Of the closed system, they’re the most “open”, which is why I single them out. Pitching is not a great deal of money, but neither is it free ($150, plus whatever the person who writes your pitch charges — pitching yourself is a bit like representing yourself in court), and the likelihood that they’ll want 100+ year old content is slim.

Now there’s the issue of length. Most silents are shorts, but even silent features tend to be on the short side. Amazon defines a feature as a film 60 minutes or longer (four reels at a silent-ish speed) whereas iTunes make the cut at 45 minutes (three reels). Most others are a lot more demanding and don’t term a film feature-length until it hits the 90 minute mark (six reels), which excludes most silent content. There is remarkably little interest in non-serialized shorts.

You know, when the talkies arrived, it wasn’t very many years before the studios abandoned their silent catalogues and either left the films to disintegrate through neglect or purposefully destroyed them. There would be no more market for silents, they said. As much as fans of silent films lament it, the fact is, the studios were right. They were absolutely right. The films were and are worth less than the shelf space they take up. The market is so vanishingly small as to not exist and the demand for new releases outside of Nosferatu, The Phantom of the Opera, and Metropolis is so minuscule that there may as well not be one. There’s still very much a market for new releases of those three — and two of them are even in the public domain. The third may still have a case or two in court — I don’t think the legality of copyright restoration in the US will be decided until the point is entirely moot.

For obscure silent films (and by “obscure” read “every single title not enumerated above”), I say you’re targeting a market of about five thousand people worldwide. There are some that would say I’m being incredibly generous and that the market of actual buyers and not simply well-wishers is really only about a thousand strong. Regardless, even if you pegged it as something absurd like 20,000, that’s still smaller than even the most niche horror sub-sub-sub-genre of direct to streaming schlock. There is no money — no money at all — in silent film, and while we may have the luxury of running money-losing businesses, the big players expect to turn a profit.

And there’s the odd thing with Amazon: as much as they’re chasing creators away and as frequently as they’ve been purging non-mainstream content lately, we’re getting record viewership and engagement numbers on our Prime videos. December used to be big back when people still bought DVDs. Nowadays, October is the season. The run-up to Halloween is when everyone is streaming — horror films, sure, but people are just watching more in general. We see a big bump in October, generally about three-times normal, but it contracts back a week or so into November. There was no contraction this year. We’re still at October numbers in mid-February, even after all the purges.

What am I leading up to? Not a thing. Just throwing all that out there. I could very well set up a DASH server and going into streaming myself — it’s not in the tiniest bit complicated, but I’d really rather not. There’s a reason my conception of an ideal digital market is one where you pay a one-time fee to download a DRM-free MP4 to do with as you feel fit. I don’t like being beholden to a service — any service — for access to content I’ve paid for, and I really don’t want anyone beholden to me. Suppose I die a year from now. It could happen. What then? No, I don’t like that.

Crowdsourcing is an option, but on the one hand, I don’t like being accountable to anybody, and on the other, I don’t know that there’s enough of a crowd to source from. If I did raise a couple thousand dollars, I wouldn’t spend it on streaming. There’s a project — a bit of a dream project — that I’ve had in mind for a long time that will cost about $2,000. I’ll do it at some point… at some point. That’s straying from the point, though, which is that Netflix ain’t gonna happen.

Oh, hint for next time, it’s an HD remaster of Heaven will Protect a Woiking Goil. What do you mean that wasn’t a hint? Anyway, I’d like to do a collection of tied-to-railroad-track parodies — there are a few of them.

 

Edit:

Oh. I’ve said before, we normally get about 14,000 minutes streamed by Prime subscribers a month. That’s shot up to about 25,000 since last October. Remember how I said Prime royalty rates were now one fifteenth of what they had been? What are were making for those 25,000 minutes? Is it a dollar and sixty-two cents? Yes it is. I really, really hate to do it, but I’m going to have to disable the include with Prime option and just rent and sell through Amazon. I really hate to do it because I want people to watch the films, but a penny an hour is just an insult, Jeff. You’re worth billions, Jeff, give me my 15¢.

I finally got an answer for why Romeo and Juliet keeps getting disabled (and, incidentally, if you ever see one of our videos that Amazon says they can’t show due to rights issues with the creator or whatever — no, that means Amazon chooses not to show it — I have never disabled anything ever). It’s because IMDb doesn’t list us as a distributor of it. Except it does and has for almost as long as Prime Video has existed. Amazon is pondering that now and has been for about two weeks. Perhaps it will be reinstated.

The delay with the Amazon release of When the Tables Turned comes down to its rating. Most of the films I deal with aren’t rated (well, a good many are, but Amazon doesn’t recognize the National Board of Review as a ratings board), so you’ve got to self-rate, and by that, I mean you’ve got to guess what Amazon wants it rated. There are very few films I’d personally rate higher than all ages, but Amazon is conservative in the extreme. If there’s a hint of violence, however cartoonish, you’d best err on the side of 13+. If there’s any smoking shown, oh boy, that’s a 13+. Never had to do an 18+ yet, but I remember one video is 16+ — can’t remember which at the moment. When the Tables Turned has a mock kidnapping in it and that’s causing a lot of ruffled feathers. After some back and forth, I finally got an answer from Amazon that they want it rated 13, so it’s a waiting game now.

Prime Royalties

So, Amazon just announced their new Prime royalties rates, effective next year, will be one cent per hour. One shiny penny. For those just tuning in, Prime started at 15¢ per hour, then dropped to 6¢, then 4¢, and now it’s 1¢.

You know, this is probably it for me as far as Prime goes. Rent and buy, sure, but stream free with Prime? I think that’s going bye-bye very soon.

Views of Daggett Rock (Me, circa 2008)

Let’s have a post for the mere sake of posting and to let you know I’m alive and still in business — although Amazon has had another round of random purges.

Here’re a couple views of Daggett Rock taken in 2008 or a bit earlier. The more that I think on it, the more I’m convinced it was 2007, but I’ll not be bothered to change a YouTube description.

Daggett Rock is a local-ish natural attraction that, like most Maine attractions, does its best to keep tourists away. It’s down a long single-lane dirt road winding around a mountain followed by a half-mile trek up a ravine until you hit a clearing in the woods. There you’ll find a big rock historically called “The Big Rock” until the Daggett’s bought the land it sits on. It’s the largest glacial erratic in New England, although it split in three pieces under its own weight as the glacier receded. There’s a person in a light-colored shirt milling around both views for scale. You can walk around it, walk through the cracks, and there are usually some logs propped-up on it if you’re game enough to shimmy up them and reach the top. There’s a Victorian-era brickwork bench if you’d like your picture taken in front of it, as travelers have done for some 150 years.

The views were taken with my silent-era camera on a couple 36-exposure cartridges of Tri-X film bought at the local pharmacy — the film pulled out and wound onto spools in a changing bag in the trunk of the car. It was developed in much the same way, bucket-style, with the processing stripped down to just a developer bath and then fixer. The transfer, I’m sure, was just videotaping the view port of my upright Movieola that I watch all my 35mm film on.

I mostly remember hauling the camera and tripod, which have to weigh 30 pounds combined, up the ravine, which is not the easiest hike in the world. It was barely Spring and the rocks were still coated in ice. Going back downhill was much worse than the ascent.

 

Edit:

Every video has been relisted except Bathing Beauties and Big Boobs (1918) because I think Amazon thinks it’s porn — it’s not, it’s using “boob” in the sense of “foolish person”; and Romeo and Juliet (1911) for reasons that are beyond me. Nearest I can tell is that it’s only part two, and that’s for the very good reason that part two is the only part that exists, but then again, they’ve got no issue with The Timber Queen and that’s only part twelve.

Cinderella (1911) they initially rejected because they said the title wasn’t visible in the key art. It’s literally written in a highway sign font — DIN 1451 very closely matches the Thanhouser house typeface — bold, white, with a thick black outline, sized to cover as much of the image as possible. I fail to imagine how more visible it could be. I submitted it again and it went through the second time.

Amazon’s ways are not our ways.

Quick Note

Quick note to those who follow this blog for news on Harpodeon. We’re temporarily closed due to a personal health issue. Hopefully we’ll return quickly.

Edit:
Digital sales are back. Physical sales will be halted for another few weeks yet.

Edit again:
Some of the physical products (the ones we actually keep stock of and don’t just make on demand) are back online, both on the website and on eBay.

Be Natural

Be Natural

Just watched Be Natural, the recent documentary on Alice Guy-Blaché. My mother was hounding me to find out if we were credited for the footage we supplied and we were. She’s so much more caught up in that sort of thing than I am. Me, I don’t care, and plus, I rather trusted we would be. We’ve supplied footage to any number of documentaries and always have been without asking. There was a lovely documentary about some theatre in England that had a poster of The Juggernaut out front and we supplied footage of the train wreck. I watched that but I’ve forgotten what the title was, sorry. Also that William S. Hart thing that wanted footage of The Gun Fighter. Never saw that one, I’m not even certain what exactly it was, but the producer was quite polite. No budget affair so we didn’t charge anything. Standard fee is a flat $100 per title, but only budget allowing. Something to do with Ruth Roland wanted our episode of The Timber Queen, which is the only one available on video. They were in Florida — I remember that. I really don’t keep track of this sort of thing, if you couldn’t tell, and it all gets rather misty. Pamela Green licensed both Across the Mexican Line and A Severe Test — our copies being the only known extant of both — but they only used the former. I can’t say I’m surprised, as an objectively bad blackface suicide comedy doesn’t show Guy in a terribly good light. When they brought up Vinnie Burns and Marian Swayne and didn’t show a clip of Severe Test then, I knew they weren’t going to at all.

They should have got our copy of La Vie et la Passion de Christ (1906). We’ve got an excellent print of that — far better than the one they used. At some point I’ve a mind to scan it, clean it up, score it, and release it on DVD/Blu-Ray with the three Henri Andréani films. That would be longer than an hour — I’ve got a bit of a bugaboo there: I hate discs shorter than an hour. But I’ve a mind to do so many things at some point.

I didn’t know if the phone call recording would be used. It wasn’t and I’m rather glad it wasn’t — I’m not a public person. It was just rambling talk about film collecting. Snips of it were included in one of the Kickstarter videos, which I have to say nettled me a little, but I’ve quite gotten over it. Come to think of it, I’m not even sure how she found my number.

Was it an untold story? No, not really — not to those familiar with silent cinema, and it had been mostly covered already — but I’m quite ready to assume the general public have never heard of her. I’m sure their knowledge of pre-1920 cinema begins and ends with Chaplin and maybe, maybe Griffith among some of the more well informed laymen. A fine effort. I don’t belittle anyone who wants to extend silent cinema to a new generation. I think I’ve told this anecdote before, but I was once at a film screening of a Victor Sjöström drama and a man behind me that I wasn’t familiar with (it’s not a big town — everyone is going to notice a stranger) made a comment after the show that he wasn’t aware they made serious films in the silent era — thought it was all slapstick, he did.

The Gray Market

(Read the title in a spooky voice. Maybe imagine lightning booming in the background.)

Now let us bring up the specter of the gray market. A print of a film is in the public domain or it isn’t. There are no shades of gray there. We’re not involving donor restrictions if you’re sourcing from an archive print — that’s another matter entirely — but if you possess a print of a film unencumbered by copyright, that print is yours to do with as you see fit. The film belongs to everyone and that includes you — that’s the very concept of the public domain.

The “gray market” does not exist. It’s a term invented by publishers to discredit resellers, especially those legitimately buying items cheaply in one market and reselling them in another market that the publisher is trying to price-gouge. Think buying a textbook in East Asia and reselling it in the US, where the same book retails for a hundred times more. This is perfectly legal as the courts have ruled numerous times. It is the right of first sale, as expressly defined by section 109 of title 17 of the US Code. All the publisher can do to legitimize their price inflation is to try and tarnish the resellers by linking them to black market bootleggers and counterfeiters in the minds of potential buyers. That’s what the “gray market” is.

Now there are orphan works where the trail of ownership has been lost and nobody is quite sure who the film might belong to. Releasing these films is sometimes referred to as “gray market” but it isn’t. It’s simply piracy — black market — but it’s banking on the fairly safe bet that whoever does own the film has no idea that they do and will not pursue the infringement. Harpodeon does not deal in orphan works, but I personally have no issue with pirating films in this case — there’s zero chance you’ll see them otherwise.

There are those who won’t watch releases from Grapevine, Alpha, etc. — including Harpodeon, of course — because they’re “gray market” distributors, and frankly, that’s idiotic. Their videos are no less legitimate than those from Kino and a great deal more legitimate those from Edition Filmmuseum. Now, Alpha’s image quality ranges from passable to you’re not even sure if there’s a picture beneath the murk and avoiding them in that case is understandable. Granted, several of our videos are sourced from very poor prints — that’s why we try to be upfront about the quality and why we provide screenshots and video clips to give an unvarnished idea what the print looks like. There are those that want perfection and would rather have nothing than fall short of it. They usually get nothing. Far be it from me to call them wrong, but when it comes to rare films, I’ll take what I can get and be happy it’s available at all.

You’ll see this idea frequently in old Usenet discussions but there are those that cling desperately to it still that one who restores a film then has some copyright claim on it. To begin with, there’s a question of what “restoration” means. In some cases, it means a great deal of work assembling disparate elements and working backwards to find what the original release must have looked like. It can mean nothing more than cleaning and transferring the film, with the cleaning either done chemically/mechanically to the film before the transfer or digitally after. Some “restorations” don’t even bother with the cleaning bit: restoration can simply refer to finding a definitive print and copying it. And let’s not pretend, “definitive” in this case often means “the one we have”.

For all our post-HD releases and the later SD releases as well, we chemically clean the film itself, transfer it, disassemble it into its individual shots, stabilize the image of each shot, diminish or remove the flickering, adjust the levels, diminish the grain where it’s become excessive from multiple generations of copying, sharpen it, tint it where the tints are known or can be confidently guessed, and then reassemble the film. Particularly distracting damage (e.g., a torn sprocket hole on 9.5mm, which leaves a heavy scratch up the center of the film) is painted out frame by frame. If the titles in the master are replacements (all Excel prints from the 1930s, for example — they didn’t use the original Selig titles) or if they’re badly cropped (example of what I’m talking about from The Juggernaut) or illegible, then the titles are re-created to more resemble the originals. When we have several prints of a film, all of them are transferred and combined in the chance that one print has more or longer scenes than another. When you’re dealing with old film, absolutely no two prints are identical.

Of course, the more slavish your restoration work is to bring the film back to its original release form, the less eligible for copyright protection it becomes. That’s where the old Usenet argument falls flat on its face. There may be a great deal of labor involved in restoring a film but no creativity at all. Copyright protection is about promoting creativity. If your goal is a copyrightable work, then you don’t want to restore anything, you want to transform it into something new. For silent films in the past, that was commonly done by replacing the titles with your own or by Raymond Rohauer’s old trick of rearranging the scenes to tell a slightly different story, but that’s mostly fallen out of favor nowadays. The “special content” copyrights you see claimed on public domain titles refer only to original content, i.e. the score.

The definitive case on photographic copyright law in the US is Bridgeman v. Corel (1999), which found that “a photograph which is no more than a copy of a work of another as exact as science and technology permits lacks originality. That is not to say that such a feat is trivial, simply not original.” The last line is a reference to Feist v. Rural (1991), which established that labor and skill are immaterial to copyright and a collection of uncopyrightable material remains uncopyrightable no matter how much work went into it. Simply put, “the sine qua non of copyright is originality.” This was expanded upon in Assessment Technologies v. Wiredata (2003), which found that a work based on public domain material that nevertheless meets the threshold of originality for copyright protection still has no claim on the underlying public domain material itself. Further, any attempt to assert such a claim is considered an abuse of process, forfeiting whatever intellectual property case they might have had and simultaneously opening themselves to countersuit. They cannot prevent anyone from extracting the underlying public domain material for their own use, or for undoing whatever transformative process made the work original in order to access the public domain material. Cases like Bridgeman v. Corel have been brought several times since with the exact same outcome, as in Meshwerks v. Toyota (2008), which found again that “reproductions do nothing more than accurately convey the underlying image” and are ineligible for copyright.

This is for the US copyright law, elsewhere may vary. Canada is more or less the same with regard to creativity (see Tele-Direct v. American Business Information (1997)). From my little familiarity with EU law, I know that whatever their objective for copyright is, it doesn’t make a great deal of sense and isn’t at all consistent. I wouldn’t be surprised if labor is considered there, even if it isn’t transformative, particularly if such a ruling would be protectionist to a member country.

As for what is transformative, the bar is rather high. Bugs alone may deter copying but are not transformative enough to qualify for protection. That’s doubly true if the bug is blurred or blacked-out in the copy. But really, you stop caring so much about your films being “stolen” when you accept that they were never yours to steal. Rohauer didn’t give a damn about film beyond his ability to monetize and litigate it. Don’t be Rohauer. If you want to get into releasing silent films, get into it because you want to release silent films, and don’t expect to make a dime.

Breaking news in the missing Prime videos case

It’s been two months and I can say a bit about how this has affected us:

As for search order and recommendations, I can’t see any difference. There’s been no change at all in viewership numbers, either in general or for specific titles.

As for royalties, I can’t say yet. At the same time Amazon rolled out their other changes, they also eliminated royalty estimates for Amazon US. Amazon UK and Germany still report them — presumably because they’re legally mandated to, I can’t imagine any other reason — but they make up a negligible number compared to Amazon US. For the US, you don’t know what you’re going to get until it shows up on your bank statement, and Prime payments are massively delayed. I’ve only just gotten my royalties for January. It will be another few months yet before I know what I made in April, but I think my prior estimate will be correct. We consistently get about 14,000 minutes streamed per month by Prime subscribers. With a 33% pay cut, that’ll work out to about $13.

As for the video removals and Amazon’s statement that they will not reconsider them… yeah. Just submit them again, unchanged. With only one exception — the 1911 version of Romeo and Juliet — that’s worked for me. One thing to say here: Prime has zero ability to distinguish one video from another if they have the same title. Amazon generally distinguishes products by UPC, which is not without its own problems. It’s a common scam to buy legitimate products and return counterfeits, which Amazon then freely mixes in their warehouses. That’s one of the reasons Amazon has become about as reliable as a sketchy flea market. Prime videos, though, have no UPC. You might think they’d go with a combined key like title, date, and studio but no, it’s just title. Now, that leads to conflicts, and conflicts seem to be resolved based on which side is bigger. If you’ve got a video that, say, shares a title with a Disney film, maybe clarify it by adding the date in parentheses. That should take care of most problems you’ll encounter.

Oh, and did I break this story? While Amazon’s intentions have been clear at least since February, there seemed to be nothing about this specific purge until Natalie Jarvey’s article in The Hollywood Reporter a couple weeks ago.

Pioneer Trails is fast on the way. It will also be available on Blu-Ray/DVD with a couple other Vitagraph western shorts as a bonus.

The Case of the Disappearing Prime Videos

Amazon Instant, I mean Amazon Video, I mean Prime Video, I mean… whatever it’s called this month, has been gearing up for another retooling.

Their sorting and recommendation algorithm, which at the moment does not seem to exist — video are not ordered in any way that I can discern — is now going to be based on engagement. And we certainly know from Google that that’s never led to extremism. Amazon’s idea of “engagement”, though, seems to be less about reinforcing topics until you’ve created a dangerous echo chamber than it is pushing the mainstream. That’s not what engagement means, but what do I know? Specific examples they give include the film having an IMDb page and a recognizable star. Now, again, what do I know, but IMDb pages are user-created. It has a far lower barrier of entry than even Wikipedia. You’d think Amazon would be aware of that, what with them owning IMDb and all. I’m not terribly certain what qualifies a star but I’m sure Amazon isn’t being ambiguous on purpose.

Prime royalties, meanwhile, which started at 15 cents an hour, then dropped to 6 cents, will now be dropped to 4 cents. (Or raised to 10 cents, if your black-box-no-you-can’t-see-it engagement score is high enough. I’m going to go out on a limb and say roughly 100% of accounts will see their royalties drop, plus or minus 0%.)

None of that ordinarily would concern me. If the roughly $20 I make a month from Prime subscribers drops to $13, what of it? It’s already dropped from $50. That’s just Amazon being Amazon. As I’ve said before, I really only care about getting the films out there, and if I make a bit of money to get more films out there, all the better. Prime, its warts notwithstanding, was one of the best streaming services left for old films. I mean, Netflix has almost none left. And that’s the issue now: with its push for the mainstream, Amazon has begun purging non-mainstream content. Already five of our videos are deactivated, regardless of their ratings, reviews, or retention rates. I expect that number will climb.

Nothing I can do about it, I’m afraid. Amazon pointedly has no appeal process and will not disclose their reasons for doing anything. I was speaking recently to someone who lamented that we didn’t sell much physical media anymore. The simple reason I gave was that nobody wants it — DVD sales have fallen precipitously in the last few years and Blu-Ray was always dead in the water. People, by and large, prefer streaming, but that does put both the customer and the seller completely at the mercy of the streaming service, which might go out of business tomorrow or might decide it no longer wants to cater to you. So Amazon goes the way of Netflix.

Oh, hint for the next episode… ah… Cullin Landis… Alice Calhoun… runaway… stagecoach… you know, it’s Pioneer Trails.