Monday, March 27, 2006

The kind of girl I am

In which we examine the finer points of my ethics and how they shape my viewing experience

So I like Friends. The television show. Lisa gave me the heads-up when it first came out, and I liked it as much as she did. She taped the weekly episodes for me for years. I still have like ten of the videotapes, but they're all moldy now and even the ones with no visible mold have deteriorated so the audio is pretty much shot.

A while back, I got myself the "Best of Friends" DVDs on eBay. There are four discs, and each one has six of the most popular episodes. I've watched them, well...let's just say, a time or two.

As I've said before, I don't have cable TV and I don't watch the local television fare. I also don't rent videos all that often. The local stores don't have super large collections, so you kind of go through the selection and then it's hard to pick something.

Plus, with very few exceptions, the videos and DVDs are all copies, and the quality varies widely. Often they're almost as functional as a legal copy, although a lot of times whoever makes the copies doesn't bother to include the Special Features, which is always disappointing. But sometimes the copies are unnecessarily bad - like the one I got this week (Fun with Dick & Jane), which was a DVD that was clearly copied from a video tape. I betcha didn't even know that could be done, but it can. I guess they play the video on a VCR and hook up a digital recorder to record whatever plays on the television at any given time. As a result, the DVD functionality is almost nil. There is an automatically generated scene selection menu, so you can jump to different parts, but you can't do any of the normal DVD things like select an audio option (for other languages, say). You can't even turn off the subtitles because they are on the screen when the recording is made, so they are recorded as part of the video content.

Oh, and this particular bad copy froze up about 15 minutes from the end and I could neither fast forward through it nor go back to the scene selection menu and select a later scene. I had to ask the guy at the video store how it ended. (He had recommended the video in the first place, so I knew he'd know.) (He did offer to give me a different video to replace the one hadn't worked out, but he had given me an extra low price when I rented it [not because he knew there was anything wrong with the DVD, but because he's seen us there enough he considers us good customers] so I didn't bother to get a replacement.)

Anyway, I digress (a little).

So, what have we learned so far?
I do patronize video stores where 99.8% of the rentals are bootlegs. I'd like it if that were not the case, but it is the case in 99.8% of Costa Rica's video stores and I've kind of decided, "Well, oh well."

Finer point:
Chatting with the owner of the video store I frequent the most, I once mentioned the Best of Friends DVDs and that I got them on eBay. He suggested that I go ahead and buy any movies I felt like seeing and, after I watched them, he would buy them from me for whatever I had paid. I thanked him for the offer, but won't be taking him up on it. Renting a bootleg is one thing. Providing the copyrighted material to the bootlegger...another thing altogether. That's my fine line.

So. Back when I bought the Friends DVDs, I saw that you could also get a complete set of any given season. (There are a total of 10 seasons.) I think these were running about $35 new (per season) and maybe $25 or so on eBay. I coveted them, but they were clearly too expensive and I went with the "Best of." I don't remember exactly, but I think I paid about $15 for all four discs (from two different sellers), including shipping.

Making the two most recent quilts, I found that Friends lends itself most excellently to hand sewing. I've already seen almost all the episodes, so I can keep my eyes on my work for the most part, but I am entertained while sitting for long periods of time. Since quilt making is going to become a larger part of my life, I began to feel that I really wanted (needed? deserved?) a better collection of Friends DVDs. I decided that, when I got to the point where I was selling quilts, I would use the first profits to buy some more.

Except, of course, that once I had made that decision, I really really really didn't want to wait that long. Checking back with eBay, I found that a collector's edition had been released (I think last November), containing all ten years' worth of the series (40 DVDs with wooden collector's case!).

A bit of clicking and searching reveals that this collection can be had from, say, Wal-Mart for about $300. It can be had from Amazon for $233 (eligible for FREE super saver shipping!) It can be had on eBay for about the same amount.

Also available on eBay, the "Asian Collector's Edition," for around $100. This version is new, factory sealed, region free (guaranteed to play on US/Canadian DVD players), with all the original material. Some Chinese characters on the discs and packaging. Removable Chinese subtitles. Original English audio.

Well that's an easy decision, right? I'm certainly not one to be uptight about a foreign language after all.

But. . I had to do it. I had to go and look for more information. Well, it turns out that, "factory sealed" notwithstanding, "Asian collector's editions" of any given movie or television show are pretty much guaranteed to be bootlegs. Just really fancy, pretty, often very well-made and professionally distributed bootlegs. I guess it's a thriving industry in parts of Asia.

I wanted not to care. I wanted to pay $133 less. But I've watched the discs that I do have so many times that I feel a real affinity with the people who made them. I love their work. I know they worked hard and cared about what they did, and they made a product that makes my life better.

How much money do these people already have? A whole. Hell. Of a lot. How much money will actually trickle up to them from my individual purchase of a set of discs? Probably not much. Possibly none, if I buy used discs. What would the real-world, net effect be if I bought a bootleg? Or a used bootleg? There's probably no way of knowing.

Anyway, I made my decision. No bootleg. Then I remembered the whole reason I like eBay: if you know what you want and about how much it's been selling for, then you know when something is a good deal. If you're patient and keep tabs on it, you can be there when a good deal comes along.

Here's a fun fact: If you search for a misspelling of the item you want, you can sometimes get a great deal because it's not coming up in most peoples' searches. I tried that (Freinds, of course) and there were a few, but they were mostly for "Thomas the Tank Engine and Freinds" and suchlike. Apparently, Friends fans, on the whole, are fairly decent spellers.

So I decided to search for only used items. For one thing, that cut the results down from hundreds to dozens of auctions at any given time. Plus the prices were likely to be lower for used items. Then I narrowed it down to just North America (for affordable shipping) and cut out anyone who was so new to eBay that they had no feedback from past transactions.

Anyway, I ended up finding someone who was selling authentic copies of seasons 1-8, used. No wooden collector's case (which, really, I couldn't see asking Alex to pack anyway.) Fewer people would be interested in an incomplete set, so that's all to the good. The seller didn't have a real high feedback score, but it was 100% positive. Not a power seller, but has done well by his customers so far. Fair enough.

The thing about eBay is this: You can bid at any time, but the auction isn't over till it's over. You put in your maximum bid and the system will indicate if you are the highest bidder. If you are, your actual bid will only be one increment above the current high bid. If someone comes along and puts in another bid that is below your maximum, the system will raise your bid to one increment above that offer and you will still be the high bidder at your new intermediate price. If someone else comes along and places a maximum offer that is higher than your maximum, then obviously they are the new high bidder (by one increment above your highest bid).

There wasn't that much movement on this auction, but a lot of times it all happens at the end. People will swoop in and place a high bid in the last minute of an auction when you thought you had it. Then they'll win it by one increment above your highest bid. It's seriously annoying, but it is not against eBay policy. The auction is open for bids until the ending time and if someone wants to be that way, that's their right.

Last minute jerks aside, I didn't want to bid too early and drive the price up because, even for an incomplete collection, it was very cheap - like around $50-something I think. It was ending at 11:00 p.m., so
what did I do? After I put the kids to bed I checked back in every once in a while. And I set a timer for the end of the auction and, 90 seconds before it ended, I placed a bid for my real, true maximum price that I really wouldn't want to go above. I felt bad for the person who had been the high bidder for the past day and a half - if I knocked him or her out, that is.

I decided that I would be willing to pay about as much as a bootleg set (two missing seasons notwithstanding), then I rounded up a little because you don't want to bid exactly $100...newbies bid in round numbers and us experienced people outbid them by little fractions. So I offered, I think, $116. The first result was that I was the high bidder at $70-something, which would be one increment above that other person's high bid. I then refreshed the page obsessively (on my poor little dial-up connection) and saw my high bid rise - meaning that someone else was out there at the last minute, and making another offer.

Anyway, I won it for something like $83, plus shipping.

Jen's ethics in review:
I rent bootleg movies.
I don't make or help other people make bootleg movies for fun or profit.
I don't buy bootleg movies.
I am a jerk on eBay.

(PS When I reviewed the bids I found that the person who had been high bidder all along did not make that other last-minute bid in a desperate attempt to save what they had thought was a sure thing. It was some other last-minute jerk who lost out because they were trying to one-up me by five bucks, while I had placed my true highest offer and therefore I prevailed. This made me feel much better. That other poor shmuck would have lost out anyway.)


lisa March 27, 2006 10:40 PM  

I like two things especially in this post.

1. Your use of the word suchlike

2. Your list of ethics in review.

mom March 30, 2006 12:21 PM  

The videotapes are moldy? I guess there are some drawbacks to the climate.

I appreciated your self-analysis and shared it with your grandmother last night. And I knew that, after such a long post, I might not find anything new from you for a while.

So, when that turned out to be true, I amused myself by logging on to the places you visit each morning. I especially like Yellow Snapdragon, and was thrilled that I could reach Anita, whose blog has been filtered out every time I tried to reach it through a more direct avenue.

And I found out that I am 14 percent evil.

So it is back to work.

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