Amazon and the “Vegetable Story”

vegetablesIn the last few days, the folks at Amazon have been a lot more open about their plans to invest in and distribute traditional theatrical films, as well as continuing their successful forays into episodic television. The various interviews and the accompanying analyses underline that fact that for Amazon, the goal is to get consumers hooked on its ecosystem, which bundles content with everything from baby formula and toilet paper deliveries. It reminds me of a story I tell every year in my Business of Film class at Columbia, which goes as follows:

About 20 years ago, at the Cannes Film Festival, I visited the hotel suite of a major sales agent to see what their upcoming product lineup looked like. As I entered the suite, I was greeted by the CEO of the company, who had a grin on his face. He sat me down and told me the source of his bemusement.

Apparently for the last several days, a rumor had been spreading throughout the Cannes Market that there was a buyer running around to every sales company, buying up every film that they had available. The buyer was representing some small island nation that no one had ever heard of before, and he was paying decent money for the distribution rights to every film he could get his hand on.

Well, it turned out the rumor was true, as the mystery buyer had just left this sales office, right as I was arriving. Thus the grin. And indeed, the mystery buyer had marched in, asked how many films the sales agent had available, and then said he would take them all. After making the deal, the sales agent couldn’t control his curiosity and asked the buyer why there was this sudden insatiable demand for movies in this country no one had ever heard of. The buyer responded, “I’m not actually in the movie business. I’m in the vegetable business. I run outdoor produce markets all over the island. One day I showed a movie in the market, and that day I sold more vegetables than I’d ever sold before.” The sales agent responded, “really?” To which the buyer replied,”Yes, to throw them at the screen.”

I’ve never been able to find out if that story was indeed true, but buying movies to sell vegetables is not that far off from what Amazon is doing. It’s brilliant, and it’s good news for anyone trying to sell their films.

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