Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Redbox to bring movie-rental kiosks to Canada

Is this now the time for libraries to really get in the book/DVD kiosk game?

Hundreds of red movie-rental kiosks will appear in stores across the country in the coming months as U.S.-based Redbox expands into Canada, as the chain looks to take advantage of the vacuum left by the closure of traditional retail stores.
Redbox has just signed deals with Wal-Mart Canada and national convenience store operator Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. to place its kiosks in stores across the country. The Oakbrook, Ill., company, a unit of Coinstar Inc., has almost 30,000 rental kiosks across the United States.
“[Canada] is the third largest DVD rental country after America and Japan,” said interim president Gregg Kaplan, speaking at an investment conference last week. “But at the same time, there is a bit of a void there. “As you might know, Blockbuster Canada and Rogers Video have either already exited or have announced that they’re going to exit. So the brick-and-mortar retailers are already out.”
There has been a vacuum in the estimated $1-billion Canadian DVD rental industry since Blockbuster Canada was pushed into receivership last year. More than 400 stores were closed across the country as a result, and Rogers Communications Inc. announced earlier this year it would also stop offering movie rentals in its stores.
The combination of streaming video services such as Netflix and rental kiosks devastated the U.S. video store industry over the past decade – stores’ market share for rentals and sales fell to about 20 per cent, according to Convergence Consulting Group.
There are some kiosks already operating in Canada. Zip.ca has about 100 kiosks in grocery stores, and electronics retailer Best Buy wants to double its machines – which are typically found in Western Canadian convenience stores – to 130 by the end of the year.
But the services were never seriously marketed in Canada and face content licensing difficulties that have diluted their offerings. Sixty per cent of all movie rental sales in Canada last year took place when someone walked into a store and grabbed a movie off the shelf, according to Convergence Consulting Group in a recent study.
“We feel like Canada now is ripe to do this and we feel like it’s time for us to go there in addition to what we’re doing in the U.S,” Mr. Kaplan said. “And given that there’s already a couple of kiosk competitors and the brick-and-mortar folks have exited, the time is right ... we don’t want to lose that opportunity.”
Mr. Kaplan wants to see about 2,500 kiosks in Canada within the “next few years,” but said the company will initially focus on Vancouver and Toronto.
“Historically, a pretty good rule of thumb, what we’ve seen in other businesses is that Canada can get to roughly 1/10 the size of the U.S. market,” Mr. Kaplan said. “We’re not projecting that yet because we haven’t had the experience there, but it feels like it could be sizable.”
The company’s self-serve kiosks will charge Canadians $1.50 for a standard definition new releases or $2 for a Blu-ray. Video games will also be offered, at $2.50.
“We set the price points at a level where we think we can get similar demand and profitability,” Mr. Kaplan said. “The brick-and-mortar competitors, when they were there, were at U.S. kinds of levels. So $4 or $5.”

Friday, 18 May 2012

Margaret Sutherland’s nude Stephen Harper painting on display at Kingston library

Stephen Harper NudeMargaret Sutherland's painting of a nude Stephen Harper is getting a lot of attention at the Kingston Library.
Stephen Harper often gets stripped down for his policies, but a Kingston-based artist has taken that idea to literal heights.
As the Kingston Whig-Standard reports, Margaret Sutherland has achieved a procession of popping eyeballs over her portrait of our Prime Minister reclining in the altogether, gaze both wan and provocative, as a headless woman in a power suit hands him a cup of Timmy's coffee on a silver platter.
Endowed with the title "Emperor Haute Couture," the nude was submitted to the Kingston Arts Council's 11th Annual Juried Art Salon.
It now hangs on display at the Kingston Frontenac Public Library's central branch in a room used for meetings and the occasional children's recital — although the portrait does get removed before any tiny fingers hit those piano keys.
Sutherland said her painting is a satirical take on Edouard Manet's iconic Olympia, the French impressionist's 1863 masterpiece of a nude Venus-like woman attended to by a slave.
"It's a political satire of a contemporary political figure," she told QMI Agency. "A classic pose using a contemporary figure."
This is far from the first time Sutherland has dabbled in nudes, but perhaps the first time her work keeps getting reshuffled for the sake of public decency.
Chief librarian Patricia Enbright told the Whig-Standard she faced a difficult decision when it came to balancing artistic expression and parental concern.
"[I]t was trying to balance the needs of many stakeholders in terms of the room. And yes, while we do support kind of intellectual freedom, we were also kind of in a very difficult position because of the multi-use of the room," she said.
A paltry excuse, complained a "ticked off" Sutherland on the Kingstonist website.
"I've now provided them with a cloth to cover the painting to lessen the chances they will damage it taking it down and putting it who knows where to sit who knows how long. However, with this kind of behaviour I have little confidence they will actually use it," Sutherland wrote in a comment underneath a story about the show.
Neither paper reached Harper to ask his impressions of the piece, but this sort of artistic licence featuring political privates didn't go over very well last March, when NOW magazine stuck Toronto mayor Rob Ford's head on a portly, bare-chested, boxer-clad body.
The Star notes that City Hall demanded all issues be "removed and disposed" immediately, ensuring, of course, that the cover would go down in Toronto media history.
So far, the Harper camp hasn't exhibited the same squeamishness. Barring the children's recital schedule, the Emperor will remain on display until May 29.
And if you'd like the portrait to adorn your private walls, it can be all yours for a cool $5,000.
(Photo courtesy of Margaret Sutherland)


Friday, 4 May 2012

The future of books is looking very bright this week

Barnes & Noble has joined up with Microsoft (NSQ:MSFT) to form a new $1.7 billion ebook subsidiary aimed at competing with the world’s largest internet retailer: Amazon (NSQ:AMZN). Shares in Barnes & Noble rose by as much as 90% on the announcement while Microsoft shares only ticked up a fraction of a percent. Don’t cry for Microsoft however - its shares are up more than 23% since the beginning of the year. Meanwhile, Amazon saw its shares rise 20% on the basis of its recent quarterly results.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Digital killed the video store, what will replace it?

From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
That was then. Word came down last week that Rogers Video will be liquidating its inventory; it follows in the footsteps of Blockbuster, which closed shop in Canada in 2011. Their disappearance will go mostly unlamented – big-box video combined all of the inconvenience of leaving the house in exchange for none of the enjoyment of actually going to the movies. But for all the wonders of the digital age we're entering, there is no indication that we're going to get it right this time.
The extinction of big-box video comes only after the Internet trained audiences to expect instant gratification and unlimited variety. The rise of online video has had the curious property of making big-box video stores seem redundant without actually replacing them. Especially in Canada, where we're geo-blocked from the best online-video services, this leaves us in an odd spot.
There are certainly ways to rent movies online: Apple's iTunes Store offers a good selection of digital “rentals” in Canada for $4 to $5 a pop; Amazon offers something similar in the United States.
The problem is that the idea of “rental” doesn't translate well to the digital world. The rules of movie rentals were dictated by the need to fetch and retrieve physical items such as VHS cassettes. Recreating this system online means creating arbitrary rules.
On iTunes, for instance, you have 30 days in which to watch a file, but once you start watching, you have only 48 hours before it self-destructs. Moreover, the system makes you wait as movies download instead of instantly streaming them. Small wonder that many users still opt for pirated video, despite a concerted effort to all but turn the Internet into a police state to stamp it out.
This brings us to Netflix, which has reincarnated itself as a video-streaming site. In concept, it's a remarkable service. It matches the expectations of a YouTube-addled public: You click a movie and it plays within seconds. For a flat fee of $8 a month, it offers free rein of its catalogue, and a sense of the freedom that video stores offered cable-bound viewers when VHS emerged.
If only it had a better catalogue. At the moment, Netflix Canada offers you the best of Hollywood's discount bin, with quality lurking in the oddest places. Recently, I searched for Under Siege (a fine movie about Steven Seagal on a battleship), and Netflix offered Undercover Boss. I searched for Titanic; Netflix gave me a dubious offering called Titanic 2.
The poor selection is something Netflix promises to fix. As ever, its site for U.S. customers features a substantially better selection, which has led Canadian customers to use several grey-market tricks, such as Virtual Private Networks and applications that fudge their Internet address, to gain access to the U.S. Netflix catalogue. Closer to home, its TV selection is already substantively better than its movies, although it consists mostly of previous seasons' episodes.
The upshot is that, for now, Canadians looking for a way to play digital video are faced with lousy options: convenient, legal services with poor selection; inconvenient legal services with middling selection and onerous rights management; and pirated downloads that offer exactly what consumers want to watch, when they want to watch it.
I won't be particularly nostalgic when my computer no longer has a five-inch slit in the side that gets used once a year. But once video stores vanish from malls, and DVD drives vanish from computers, we would be well served by some better options. I watched a bit of Titanic 2, and I'll tell you how it ends: The ship sinks again.