Binyam Alemayehu, producer and owner of 400 fikir, an Amharic movie which was released into cinemas a year and half ago, sold his film to a recording company for the VCD distribution, seven months after it stopped showing in cinemas.
He said he could not wait any longer fearing that an illegal copy of his movie would be out before he knew it – he actually had heard rumours that it was already out.
“I had to sell it for a lower price than I had expected,” he said, although he would not discuss the exact amount.
These local movies could sell for as much as 120,000 Br to 150,000 Br, according to Tsega Belachew, owner of Master Records. And they are coming out in quick succession.
Tesfaye Fetene, owner of Piassa Zearda Records, who has been in the business of recording and distributing Amharic movies for the past two years, confirms the changing and faster trend of movies dropping out of cinemas and going to the VCD markets. He finds two different factors for the case. One is fear of the production being stolen and the other is shorter cinema stays because of the increasing number of local movies competing for the venues. Viewers are also increasing and demanding more movies, he noted.
The VCD market is helping Melaku Abebe, a vendor around Bole, make a lot of money. The demand for Amharic movies is growing, he added.
“People actually buy the CDs even after watching the movies in cinema,” he said.
Film rental shops are also among those reaping the benefits from renting the Amharic VCDs. These CDs hit the market on Tuesdays and Fridays, according to various vendors. Brook Tesfaye, who owns such a shop around Yekatit 12 School at Sidist Kilo, goes to Merkato on these days to get his copies when he gets a text message from the store where he regularly makes his purchase. He could buy two copies of each new movie at least.
“I rent out a movie on hourly basis,” he said.
Amharic movies are rented for as long a time as it takes to take it home and watch it. People are charged five Birr for that, with the risk of being charged more if they keep it longer.
The speed of the CD releases is increasing because there are now few Ethiopians coming from abroad to buy the distribution rights. Local buyers of such rights, such as Master Records, now make their purchases faster because the producers make their decisions quicker, says Tsega. Bidders from abroad hardly want to buy those rights, because the movies are made available online.
Tsega orders from 5,000 to about 15,000 copies of the VCDs, although she feels the strain of the competition from movie distribution through flash drives. She is also disappointed that the demand for CDs is so small.
“I buy only one movie a year,” she says.
Tesfaye Fetene, the owner of Piassa Zearada Records, started out as a vendor 18 years ago. He said that he now mostly buys comedy movies, which are in greatest demand.
He distributes the CDs to the Merkato shops for distribution to retailers and vendors and retails the CDs at his own shop for 30 Br. He could sell 200 to 300 pieces in two to three days in his shop. Vendors sell the CDs for 22 Br to 30 Br depending on the area.
Sentayehu Kebede, the owner of Twin’s Video in found in Merkato buys a box of VCDs or two, each containing 100 pieces for distribution to his movie rental clients. It is the same for the many wholesalers around him. Ayelew Zegeye, one of those traders, said these days there are movies that come out every week, and he often buys 100 pieces.
“We get it early especially when it is a low budget movie,” he said.
There are some movies which never make it to the market, said Tsega, owner of Master Records. The producers keep them, probably until they can get copyright protection. Ironically, there are also those movies which are put out as CDs while they are still showing in cinemas.
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