Archives Reaches Deal With Amazon to Sell Film Holdings On-Line

On July 30, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) announced that it had reached a non-exclusive agreement with CustomFlix Labs, a subsidiary of Amazon.com, Inc., to make thousands of historic films from the Archives’ holdings available for purchase on Amazon.com. CustomFlix DVD on Demand service will initially make the National Archives’ collection of Universal Newsreels, dating from 1920 to 1967, available on DVD. A limited number of titles are already available on Amazon.com.

In an article in the Washington Post, National Archives spokeswoman Susan Cooper emphasized that the deal between the Archives and CustomFlix was non-exclusive. Last year the Smithsonian Institution was sharply criticized for entering into a semi-exclusive deal with the Showtime Networks, Inc. that limited access to the Smithsonian’s holdings for filmmakers. No details were released concerning the financial arrangements made between the Archives and CustomFlix.

NARA holds more than 200,000 motion picture titles that include documentaries, newsreels, instructional films, and combat footage. Thousands of public domain films and other U.S. Defense Department and U.S. Information Agency titles from the National Archives motion picture vaults will also become available in the near future.

The program allows the National Archives to offer their DVDs for sale on Amazon.com without inventory. DVDs are manufactured only when customers purchase them and can be delivered within 24 hours. The Washington Post reported that the Archives will ship the film to CustomFlix for digitization. The company will make a copy for the customer and store the digitized film on a computer for future use. Then the original film will be returned to the Archives along with a digitized “preservation” copy.

“Our initiative with CustomFlix Labs will reap major benefits for the public-at-large and for the National Archives,” said Allen Weinstein, Archivist of the United States. “While the public can come to our College Park, MD research room to view films and even copy them at no charge, this new program will make our holdings much more accessible to millions of people who cannot travel to the Washington, DC area. CustomFlix Labs DVD on Demand will provide the National Archives with digital reference and preservation copies of the films that are sold on Amazon.com. This is an important contribution to our preservation program.”

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