The New York library system is one of the largest and best-stocked in the country. Among the many perks for members (spot-on recommendations, more books than you can read in several lifetimes, someplace where the air conditioning actually works) is access to free movie streaming service Kanopy—at least for the next week before the service’s abrupt cancellation takes effect.
Two summers ago, the New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library signed on with Kanopy to provide free access to patrons, which includes 6 titles per month, gratis. Filling a niche for classic and arthouse films not well served by the likes of TV-heavy Netflix and Hulu, Kanopy was something of a godsend for cinephiles in the Big Apple, especially after similar paid service FilmStruck folded last November. Queens Public Library added Kanopy for its members a little later in 2017, and the NYPL was teaching courses on how to use the service as recently as last week.
All three library systems are ending their partnerships with Kanopy come July 1, as patrons were informed this afternoon by email.
“Ultimately, this came down to a decision by the libraries, and where to focus their strategic priorities right now. We have witnessed incredible growth in user demand at these libraries over the past couple years and worked with the NYPL, BPL, and QPL to devise innovative new models that give them certainty and supports their budgetary needs,” Lisa Kovitz, a spokesperson for Kanopy told Gizmodo.
For those that even knew it existed, Kanopy was—in terms of selection and cost—a reprieve from the streaming wars. And while on its face, it’s hard for library members to beat “free” as a price, Kanopy seems to have operated with much the same aggressive pricing as other digital goods, like ebooks, which threaten to bleed library budgets is new and creative ways. It’s unclear what the precise arrangement between Kanopy and the New York systems was, but one public contract indicates the Austin Public Library coughed up $2 each every time a title was played—fees which, one imagines, add up quickly in a city of eight-and-a-half million.
“The Library made this decision after a careful and thorough examination of its streaming offerings and priorities,” NYPL wrote on its website. “We believe the cost of Kanopy makes it unsustainable for the Library, and that our resources are better utilized purchasing more in-demand collections such as books and e-books.” An NYPL spokesperson told Gizmodo an alternate streaming platform is being explored but one has not yet been lined up to replace Kanopy. “While Kanopy has been an excellent partner and a great resource for our patrons, unfortunately we’ve had to make the difficult decision to discontinue use due to the rising cost of the system,” Fritzi Bodenheimer, the press officer for the Brooklyn Public Library, concurred.
Queens Public Library told Gizmodo in a statement that “the increasing cost of Kanopy, and the need to devote our resources to other priority services and materials that are in higher demand, such as books, e-books and DVDs, make it unsustainable.” QPL contends that Kanopy had intended to raise its fees, and that of the 1 million New Yorkers their system services, less than 1-percent used the platform.
Last December, Stanford Libraries made the similar decision to scale back its use of Kanopy this past December, claiming that the cost of the service had “escalated significantly in the past year and is no longer sustainable.”
Kovitz wrote that “Kanopy is in constant discussions with our library partners to understand their budget needs and priorities,” adding that the company is piloting a “capped” model that would “deliver certainty in annual budget spends for libraries.”
In any case, there’s a week left to watch your fill of “free” movies (if you don’t count that libraries are paid for by taxes, which are paid for by you), at which point your legal access to classic films is limited mostly to the well-stocked but poorly designed Criterion Channel.
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Updated with comment from BPL & QPL