Since I’m best known in this industry as “The Funeral Guy,” it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I see a business opportunity in the death of VHS tape. Those of us who have been event videographers since the ’80s and ’90s have witnessed the rise and fall of VHS tape, much like the rise and fall of the 8-track and audio cassettes. But just because we no longer use VHS tapes doesn’t mean we can’t profit from the millions of tapes sitting on people’s shelves. We have an obligation to communicate to our clients that their precious VHS tapes have a limited shelf life and are in the process of deterioration. We also need to communicate to them that we have a service to offer: converting their VHS tapes to DVD.
For the last several years, VHS-to-DVD conversions have provided a steady source of income to my business. And I have been able to perform these conversions without adding a lot of time to my already busy schedule. The key is to use one-touch, dual-deck VHS-to-DVD recorders. When I first told a colleague that I was doing this, I felt like somehow I had violated a sacred trust. I was told that this was not the way that we, as professionals, should convert tapes to DVD—that, somehow, it cheapened who we are. But our customers don’t really care about chapters or advanced menus; all they want is to convert their tapes and preserve their family memories.
While I was writing this column, one of my clients called and asked if I was able to convert VHS tapes to DVD. After I answered in the affirmative, she said she had 17 VHS tapes that she would be bringing over for me to transfer to DVD. She was especially pleased when I told her I charge only $25 per tape. For me, that’s an additional $425 of income, maybe more since she indicated that she would want extra copies of several of her tapes. I charge $15 per copy of a transferred tape, so that will be a very good profit as well. The wonderful thing about this is that the only labor I have to put into this job is to load the tape into my recorder and press “copy.” Once the tape is copied to DVD, I put the DVD in my Primera Bravo printer and print on the disc. I also print an insert for the case. All of this just takes a few minutes.
To keep up with the demand, I have two DVD recorders—one from Panasonic the other from Sony. The Sony also has FireWire built in so I can create DVDs from digital tapes; it also automatically creates chapters for each clip. CNET rates my Panasonic model, the DMR-EZ48VK, as an excellent, all-purpose DVD and VHS recorder. The street price for the DMR-EZ48VK is about $325. I’ve had excellent results with several Panasonic models, and recommend them for your recording needs.
I purchased the Sony RDR-VX525 ($225) because it has the FireWire option and also because it upconverts DVDs via an HDMI output. I’m not familiar with other brands’ features, but one thing I know they all have in common is that they are reasonably priced. The first DVD recorder (no VHS capabilities) that I purchased several years ago was about $1,000, so the current pricing is good news for anyone who wants to invest in this technology.
VHS-to-DVD transfers have been easy to market. Whenever I meet with clients, I simply ask them if they have any VHS tapes that need to be converted. Invariably, the answer is yes. This will often lead to other video work once they realize we are a full-service production house. I have also been using transfers as an effective marketing strategy to gain new customers. If you go to www.mnseniorsonline.com, you’ll see a banner advertising a free VHS-to-DVD transfer for Minnesota seniors. We have had several people take advantage of this. Through friendly conversation, they’ve also discovered the importance of making a video biography, having all of their photos scanned and put on CD, having their home movies converted, and also producing video montages for special events. The only cost to me is the blank DVD stock, which is very inexpensive. This has been one of the best advertising strategies that I’ve tried.
I also encourage clients to convert their memories of special events I’ve videotaped for them to DVD. In this case I offer them a straight transfer for $25 or a more elaborate transfer job that will include chapters and a nice menu. Even this does not take a great deal of time, but the profit is much greater—usually about $150 per job. Once they have this done, they usually have me make copies for friends and families. (By the way, in all these instances I’m talking about personal tapes, not professional or commercial ones. If a videotape is copyrighted, I respectfully decline to do the transfer job.)
Recently, I was talking to a fellow videographer who was trying to increase his income. He’s already working 60+ hours a week, but he’s considering becoming certified in legal videography so he can make more money. His wife asked him a very good question: “How will you find more time to do this—do you plan on giving up sleep?”
We have only so many hours a week to work, and the key is not working longer but working smarter. I’ve found VHS-to-DVD conversions to be an effortless way to increase my income. And not only have I received more income but I’ve received the gratitude of many clients who are grateful that their memories are now preserved—that is, until they next advancement in technology necessitates new transfers in order to stay current. When that happens, we’ll be ready.
Alan Naumann (alan at memoryvision.tv) is the author of The Complete Course on Funeral Videography, an updated an dexpanded version of his popular Business Everlasting training DVD. A featured speaker at WEVA Expo 2004–9 and a two-time EventDV 25 honoree, he is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.