Several of our esteemed fellow publications are carrying a story about RED's MiniMags and a third party supplier of storage mags that are alleged to be compatible. But there's nothing new about this situation and RED should not have to defend itself against accusations of overpricing. Here's why
I'm not going to comment on the ongoing dispute between RED and Jinny LTD. Actually I had a distinct feeling of deja vu when I heard about it. That's because there's absolutely nothing new about a manufacturer selling its own storage products to use with its cameras, recorders or whatever. This has been going on as long as there have been computers - for decades, in fact.
I just want to make a few points that seem to be missed in the heat of the discussion.
First, let's look at a very general point. Let's say that your doctor has put you on a course of medication. Where do you get your medicine? Would you go to your local pharmacy, which has been operating for years under your country's safety regulations, or would you get cheaper drugs from the internet, from an unknown source, which neverthelss claimed compatibility with the original prescription? Remember that whatever you buy goes into your body. I would at least hesitate. Well, no. I'd actually run as fast as I could from the pills of dubious or at least unknown origin, because as far as I know, not only might they not work, but they might actually be dangerous.
Now what if you're a company like Space X or one of the several other private rocket manufacturers. You've been given the task of launching an astronanaut into space, with the world watching live on TV. In the on-board navigation computer, you as a company have had the choice of buying RAM that's selected to military specification - or you can buy cheaper RAM from the internet. I know which I'd chose.
And what if you're away at an expensive location shoot, where you get one chance to get the winning shot. Your career and the financial well-being of the production comany depend on getting the footage safely into post production, backed up as many times as you feel you have to. Would you save a few hundred dollars by purchasing cheaper media? I probably wouldn't.
And finally, what if the worst happened? What if you did lose all your footage from a storage device? If you'd bought it from a camera manufacturer which guaranteed to fix common storage issues, or which had offered to help even when strange things happen, you'd stand a very good chance of salvaging your day's work. What would be the chances if you'd bought generic storage? Would you even have a number to call (for them to tell you, eventually, that they're only liable for the replacement value of the storage media)?
What would you pay to be safe? I would pay more, even if I knew that my storage devices contained media that I could buy elsewhere. For all the above reasons, and because I don't know anything about how stringently the camera manufacturer selects and tests storage media, I would pay the premium.
If you look at the comments in our fellow publications, you'll probably suspect that I'm in a minority. But I don't think I am. I've spoken to a few RED users and their response is that they would absolutely continue to buy RED proprietary storage. And I can understand why.
If third party manufacturers of storage mags were to follow the rules of RED's partner program, and to offer the same level of support, then I might be persuaded otherwise, although no-one but a camera manufacturer can supply the same degree of support, because no third party will have the knowledge to do so.
Ultimately, this all hinges on the concept of value. All business needs a concept of value, and a shared understanding of it. If you can't add value, you don't have a business. Sometimes it feels like critics are saying that it's wrong for a business to charge for more than the sum of the parts in a product. The world doesn't work like that. Even where a company is arguably selling the same product as you can buy somewhere else, there will likely ways that value has been added to it. Maybe it's that the manufacturer has the pick of the parts bins. This happens all over the place: CPU processors are often sorted according to their tested performance: the slower ones are sold for less and the faster ones are solf for more.
But even if the physical product is exactly the same, there's still value to be added. It's support. Support is unbelievably valuable when you need it. The reality is that a manufacturer can charge what it likes for its products. The only limit is what customers are prepared to pay. Most of the RED users I've spoken to are OK with the deal they have.