Last week I posed a question to my Twitter followers: would you pay $10 for a standard swatchbook for gel company X if it meant that their gel would be priced about $2 less per sheet. Cheaper gel, but no more free swatchbooks. I have to admit, I was a little surprised by the results.
The first day I asked the question, the response was divided between full-time designers and designers/electricians who were responsible for purchasing the gel for their theatres/shows. The full-time designers were against paying for the swatchbook, as they didn’t receive any new benefit from the purchase. Those that picked and purchased the gel had no problem with the pricing, as they would be buying a swatchbook no more than once per year, but multiple sheets of gel throughout the year.
The second day nearly all the responses were in favor of the pricing, mainly for the per-sheet savings, but without much indication as to what jobs were held by those responding.
The reason for the question: reports that one of the gel manufacturers has begun this pricing policy.
To be clear, this pricing is for the standard size swatchbooks, that we are all used to getting for free at our local vendor. This is not about the larger “designer” size swatchbooks that give you a sample size large enough to put in front of a lighting fixture. And so far, only one gel company is known to be trying this pricing.
I’m all for cheaper gel. As costs have gone up over the years, gel has become less of an expendable and more of an inventory item. But I have some issues with this pricing.
The swatchbook is a catalog, and catalogs cost money to produce. But catalogs exist to sell the products displayed within them. Unlike a traditional catalog, a swatchbook gives a potential customer an actual sample of the product, not merely a photo or a description. This is important for lighting designers. Online catalogs and phone apps are useful, but nothing compares to being able to look at, and through, the gel you are considering for your design.
Generally, purchasing a catalog has only been required if the catalog was very large or otherwise was expensive to produce. Catalogs that are likely to be taken simply to be viewed without ever making a purchase from them also have started charging for a copy, such as the Victoria’s Secret catalog. But in this case, the company is competing against at least two other gel manufacturers who sell nearly the exact same colors, and whose catalogs are still free.
Most designers don’t choose gel based on cost. They choose gel specifically for the production design they are working on. They also choose gel based on a proven track record with it in the past. For example, I know exactly what to expect from the Lee 200-203 series. The fact that Rosco or Apollo may have similar filters available doesn’t matter to me. But I also have “go-to” colors from Rosco and Apollo. My color choices are not tied to a single brand, nor do I want to modify my design simply to get color from only one company.
So, for a designer, the cost savings per sheet normally does not save him/her any money, personally. Instead, they now pay to get the a catalog of goods they MAY decide to purchase later. With the other companies’ swatchbooks remaining free (at least if picked up at a vendor/dealer), whose swatchbooks are more likely going to be lying around in any theatre, assistant’s bag, or M.E.’s office: the free ones, or the $10 each ones? People order what they either already know, or what they discover. This new fee reduces the chances of discovery.
Personally, if a fee must be charged (after all, it isn’t free to produce and ship swatchbooks) I would rather see it lowered to $1.00 each. At least it would pay for the shipping of a box of them to a dealer/vendor. It’s still low enough that most won’t have an issue with paying it, and will pay it repeatedly as an extra is needed time and again.
If we are to pay $10 per swatchbook, I would prefer to see something for my money. For example, replace the locked pin that currently holds swatchbooks together with a removable, adjustable one, and when new gels are added to production, provide free swatches of those colors (available at dealers/vendors) to be added by existing swatchbook owners. At least then I would see some value for my money.
$2.00 less per sheet is fine, but I don’t see the discount being made up in swatchbook sales. I see the sale of the swatchbook hurting gel sales long-term, as fewer people will bother to have a swatchbook from that company, at least at the current $10 per swatchbook pricing.
Sidenote: For those saying “but there are apps for gel now,” I say: Look at the EOS/ION onboard color picker gel colors, and tell me how close they are to the actual color of the gel. Now change your screen settings. Now change the screen to a different model. Think it is any different with all the different model phones and tablets out there? Apps give you a rough idea. A swatchbook gives you the real thing. That matters when painting with light.
Also: It was really strange to not include GAM in this. I actually caught myself typing GAM, and had to stop to remind myself that GAM is part of Rosco now.