The New York Times reports that business is booming for manufacturers of cheap DVDs. An increasing number of titles, typically old films and cartoons, are being priced in the US$0.99 to US$1.99 range, the low price a reflection of the fact that these works are no longer protected by copyright.

While the full-price DVD market is by no means suffering, the niche of “dollar” DVDs is growing, fueled by the increase of filmed works in the public domain, including some pretty decent (or at the very least, classic) works: “The Little Princess” (with Shirley Temple), Coppola’s “Dementia 13”, “The Andy Griffith Show“, and “Popeye” and “Felix” cartoons.

Will this change the structure of the DVD market (which in turn appears to control the timing of in-theater film releases)? Interestingly, the titles provided by Global Multimedia Corporation, a company less than a year old located in Philadelphia, are all region-coded for playback in the United States only (Region 1). Given that region-coding is used by film manufacturers to protect the profitability of in-theater film releases (by ensuring that, say, Australians don’t just order a DVD from in the United States instead of waiting up to six months after the US release to see the film in Australia), it’s a little strange that this mechanism is being used on media that were premiered years ago, and are no longer protected by copyright in any event.

For more on the structure of the movie industry, see this article (also published by The New York Times) on Hollywood studios’ plans to offer digitised copies of films for sale online. Depending on pricing, this development will be welcome to consumers with high-speed Internet access. Watch this space for further developments.