Question about running a VHS conversion service
October 29, 2020 9:10 AM   Subscribe

Someone hired me to transfer old VHS tapes for him. We agreed on a price and I transferred them. He's come back and asked about some issues with the digital files that I'm 95% sure are just problems with the tapes and I'm not sure what the best way to deal with it is.

A few years ago, I transferred some home videos from VHS to DVD for my parents. My wife's family asked me to do the same for them last year and I did. I figured that since I had bought the right equipment and knew how to do it, I'd post an ad online offering to transfer other people's home videos for a small fee. No one really replied to the ad for several months. Last week, someone brought me about 50 tapes to transfer for their parents's wedding anniversary in early 2021. I quote him a price for the set and he hires me.

I transferred the tapes for him over the weekend and he seemed happy. I made it clear in my ad that tapes tend to degrade over time and some blemishes and glitches are to be expected. I also make it clear that I'm transferring the tapes "as is" without any editing. I did spot checks to ensure that things seemed to be ok, but aside from that, I'm not really responsible for problems that already existed on the tapes.

Anyways, he's come back and messaged me that he's had a look at 9 of them and that 7 look great and 2 seem like they have issues that he described as being "a bit choppy and cutting up with fuzziness throughout the recording".

My question is: I'm really new to this work and I don't know how other businesses tend to handle these things. I'm 95% sure the stuff he's describing are from the tape itself and not from the transfer process, and I really don't want to get into having to review a huge chunk of tapes that (to him) appear to have issues that from my perspective I'm not responsible for. I was planning to reply to him that I'll review the issues he describes and if they are a consequence of something I've done wrong, I'll give him a corrected copy but if they're a problem with the tape I'll have to charge him something like $5/tape for the time it takes to review them.... just as a way of discouraging him from asking for a huge number of tapes to be reviewed. I'm just wondering if that's reasonable or if there's a better approach that other, similar businesses do?
posted by NoneOfTheAbove to Human Relations (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
He needs to show you exactly what he thinks is wrong with your work, not just describe it. Screen grabs or short clips or maybe even a filename with a timecode. Only when you are looking at the same thing can you even start to have a discussion about what do.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:17 AM on October 29, 2020 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Yes, I agree - I'm planning to ask for specific timestamps.
posted by NoneOfTheAbove at 9:20 AM on October 29, 2020

He should be able to just take a screen grab/recording with his phone to show you what he's referring to. It's should be fairly obvious whether this is a concern with the tapes as opposed to a concern with your work (also is this the same person from the question a while ago?).
posted by jessamyn at 9:24 AM on October 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think what you're proposing sounds completely reasonable provided he does indeed manage to communicate specifically what he's finding unsatisfactory. Get him to send you some short phone-camera movies of what he sees on his screen when he plays his original tapes vs what he sees when he plays your DVD dubs. It might be something as simple to correct for as minor tracking adjustment differences between his VHS gear and yours.

But if he can't do that because he has no access to VHS gear that can actually demonstrate that his tapes are playable without the artifacts he's complaining about on your dubs, then he's probably talking through his arse. So "screenshots or it didn't happen" rendered in bland customer-support-speak is your next step.
posted by flabdablet at 9:24 AM on October 29, 2020

I think a certain amount of review should be built into the base price. Stuff like this is going to come up. You should plan on it, within limits. If he's your first customer in this new business you want him to be happy. Going forward, you should make clear what your review policy is.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 9:26 AM on October 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: About fifteen years ago, I worked at an A/V place that did analog to digital transfers as one of the main services. The way our owner had it setup was that there were different tiers of pricing, with each tier adding more attention on our part. The most basic/cheap service was what we internally called "3 button" - basically, press play, press record, and press eject when it was done. The tiers above that added things like addressing tracking issues, image processing, etc. That cost at least 2-3x what the 3 button cost, as it took direct employee time - I could have up to twenty 3 button going at the same time but could only do 1-2 higher tiered videos at a time as I had to keep an eye on them and make adjustments as needed. It's going to be important for you to define levels of service if you keep doing this.

Was the customer expecting you to watch 50 videos worth of originals and ensure the quality was sufficient? If each of those is just an hour, that's 50+ hours of work - is that commensurate to what you charged this person for? I'm guessing you did largely unattended transfer and charged him accordingly - if so, I'd put the onus on them to prove to you that the transfers were not accurate to the originals. This is a messy situation and it's hard to say what you should do without knowing the terms of your agreement, but asking for someone to monitor 50+ hours of video transfer is a HUGE ask for what I'd imagine the person paid.

Just my $0.02
posted by _DB_ at 9:33 AM on October 29, 2020 [22 favorites]

Best answer: is this the same person from the question a while ago?

I'm thinking it probably is, because the setup is so similar. And if so: fuxache. Dude asks you specifically not to look at the content because sex tapes, then moans about transfer quality?

I say he gets one chance to raise specific issues with specific time ranges on specific dubs or he's fired.
posted by flabdablet at 9:35 AM on October 29, 2020 [20 favorites]

what you're offering sounds fair to me. Another option may be that, if he can find a machine that plays his old tapes better than yours, you'd considering using that for a re-transfer. If he wants you to sit and watch everything as it transfers, I'd adjust my pricing to reflect a fair hourly rate for my time.
posted by philip-random at 9:36 AM on October 29, 2020

Didn't this guy tell you *not* to review the tapes? Because they are partially sex tapes?

How much hassle is this money worth to you?
posted by muddgirl at 9:39 AM on October 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The last time I did this, I think I had to agree that the service provider made no guarantee on the quality (since the tapes degrade) but that they would make reasonable effort to remedy a complaint within a certain amount of time. Your question is about reasonable effort and I think what you've proposed is good, but assuming this is the same guy who said he preferred you not really look at the tapes then I would be pushing back on the idea that you should review all fifty tapes since his request actually limits your ability to remedy the complaint.

Honestly, I'd consider quoting him a price to do the review/potential fixing with a heavy emphasis on how you weren't able to do a more thorough review due to his initial request, but if he's willing to waive it and accepts the risk that the quality may not be able to be improved, it's going to cost $$... otherwise, you're sorry he weren't totally satisfied, maybe offer a discount and let that be the end of it. This sounds like a mess that will only continue to get messier.
posted by sm1tten at 10:24 AM on October 29, 2020

Use what _DB_ said. You were told not to watch the videos and therefore were unable to watch for issues inherent to the VHS tape/tracking transfer process. So his options are:

1) Step back (and pay you if he hasn't) because you did what you were told (not watch).
2) Pay you 2-3x more to do it the way which produces what he believes are better results. Oh, and plus double that for watching his shitty homemade pr0n.
posted by terrapin at 10:25 AM on October 29, 2020 [6 favorites]

Maybe I'm a sucker, but I would offer as a goodwill thing to look at 2 or 3 places where he thought the video quality was lacking if he gave you specific timecodes. Then, you can tell him one of three things:

1. Yes. I screwed up. I'll fix it (without charging you more).
2. This is just the way that VHS tapes are and there's nothing to be done.
3. There are some issues here that are related to VHS tape degradation that are, perhaps, fixable. But that's beyond the basic service you've paid for. [Optional addition here if you are interested in and capable of doing the more advanced transfer process for more money]

Again, though: I don't deal with the public often in this way; I may be naive about the pandora's box you'd be opening.
posted by Betelgeuse at 11:21 AM on October 29, 2020

Maybe i am especially wary of this because of weirdos I’ve encountered in my life, but part of me is like... is this a weird kinky scheme to get someone to watch his sex tapes? I don’t take kindly to non-consensual involvement in that kind of thing and I would be tempted to just stop responding to his emails, if there’s any hint of that being the part of the tapes he’s complaining about. Lean hard on your “random dude on Craigslist” status and stop caring.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 11:28 AM on October 29, 2020 [13 favorites]

Best answer: Ask him for the time stamped video he’s referring to then tell him you charge by the hour to watch video for any issue and make that figure a very high one. This guy doesn’t sound legit at all so give him a big a deterrent as possible to to not be doing this and if you have to, you get paid well for it.
posted by Jubey at 1:20 PM on October 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Just to provide a few answers and additional information:

Yes this is the same guy with the sex tapes from my earlier question.

He's already paid me for the work to transfer the tapes.

I'm not too concerned about him being unhappy about things if it comes to that, but I do want to provide a fair solution.

We did talk about how the tapes would be unedited and "as is". He did specifically ask me to avoid looking at the tapes and I agreed to as much as possible.

I suspect he doesn't have a VCR to play the tapes on. I could be wrong, but I think he said something that gave me that impression.

Going forward, I know to make this crystal clear from the outset before I start work for someone. I realize this was new to me and I made mistakes on how I handled things by not clearly discussing it first.
posted by NoneOfTheAbove at 1:21 PM on October 29, 2020

I am allergic to drama so in your shoes I would say that I had reached the limits of my technical capability and offer a partial or even a whole refund, and tell him to take the tapes elsewhere. This is a polite way to fire a client.

Alternatively you can insist that the transfer is good and point to your as-is policy. This really depends on how you were paid, some methods make it more likely that he will be able to request a refund and succeed at any kind of dispute.

Sounds like you are chalking this up to a learning experience which is a good take. It is hard running essentially a service business like this one!
posted by muddgirl at 1:27 PM on October 29, 2020 [4 favorites]

If you're not sure, you need to be. Have you looked at the two tapes in question, in original and DVD versions? If there is a problem on your end, you need to know that, especially if you're making this a business. Letting your customers be your quality assurance is not going to go well.

The silver lining might be that you can truthfully say that to check for transfer problems you will have to carefully watch the tapes.
posted by zompist at 2:35 PM on October 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

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