Sometimes, prices on Amazon just don’t make sense. You can find a 6-pack of one-subject notebooks that costs almost $2000. A box of cucumber face masks plus shipping listed for almost $300. Dangerous by Milo Yiannopolous for somehow more than 95 cents. But while many of these insane prices come from third-party sellers, even orders fulfilled by Amazon and available for their Prime service have out of control prices. A recent tweet from writer Pilot Viruet inspired us to look specifically at single television seasons for sale on the website, in order to surmise what is the most money commanded by a show.
Following in the tradition all the great investigative journalists that have come before me, I started by going to Amazon.com and using the built-in search and sort functions. Browsing specifically in the “Movies & TV” section, I filtered my results by selecting “TV” in the “Refine by” section of the page and sorting the results by price, high to low. The highest single season of a legitimate television show that comes up under these specifications is Season 4 of Baywatch, available from a third-party seller for $3,350.93. Dozens of inexplicably overpriced DVDs followed (here’s that $2,900-dollar first season Blu-Ray disc of Farscape you’ve been lusting after).
But wanting to be precise in my investigation and nail this thing to the figurative, Amazon-branded wall, I decided to take that next big step of critical inquiry effort and click the box that eliminates results that aren’t available on Amazon Prime. From there, I scrolled past multi-season box set after multi-season box set until I came across what I had spent so long (about 20 minutes) searching for, marked by the image of a seated, smiling woman dressed in 90’s-era fitness gear.
The most expensive single season of television for sale on Amazon was Sit and Be Fit Season 10, yours for only $499.99. The show is, in the grand scheme of TV successes, largely unknown. But in 70 percent of the U.S., you can catch Sit and Be Fit on your local public television station. Hosted by nurse and senior fitness expert Mary Ann Wilson, the show has brought exercise routines to people with limited mobility and people living on low incomes since 1987. It has an associated non-profit dedicated to advocating for healthy lifestyles for aging populations and the folks behind it see the show as a public health service addressing the country’s problems with poor physical health and elderly isolation and depression.
“It’s an important population to really be using functional fitness so they can maintain their independence or they can reduce their risk of falls,” producer Gretchen Wilson told The Outline about the show’s core viewership of aging people with limited mobility. “We’ve heard from viewers and miraculous stories of ‘I had given up on me, but this program has given me hope’ or ‘I couldn't walk’ or ‘My hands were arthritic. Now I can write again. Now I can walk.’ Stories that tell us that we’re doing the right thing.’”
The organization provides Sit and Be Fit episodes to public television stations free of charge to ensure as many people as possible can access them, which makes their overpriced Amazon listing that much more bizarre. “I have no idea. Seriously,” said Wilson when asked about the price tag.
“I’m wondering if that’s a mistake.”
Other outrageously-priced television seasons on Amazon (not including third-party sellers) include Season 2, Part 2 of anime series D.Gray-man for $362.03; Season 1 of the 1950s live-action Disney series Zorro for $339.95; and Season 2 of 1980s NBC western drama Father Murphy for $239.95. Each of these titles is available for markedly lower prices elsewhere, including on eBay and used editions on Amazon itself.
I was ready to crack this case wide open until I rechecked the Sit and Be Fit link a few hours after my initial investigation to find that the price had changed. It was now available for only $117, making it no longer the most expensive single season on Amazon. I e-mailed International Coffee and Books, the vendor supplying Amazon with the DVD in question. “I apologize, but the prices are set automatically in Amazon's system based on demand and availability,” wrote a representative for the company. “Prices are set per the market and they are always fluctuating,”
While I appreciated the unnecessary apology, their explanation only opened up more questions. What kind of demand would make a DVD of what I assume was a golden year in aging fitness public television more expensive than most complete sets of popular shows, especially considering you can find Sit and Be Fit Season 10 on Sit and Be Fit’s official website for only $34.95? Wilson stressed how hard her organization works to make the show accessible. Plus, International Coffee and Books seemingly stands to gain little from Amazon’s pricing a DVD with relatively low demand at such an exorbitant price.
The easiest conclusion is that Amazon pricing makes no sense — that what we call “the free market” is now really a series of stacking algorithms beholden to no logic beyond what a computer processor, devoid of context. But there is a silver lining to this largely fruitless, frivolously derived endeavor. In attempting to parse through the inexplicably complicated pricing of Amazon items, I came across a woman and an organization with a wholesome mission to bring healthy, active living to people no matter what their range of mobility is — someone I would like to go ahead and declare as the “Mister Rogers of fitness TV.” As Rihanna once said, “We found love in a hopeless place” and while the tech giant can’t reliably provide understandable pricing or accurate sorting tools, you sometimes can use it to stumble across little, undercelebrated pockets of American media culture. Thanks, Amazon!