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Freakonomics Hits iTunes, Amazon & VOD Before Theaters

The film adaptation of the bestseller Freakonomics will be hitting movie theaters on Oct. 1, but anxious viewers can watch the movie now if they want, with rentals available on Apple’s (s AAPL) iTunes, Amazon (s AMZN) Video On Demand and major cable providers’ VOD offerings.

Priced at $9.99 for standard definition video (and $10.99 for iTunes HD), users can rent the Freakonomics film and watch it on VOD through cable, on their PCs from iTunes or Amazon or even on other devices, like the iPad, for less than they’d pay to watch it in the theater. However, viewers will pay more than twice as much as typical VOD, iTunes and Amazon rentals, which typically run $3.99 or $4.99 each.

The movie’s distribution method, while unconventional, fits right in with the premise of the book, which questioned the economic models behind all sorts of human activity. Despite the success of the bestselling book, Freakonomics will see limited economic upside through theatrical release. Because it’s a documentary –and one that appeals to a fairly niche audience — its distribution for the most part will be limited to art house theaters in major metropolitan areas before being released on DVD and for electronic sell-through. With its pre-release on alternative platforms, its distributors are betting the film could appeal to a wider audience than will be going to see it in theaters.

It will be interesting to see how the film fares online, on VOD and in theaters. Without having a good benchmark for how the documentary might have performed with a regular release schedule, it’s difficult to say how much availability on iTunes and VOD will cannibalize the theater-going audience. But if the model is successful, we can expect to see more independent, low-budget and documentary films seek to reach audiences through digital distribution as well as in the theaters.

Related content on GigaOM Pro: For Hollywood, The VOD Price Is Right (subscription required)