by Matt Rose
Subscription streaming services have long replaced physical DVDs and Blurays as the primary means of watching movies at home. Though for fans who want to own copies of their favorite movies and TV seasons, DVDs and Blurays held out as the top contender until this past year. According to a report by Rasmus Larsen for FlatpanelsHD, digital movie sales surpassed the sale of physical DVD and Blu-ray copies in 2020, marking the first time this has happened in the US. While the shift was no shock, it was likely catalyzed by the self-isolation period of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which people spent more time at home than they normally would and nonessential entertainment stores closed down or had limited hours. The convenience of digital copies definitely had a chance to shine.
But if you’re like me, you’re not ready to quit on your Blu-ray collection just yet! Sure, the growth rate of my collection has slowed, but there are still some physical releases I can’t pass up, whether one of my all-time favorites is getting a re-release or I just have to have my own copy of the latest Halloween. From limited edition sleeve designs to exclusive interviews, there’s always something tempting me to buy yet another Blu-ray. DVD and Blu-ray distributors definitely still have some tricks up their sleeves to draw customers, and here I’m breaking down some of those tactics for you to consider as you build your collection.
The Collector’s Edition
The Collector’s Edition DVD/Blu-ray release is one tactic that distributors use to promote physical sales. This limited edition release typically relies on its “Get-It-Before-It’s-Gone” time sensitivity to urge customers to make the purchase. The Collector’s Edition can be an amazing must-have full of exclusive bonus content with a beautifully redesigned cover and DVD menu; some even come with posters, photo booklets, and other inserts. But it can also be a quick cash grab full of recycled commentaries or interviews that are easily accessible online, and some include cheap trinkets like small plastic figurines that drive the price up, so be wary.
Some Collector’s Editions may only differ from the standard release in its packaging. For instance, SteelBook offers limited edition supplies of metal-encased Blu-rays with exclusive cover designs. They’ll sell one design for a film, market it as limited-edition, and shortly after sell a different case design for the same film. I definitely had a SteelBook phase and can still appreciate their high quality packaging, but the media content itself doesn’t change. If you already have a copy of the film, it’s likely not worth your money to get the SteelBook. And if you do buy one and then SteelBook puts out a new cover you can’t live without, consider selling your other SteelBook copy, as it’s likely another collector is looking for it. My SteelBook copy of The Shape of Water was about $25 when I got it, and it’s now selling for over $100 online.
Overall, don’t let time sensitivity and limited stock throw you into a panic! Always step back and consider what you already own, research what’s actually new about this version, and decide if it’s really worth it to you or not. I have Collector’s Editions that are my prized possessions and I have Collector’s Editions that are basically just a more expensive reprint of the standard version I already own, except with “20th Anniversary Edition” printed on the sleeve.
The Box Set
The Box Set is a collection of parts in a series compiled together as one release. It can be seasons 1–5 of The Nanny or all 4 Shrek movies (both of which I own). It’s super convenient to have every entry of your favorite series all in one place, and I sometimes like to display the aesthetically pleasing box set packaging on a bookshelf. While streaming services offer plenty of full series, box sets can surge in popularity among fans when a series gets removed from Netflix or Hulu. For example, the complete series box set of The Office was a top seller on Amazon shortly after the hit mockumentary left Netflix, according to National Interest.
If you don’t have any parts of the series yet, a box set may be the best way for you to go. But if you’ve already collected a few movies or seasons, you may want to reconsider. One issue I’ve found with box sets is that the special features and behind the scenes content is often recycled from previous individual releases. As they can also be pricey, the best use of your money may be to buy the remaining entries as their individual releases. Back in 2015 when I wanted to own all of Friends on DVD, I realized it was actually cheaper to scour the Internet for individual season releases than to buy the DVD box set. Another downfall of box sets I’ve encountered is that they typically don’t include codes for digital copies, which individual releases often do these days, but more on that later.
The Remaster/The Restoration
The Remaster or Restoration is pretty straightforward in my opinion. It doesn’t try anything too flashy or deceptive, but rather specifically targets those viewers who would appreciate a higher resolution, cleaner sounding version of a film. It’s not typically a time sensitive, limited supply release, but it can be. It relies more on the improved quality of the media to market the new DVD or Blu-ray edition. Somewhere on the package or item description it’s likely to brag what specifically has been remastered and how.
My favorite restorations I own are from the Criterion Collection, which is dedicated to “presenting each film as its maker would want it seen.” My Criterion copy of Eraserhead even includes a television calibration feature to ensure the film is as dim and murky as David Lynch intended. However, while the focus is on the high quality and high fidelity of the feature film, the bonus content is more so what drew me in. Eraserhead came with a behind the scenes photo/anecdote booklet and restored versions of pre-Eraserhead Lynch shorts, and Rosemary’s Baby included an all-new 47 minute documentary about the film featuring cast and crew, though it’s since been posted to YouTube by VICE to watch for free. So while Restorations and Remasters primarily pride themselves on media quality, be sure to look into what new special features may be included, especially with a Criterion release.
Typically, I don’t jump at a remaster, especially if I have a way to watch the film that I deem perfectly acceptable. And some films that were remastered not long ago are getting yet another round of remastering for 4K viewing. Before splurging on a brand new 4K edition, consider if you’d really care about the improvement from your current 2K copy (because I know I wouldn’t notice much difference). Also, as these releases are often not limited editions, patience can be the key to getting a deal on a remaster if you’re willing to take the chance that it might go out of print. It may take a few months to drop in price, but they usually cost their most at the time of release.
The Combo Pack
The Combo Pack is the least complex and is currently what I view as the standard, but it’s worth noting. What I mean by “Combo Pack” is that Blu-rays often now come with a DVD copy and a download code for a digital copy. Some packs are dropping the DVD, but the digital copy is still common. This means you can watch the movie just about anytime and anywhere. Having this standard keeps Blu-rays in competition with purely digital copies — or at least it should, since the Combo Pack is a better value, likely includes more bonus content, and can even be cheaper than the digital purchase alone. Somehow, my “Blu-ray + DVD + Digital” copy of Scream was cheaper than it would have been to buy the movie on iTunes.
So even if you’d be fine only owning a digital copy, it’s worth a quick search on Amazon to see if the Combo Pack is a better deal, especially with an older movie. However, make sure the description explicitly mentions the digital copy or download code. As mentioned above, many movie or TV box sets I’ve encountered don’t include these codes. Similarly, my purchases from the Criterion Collection were not Combo Packs.
So as DVDs and Blu-rays decline in popularity, distributors stick to these tactics to boost the sale of physical copies. I hope these category breakdowns give you something to think about as you build your collection! It’s all about what it’s worth to you. Consider pricing, what you already have, what draws you to a certain edition, and whether it’s truly something new and worthwhile for the fans or just a cash grab. And of course, these categories aren’t exhaustive. There are plenty of hybrid, overlapping varieties to consider — I’m sure many 40th Anniversary Limited Collector’s Edition Fully Remastered Complete Box Sets are out there. Always do your research and know your options!