note: This was written for Grindhouse Purgatory a few years ago. I'm not sure that I still agree with eveyrthing that I wrote below but at the time this is how I felt. It was also intended to generate conversation about the death of physical media and how that made collectors as well as general film fans feel. It was successful then and I hope will do that here again.
Is Physical Media
by John Shatzer
Normally on the pages of Grindhouse Purgatory I write reviews about Blu-Rays that have been released and whether it is worth double dipping on them. I came up with the idea of reviewing new releases on Blu-Ray because of all the conversations I’ve had about it with other fans. Eventually it also got me to thinking a bit more about the idea of purchasing movies again on new format and if that was something that I wanted to do. I’ve gone from VHS to DVD and then to Blu-Ray with some dabbling in Laser Disc along the way. Each change provided better quality, more material, and generally an improved experience. What they all had in common is that they involved having something in your hands. With the internet and new technology that isn’t always the case now and I found it very interesting how my own views on the subject have changed over the years.
To answer the question I posed in the title we must first look at the alternatives to physical media. There are really two legitimate options that spring to mind. One is the ability to stream thru services like Netflix, while the other is to purchase a digital copy from a source like iTunes. Both have advantages and disadvantages which we should look at. For the record I currently use Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Shudder for streaming. To purchase digital copies, I use iTunes and Amazon Prime. I mention this because much of what I’m going talk about is influenced by my personal experience with these particular services.
is an interesting way to consume movies. With the advent of high-speed internet
it has become very convenient to use it to watch movies from the comfort of
your own home. You don’t have to go to the video store to browse the shelves
for that new release or old favorite. Instead you just flip thru the catalog of
available titles and hit the play button. No more “they are all checked out”
nonsense making you fight over getting the hot new release on Friday night. You
want to watch a movie and they have it on the service, you watch it. All of
this is available for one monthly payment instead of a rental situation. Want
five movies or fifty movies in a given month, it doesn’t matter. This has also
had one noticeable effect on my movie watching.
has allowed me to find some obscure movies that I would likely have never
checked out. I watch a lot of crappy movies, but even I have passed up spending
money on something that looks unappealing. With streaming I still have the
option to check it out. If I don’t like the movie, I shut it off without feeling
guilty about spending money on it. The most recent example of this is when I
caught a flick called Slice. I wasn’t
sold on the plot synopsis and would likely have put it right back on the shelf
if I were in a traditional setting. But it wasn’t so I gave it a shot and
really enjoyed the movie. Here a case can be made that this sort of service
allows the consumer to take a chance on something that normally we wouldn’t.
The big disadvantage to this is the availability to movies changes as the various
services update their catalogs. Things are added and removed on a monthly
basis, so you can’t always count on it being there when you want to watch it.
That can be annoying if you are in the mood to watch a movie and can’t find it
Purchasing digital copies mitigates this and is also convenient if you are waiting for a new release. I’m a huge nerd when it comes to checking out the latest horror or science fiction flick. Do any of you remember the guys that would be waiting at the big box stores on new release day with their list of what was coming out that week? Well I was one of them! I knew what was scheduled and of those what I wanted. If it wasn’t something likely to be hitting the local store, I had it preordered and ready to ship the day it was released. That took a lot of time and honestly was a bit silly. Sometimes it took me weeks to get to a movie that I just had to have the day it came out. Let me give you an example of how it works now. Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich came out a few months ago. I was really excited to check it out, but the weekend it was released I was busy with family stuff. No big deal because I knew I could pop online and order a digital copy to watch whenever I had time. The process from purchase to opening credits took no more than five minutes. See the difference? I can add any new movie to my collection with a few clicks, so I never have to worry about them selling out or not being in stock at a later date. The idea that I could be missing out on something if I’m not in line the day of release is totally gone.
While I understand that not everyone is as obsessed with this as I used to be the point is that digital copies make it really easy to purchase and watch any movie you want at almost any time. The biggest downside to this is that in theory if the company that you purchased the movie from ever goes out of business you could lose your access to what you have purchased. That used to bother me until I realized that Amazon and Apple aren’t likely to go anywhere anytime soon. The one thing that does bug me is the cost of these digital copies. They cost almost as much as the actual DVD or Blu-Ray would! Considering that they don’t have the manufacturing or shipping cost it seems like a cash grab.
made the case for streaming and digital copies but what are the arguments for
owning physical copies of your favorites? Like many of you I’m a collector at
heart. The very idea of owning a movie meant that I had it in my hands or at
the very least sitting on my shelf. It needed to be available for me to pop on
anytime that I wanted to. Want to watch that obscure zombie movie? It is sitting
right there ready to go. Want to see hours of special features on your favorite
horror flick? Again, it is sitting right there on the super-duper new Blu-Ray
that in many cases I’ve recommended here before! These are things that can’t be
provided consistently from streaming sites.
wait. We can always purchase a digital copy to watch anytime that we want. Some
of those even come with the special features you can get on the DVDs and
Blu-Rays. This is almost the same as owning a physical copy. Theoretically a
combination of streaming and digital could replace all of our collections. I
have been shocked at the obscure stuff that took me years to collect suddenly
showing up on these streaming services. Hell, there are movies that used to be
a nightmare to track down suddenly on YouTube for free. Damn it I just made
another argument against physical media.
I’m to answer this question with my head and not my heart the days of collecting
thousands of tapes, DVDs, and Blu-Rays is likely coming to a close. You only
have to look at the stores to see this reality coming to pass. The media
sections in every big box retailer is shrinking as the sales dwindle and the
valuable real estate is reclaimed for merchandise that moves quicker. Most of
these stores sell iTunes or Amazon Gift cards where the shelves of movies for
sale used to be. Then is the answer to the question yes?
At my age I’m not fond of change, especially when it comes to my hobbies. A few years ago I would never have said this but streaming and digital are decent ways to find and enjoy movies. The times they are a changing and I’m willing to go along for the ride. Recently I sold off more than sixty percent of my collection. I had neither the space to store them nor the energy to move them. I still have over two thousand movies in my collection and with that comes the last point that I want to make. You don’t have to get rid of any or all of your stuff. I still have DVDs and Blu-Rays of my favorites or movies that I know I will revisit on occasion. I still upgrade old DVDs with new Blu-Rays that have special features I’ve not seen before. The collector in me is still alive as I have multiple versions of Killer Klowns from Outer Space and Dawn of the Dead on both DVD and Blu-Ray. I’m never going to toss or sell the stuff that I love. But that doesn’t mean I have to run out and buy a copy of the latest horror movie that comes out not knowing if I will like it or not. If I want to watch a movie, I can get a digital copy or check it out when it hits a streaming service. If I really like it, I can buy a copy for my collection. This happened last year when I caught The Void and dug it so much, I went out and bought a copy.
is sad to see the hobby changing. I loved having my own version of a video
store in my house where I could sit surrounded by movies. But if you really
think about it there are some huge advantages to where things are headed. Waiting
for stuff to hit a streaming service is much cheaper than buying a bunch of
DVDs that you will likely not watch more than once. Not having to worry about
getting a copy of a popular horror release on the day it hits the stores is
another. These are just a couple of the many reasons I think as fans we should
embrace this new world. My final advice to you is enjoy what you have and take
advantage of the technology. It’s the best of both worlds.
to the question I asked at the beginning. Is physical media dead? The easy
answer is no. There will always be a market for Blu-Ray and whatever new format
comes along to replace it. Though I do see a world where that will be a niche
market as most everyone moves onto easier and more convenient ways to watch
movies. That isn’t a bad it’s just different and I’m okay with it. Hopefully I
haven’t rambled on too much and bored you to death. I’ll see you next time
where I’ll let you know what Blu-Rays have the best new stuff on them… just in
case you still want to buy something you can hold in your hands. As always feel
free to email me at email@example.com to let me know what you think
about this or anything else.
© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer