Selling DVDs

So I went to a mall today, or at least what passes for a shopping center by American standards.

I went home extremely disappointed.

See, the mall in question is one that I rarely go to, for simple reasons of distance and closer opportunities. We happened to find myself in the area today (other people had other errands to run in that area, and we needed to leave the house for food for the celebrations today anyway. On that note, happy Independence Day to those of you in the U.S., and happy belated Canada Day to anyone who might have found this blog from Canada), and so I suggested a stop in the mall.

I was hoping that I could go to a DVD store that had been in the mall last time I was there. As a fairly steady consumer of anime DVDs, the idea of a store dedicated to DVDs is an attractive one. Of course, it has been a while, and that store was no longer there - simply gone, in favor of a(nother) clothing store. It was still on the directory, but it sure wasn't where the directory said it was supposed to be. And I'm willing to bet that it didn't go away because it was successful and profitable.

Perhaps the problem lies with me. In the age of Netflix and Hulu (and digital piracy, too)... who wants to buy DVDs anymore?

But that set me to thinking. My earlier comment about American standards was made for a reason, because my thinking took me back to several months ago, when I was on the other side of the Pacific. How is it that there were still racks full of DVDs in the stores I went to while I was studying abroad in Japan? What are they doing differently that keeps those DVDs profitable when they cost several times more than American ones?

(And as a side note, "several times" is not an exaggeration. Anime DVDs here from Funimation range from $20-40 for at least 4 episodes if not more than that - sometimes an entire 13-episode season. DVDs in Japan are at least 5000 yen, which is $60 with the current exchange rates, with rarely more than 3 and usually just 2.)

I think it has something to do with marketing and with extras. No one in Japan is going to buy a DVD just for the privilege of watching the show again, at least not the DVDs I was buying. Hell, I spent over a hundred dollars for one movie! But then, I could have had the movie for half that... and even that would have had a book with it of additional information, interviews, pictures and sketches, and so on. Spending more money meant I got more extras. (In specific: a cardboard box, the size of a sheet of paper except it's also two inches thick, filled with two discs of movie and features, another booklet with even more additional stuff, and a bunch of additional random trinkets that have very little functional value besides looking pretty in a picture frame or on a desk.)

And that, in the end, is why I spent more money. Because I was a fan of this particular movie, knew exactly what I wanted and why I wanted it - to "prove" that I am a fan, for lack of a better way to put it.

That line of thinking seems to be anathema to American DVD manufacturers. The Harry Potter movie that we bought recently (Deathly Hallows pt. 1) was a little plastic box around a single disc, for twenty dollars. It has what I assume are the "standard" special features these days, and is designed pretty much entirely for "seeing the movie (again)."

I add that "again" because is there anyone out there that buys DVDs without knowing anything about what's on them? (It's an honest question, hard as that may be to believe.) I can only speak for myself, but there are no DVDs on my shelf that I bought for full price (pre-owned DVDs aside) which have stuff that I haven't actually seen. There are better (read: cheaper) ways of seeing something new that don't involve buying DVDs, in this day and age.

In light of that, why try to pretend that DVDs are commonly bought on impulse or supposed to be cheap and broadly marketable? Why shouldn't we be making "DVDs" that are actually designed to be sold to the people that really want them? Add more features and extras, raise the price, decrease the number of units that need to be sold, and focus in on the people that actually want, not just DVDs, but everything else that comes with them.

If nothing else, it seems to be working in Japan.

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