Why Are DVDs Still So Expensive and Who the Hell Is Buying Them?

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If you’re like me -- a devout streamer who doesn’t even own a DVD player -- it’s hard to understand why anyone would bother purchasing a piece of media that takes up physical space and will only ever be watched a handful of times. Seriously, how many times in your life are you going to watch the entire DVD box set of How I Met Your Mother? And who the hell is buying said box set for 100 freaking dollars? You guys, it's on Netflix.

And yet, walk into any Barnes & Noble or Best Buy and you'll find the shelves still stocked with copies of new movies and shows, in disc form. And they are not cheap. What is going on here? Why aren’t they all in bargain bins by now, and a better question -- who the hell still buys them?

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Somehow, DVDs are still bringing in a ton of money

It's bizarre, but DVDs still bring in billions every year. In fact, it was only in the past year that money made from downloads and streaming subscriptions surpassed the revenue from DVD purchases and rentals. It’s a cut-and-dry business decision; much like a diner wouldn’t stop selling triple-decker club sandwiches just because a bunch of customers prefer carb-conscious wraps, distribution companies aren’t going to stop pressing discs when they’re still a proven significant source of revenue. 

And they're actually fairly priced

They certainly don’t sell as well as they used to, but that doesn’t mean distributors are trying to screw people over by “overpricing” DVDs. Surprisingly, they’re often cheaper than their digital counterparts, and many times DVDs of new releases are the same price as their downloadable versions.

To wit: an HD digital download of the freshly released The Martian will cost you $14.99 on iTunes, and the DVD/Blu-ray versions also cost $14.99 on Amazon. A cult classic like The Goonies? It’s $14.99 to download on iTunes, but less than $5 on Amazon.

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So what's up with all the bargain bins?

Even if you never purposefully hit up the DVD section of a store, those bargain bins full of B-list gems and straight-to-video flicks are pretty tempting to rummage through. But if movie distributors are still rolling in it, why all the slashed prices? 

Single copies of movies cost very little to produce on DVD, so they still turn a profit when you're stoned at Walmart and buy Point Break for $4.99. TV shows are another story -- it's costly to get the necessary rights for every episode, so they're more expensive, and you probably won't find them in the bargain bin.

Who's watching them? Your parents, probably.

Annual sales are in the billions, and there are still a whopping 4.8 million US Netflix subscribers getting DVDs sent to their house (compared to the 44 million streaming subscribers). Who are they? Your parents, and other people who see no reason to change their ways. It could be that the learning curve for hooking up a streaming service seems too steep, or maybe it's a product of pure luddite stubbornness. Whatever it is, some people just want to enjoy their movies the good old-fashioned way, dammit.


Collectors will always want a hard copy

No matter how many times they’ve watched and rewatched the Lord of the Rings trilogy on TV, you better believe Tolkien superfans are going to own the collector’s DVD set anyway. The same goes for hardcore fans of any franchise or series: owning a hard copy of beloved content is more a badge of honor than anything else. And who knows, maybe it'll be worth serious money in, like, 50 years.

Blu-ray is still the best quality

Streaming may be the most convenient way to binge your shows, but another reason why Netflix has hordes of mail subscribers is that people get sick of the shitty quality and slow connection issues. If you’re looking for next-level video quality, Blu-ray is still your best bet. And you know who loves Blu-ray? Your dad's friend Bill.


They're a great babysitter

So, parents are buying DVDs. Not only yours, but newer ones who are desperate for any way to keep their kids occupied. Whether it’s a snow day or sleepover, having a grab bag of family-friendly DVDs on hand is a strategic maneuver. There’s a reason Frozen was the best-selling DVD of 2014.

DVDs are the new books? Maybe?

We all remember those heady days when it seemed very, very essential to amass copious DVDs of all your favorite movies to display in your bedroom, dorm, or apartment. If you didn't have a copy of Fight Club, you might as well not have existed.

But even though a Kindle or iPad is a much more convenient way to read these days, there’s still something special about filling your shelves with hardcovers and paperbacks. I'm not saying your stash of all eight (yes, there are eight) American Pie films will win you any street cred, but maybe there's something to be said for a well-curated DVD library of Criterion Collection-caliber titles.

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Joe McGauley is a senior writer for Thrillist. He'd rather not know how much money he's dropped on DVDs over the years.