That headline pretty much says it all — as of November, Criterion will only be releasing dual-format editions, combo packs that include both Blu-ray and DVD. That means those of us who appreciate the lower prices on their DVD versions, particularly for older films that won’t noticeably benefit from the higher resolution of a Blu-ray, will now need to pay more. That link provides their reasoning, based on economics.
Today, something like 60 percent of the discs we sell are Blu-rays, 40 percent DVDs. The good news is that the growth of Blu-ray has more than made up for the slide in DVD, and our overall audience is growing. But now, instead of having one physical product to produce we have two, and that’s where the problem starts.
The only way we can afford to produce the packages we are known for is to print large runs, because at small quantities the cost per unit kills any hope of breaking even…. Instead of one big, cost-effective run of DVD packaging, we now need two different runs, each about half as big, one for Blu-ray and one for DVD. But to make the packaging affordable on a per-unit basis, we still need to run the original big, cost-effective quantity of each, meaning, essentially, making twice what we need….
We could stop making DVDs, but that would mean cutting off 40 percent of our customers, including most schools, libraries, and universities. We could just take the DVD out of print after its initial run, but we have always strived to keep all our titles in print as long as we have the rights to them. We could strip down the DVD packaging after the initial run and drop the booklet, but then we wouldn’t be publishing the edition we think our customers deserve. None of those solutions would serve our DVD customers well, and more importantly, all of them would run counter to our mission to keep up the quality of our product and serve our audience as well as possible, regardless of which format they prefer.
I only buy the few Criterions that feature classic 1930s and 1940s movies — next up for me, I Married a Witch in October — and usually when they go on half-price sale, so I suppose I don’t have much room to gripe, since I’m effectively a non-customer.
I wanted to note the news, though, because I find it interesting to follow how the Blu-ray format is being adopted. It hasn’t replaced DVD, the way DVD replaced VHS, because it’s not noticeably superior in the same way. It’s pricier, and many customers still don’t see enough difference to justify the additional cost and equipment upgrades. DVD is available in more places, such as portable players and laptops, too. The result is that companies have to make decisions such as this, trying to figure out how best to support both formats.