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Are you sure you bought that DVD just to watch it?

Submitted by Jakob on 22 May, 2006 - 13:59.My Blog | Movies & Film | Music

Standing in the kitchen washing up some plates today I suddenly started thinking about the pricing of DVDs and music. Perhaps the thought came since I watched a film with some friends last night, a film I had bought at discount price. I started wondering why people are prepared to pay more for a movie than an album, since an album in most cases has more replay value. This lead me to some other thoughts regarding why we buy music and movies in the first place, because it's not always and only about listening or watching them.

It has been shown consistently that people are prepared to pay more for a DVD than an album. In fact, ask any random person and this is probably what you'd hear in nine cases out of ten. But why is it so and what is it about a DVD that makes it seem more valuable?

I believe there are several explanations and it's not about how people listen or watch the stuff they buy, but it's also about how they are perceived by others. Let's start by looking at the DVD and why people consider it worth more than the CD album.

DVD movies

The introduction of the DVD some ten years didn't just mean movies looked sharper, sounded better and offered a generally better viewing experience, it was also making it easy for the movie industry to justify higher prices despite production and distribution costs now being lower.

The consumers were obviously impressed even though they had to buy a new thing called a DVD player which took up more space in their living rooms and had to accept a region encoding which defied every idea of free trade. Eventually and thanks to crafty Asian DVD player manufacturers, region-free players appeared on the market much to the grief of the hypocritical and greedy movie industry.

The average price for the DVD has stayed more or less the same since its introduction, accounting for inflation you pay as much today as you did ten years ago if you buy a new release. There is however a more diverse pricing structure today which means you can get discount DVDs. Still, in general a DVD costs more than a CD, roughly 30-50% more.

People are obviously prepared to pay more for the DVD but why? Well I have some ideas but since I haven't done any actual research, these are just theories. First of all a movie is a greater experience than an album but let me explain that before you decided to flog me for insulting your favorite band. A movie is a joint effort by thousands of individuals, crew and support people and offers an experience that uses images and sound working in concert to convey and reinforce a message. It's unavoidable that people will perceive a DVD movie as being "more" than a CD that only offers sound.

I believe one of the most important reasons is the packaging of the DVD. The DVD box is beefier than the CD jewel case, something which has certain implications. Not only does it communicate more value due to greater weight and volume, it will also take up more space on a shelf which makes it more noticeable in your living room. When you have guests, or throw a party, people will see your collection of movies and walk over to browse it. A DVD is more than just a movie, it's a statement of who you are and what you like, just like your clothes communicate something.

There's another reason supporting this theory and it is the fact that a movie has less replay value than an album. Granted there are movies you can watch a million times, especially if you're a fan or the movie is a masterpiece. A movie such as Citizen Kane does, in my opinion, have much higher replay value than Terminator 3. But generally we usually only watch a movie once or twice, so why the need to own a copy of it? Wouldn't renting it be enough? Apparently not, clearly owning a copy of a movie brings other qualities to life than being able to watch it. Like I wrote earlier, it would seem by owning a copy you have made a statement, and you have expressed your personal preference when it comes to film. Your collection of DVDs tells other people something about you, and at the same time makes them accessible should you want to watch them again.

Music CDs

The CD was first introduced in the late 1980s. CD players were, just like DVD players, exorbitantly expensive and big and bulky. Audio and hifi lovers were buying them and just like the DVD, the CD was just another reason to charge more for essentially the same thing. The oligopoly grew stronger, and even independent companies followed suit, followed the trend in higher prices.

A CD is considerably cheaper than the DVD and offers extreme replayability. People will play a CD hundreds if not thousands of times. A CD is something you own in order to listen to it, and even though it's a statement just like the DVD, it is also the easiest and cheapest access to your music. There are other aspects as well, a CD is an expression of support for the band/artist and offers value, a sense of ownership even though your copy is just like a million other.

The accessibility and the audio quality are what made the CD popular and are now making it obsolete. What the music industry seems so slow to grasp, and which I've written about earlier, is that it's the accessibility to music that makes filesharing and MP3 players so attractive. You can download music in seconds and then carry a big part of your personal music collection wherever you go stored on your MP3 player which fits in your hand. It's simple, it's easy and occupies almost no space at all and people like that.


We seem to buy music and movies for a great number of reasons, not all of them obvious to ourselves or others. The purchasing of music and movies and the ownership of CDs and DVDs are today more about showing your preference rather than using the media. Showing our personal taste, our preferences and style helps us find people like us whom we share interests and form relationships with. So whether you buy that CD or DVD is often more of a social decision rather than a matter of use.

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Submitted by Virtuality on 7 June, 2006 - 20:54.

Yeah, I never buy CDs. I buy plenty of movies though. It IS weird, isn't it? I have PLENTY of music on my computer, almost 15GB, but I have very few downloaded movies. I prefer to OWN movies, but not the music.
It's something about quality I think. When I download a movie, I know I'm gonna miss out on some of the audio and picture quality, as well as the special features.
In music, the quality isn't as important to me.

And, heh... I download an entire album in... what? 15 minutes? A movie takes way longer.

And, as you said. It's about bragging too. "Look at my huge DVD collection!" Who looks at CD collections these days, eh?

Submitted by Jakob on 7 June, 2006 - 21:44.

Yeah, the movie industry got something right with the DVD and it was the additional content and extras included on each disc, as well as the Dolby digital audio et c, that added value. But I doubt it's enough these days when people download complete DVD images, ready to be burned to produce an exact copy of the original DVD.

They need to come up with a reason why we should go through the hassle of going to the store when downloading is so much more accessible.

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