Why Best Buy’s decision to abandon DVDs has such an impact


It wasn’t exactly shocking news. After all, it’s 2023, not 2003. But it still hit me hard when Best Buy announced will reduce sales of DVDs and Blu-ray discs, ending sales completely in early 2024. Physical movies will be sold in stores and online during the holidays, and video games will not be affected by the change. Best Buy’s decision comes as a result of Netflix closes its DVD-by-mail businessand a move from DVDs to the streaming era.

“To state the obvious, the way we watch movies and TV shows is very different today than it was decades ago,” a Best Buy spokesperson told CNET in a statement. “Making this change gives us more space and opportunity to offer customers new and innovative technology to explore, discover and enjoy.”

I appreciate the statement acknowledging that it is “stating the obvious.” It is true that most movies and shows (although unfortunately not all) are in streaming services now. But that means purchases seem less permanent. With video tapes and DVDs, as long as you have the movie and a suitable player, you will have the movie to watch. Now, if the streaming service shuts down or loses the rights to a movie, you may lose the ability to watch it.

Streaming certainly has its benefits. Admittedly, it’s nice to not have the inevitable clutter that comes with disk storage. And the freedom of being able to select, rent, and watch the new Barbie movie without leaving the couch and going to a store is something we couldn’t have imagined in the five-channel era I grew up in.

Buying DVDs allowed people to care about their favorite filmmaker or genre, whether it was carrying the works of their favorite director or keeping a shelf only of James Bond films. But the strangely specific streaming services available today allow us to nerd out in a different way. Horror fans can get scared with Shudder, Anime lovers like my teenage daughter may enjoy the offerings of crispy roll and Anglophiles like me can sign up BritBox either Acorn TV to watch cozy British mysteries or endless royal family documentaries.

Meanwhile, stores like Target, Walmart and Amazon will continue selling records. But all that doesn’t mean I wasn’t surprised by how sad the Best Buy news made me.

Walking down physical media memory lane

I’m a member of Generation X and this isn’t my first obsolescence rodeo. (Somewhere in my basement, I probably still have one or two 8-tracks.) I have co-written two books about the lost toys, tastes and trends of our past. What happened to pudding pops? focuses on lost and found from the 1970s and 1980s, and The totally sweet 90s looks at once-popular items from the 1990s that are fading.

Maybe, like me, you can also remember the days when you watched a movie in the theater or didn’t watch it at all, until years and years later when it might show up on a random channel with the swear words removed. And then, all that changed in what seemed like an instant.

For my 12th birthday party, one of my older sisters went to this then-new company called a video rental store and rented not just a movie, but an entire VCR, because no one had one. She had to leave a check for $500 in case we broke the machine; yes, a paper check, another once common item that I haven’t handled much lately.

And as far as TV shows go, back in the day, if you took an untimely bathroom break and missed that scene in The Six Million Dollar Man where Steve Austin fights Bionic Bigfoot, you didn’t rewind.

So when VHS tapes and then DVDs became prevalent, I was in the right age group to understand how new and joyful this was and enjoy it in a big way.

Browsing was as fun as shopping.

Buying a movie or show was one thing, but I have huge memories of the fun of just wandering the aisles, whether at Best Buy, Comp USA, or Blockbuster, trying to decide what to buy. Reflecting on your choice was almost as much fun as watching the movie, if not more.

Did you want to laugh or be afraid, or maybe cry? Were you going to see Caddyshack enough times to make it worth the purchase price? (Spoiler: you were. So, you have it going for you, which is good.)

But the very fact that the options were limited to what you saw in front of you on the shelves forced you to compromise, something that transmission Services, with their infinite options, are useless. I mean, maybe I’m the only one who spent more than an hour watching Netflix or Max trailers and never settled on a full movie, but I don’t think I’m alone here.

Once we had our daughter in 2007, buying movies became even more necessary. Kids will see things over and over again, so buying made sense. We buy everything from Frozen to The Smurfs to old collections of Sesame Street episodes.

Like most parents we know, we stocked up on classic Disney movies. (Remember when Walt released only one or two a year, keeping the rest trapped in Disney’s infamous vault?) When she finished her first home viewing of Sleeping Beauty, my little daughter jumped up, clapped her hands, and said, “Let’s watch it again!” new!”. So we did it.

And I always assumed DVDs were nearly indestructible, but somehow we managed to wear out a copy of Studio Ghibli’s 2001 classic, Spirited Away. (We bought another one, of course).

Goodbye and thanks for all the movies.

All of this brings us to today, where I still have boxes of VHS tapes that I’m slowly trying to get rid of, plus smaller, thinner boxes of DVDs that are also on the way.

Endings suck and change is hard. There’s a sentimental meme about how one day you went out to play with your friends and you didn’t know it was the last time. That statement is 100% intended to put a lump in your throat, and it works. But the truth is that everything ends. We no longer buy whips and sun hats.

I remember in the late 1990s visiting a friend who had an exceptional DVD collection, comparable to that of a decent arthouse. He asked me to choose the movie we were all going to see, and I almost panicked from the pressure, telling him that I was worried about choosing something he had seen too recently.

“Don’t worry about it, we love all our movies,” he said kindly. “That’s why we bought them.”

The Best Buy news made me think of him and all the people who so carefully curated and loved their physical movie collections. They will adapt, I know. I will adapt too. But I’ll always be glad I lived through the time when buying home movies was as novel as buying your own movie theater. I understand the need for change, but I will still allow myself to regret it.

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