Where have all the DVDs gone? Part II: The Recession

Firstly, apologies (to anyone who cares) for the long absence since my last post – time seemed to get sucked away from me, what with DIYing a new bathroom and the rather busy Christmas period. Hope you had a good break, anyway. My old Sony CRT television decided to give up the ghost during December, so I’ve now upgraded to a 40inch Sony LCD, which has also (agreeably) taken up some of my time. Good for dvd-watching (next on the shopping list: a Blu Ray player), not so good for Freeview-watching – everything gets quite blocky in low-lit scenes. But I’ll get used to it I suppose.

Anyway, I digress. Back in July 07, not long after I first started writing this little blog-ette, I wrote a small piece lamenting the decline in the number of high street retailers selling dvds. What on earth is a film addict supposed to do with their lunch break if there are no discs to peruse? Back in those easy-credit days, I rather glumly noted:

“…enjoy your high street dvd retailers while they’re still there: you never know when they’ll be forced to pack up and go the way of the do-do.”

Curse my prophetic words of doom! 18 months on, we’re in the grip of a rather nasty recession that no-one seemed to predict (with the exception of Vince Cable, apparently) and high street retailers are falling over left, right and centre. This week alone has seen the final demise of Woolworths, one of the last remaining shops stocking a reasonable number of dvds instore. This was a particularly painful loss, not just for me but for the British people in general; long had Woolies been the shopper’s refuge from rain, the source of useful odds and ends, and the rites-of-passage that was the singles, album and film charts. Of course I bought my first 45s and cassettes there, but also my first videos: copies of Alien or Star Wars, plus battered old lesser items rescued from the bargain bin (RoboCop for £3 – that was good in them days).

In recent years you could still find the occasional nugget of gold, but the internet really ate in to its trade. Even so, the most I would have expected is that it would give up selling music and films, and concentrate on its more profitable areas of trade – sadly, it appears that there were no profitable areas. At all.

However, the internet has not been immune to the credit crunch either. Zavvi became the first major online dvd retailing casualty, closing its website just before Christmas 2008 (though its stores remain open for the time being). Who’s next? It’s a fair bet that other online retailers will follow suit. The top players like Amazon and Play.com should be able to weather the storm, but if Zavvi and Woolies can go down the pan, then so could anyone else, quite frankly.

So, who’s left then? On the high street, if Zavvi disappear, then HMV are basically the last man standing. No other nationwide music/film/games retailers spring to mind. If you’re feeling charitable you might include Blockbusters, but they concentrate on rentals, and they certainly don’t stock music. If you’re lucky, a supermarket might have a reasonable selection on offer, but for sheer choice, they can’t compete with a specialist trader.

Does it even matter anymore? If we’ve got the internet, do we need a high street retailer? Well, it’s certainly true that nearly all of my filmic purchases are made via the web, but when I walk past a store like HMV, I still can’t resist poking my head inside to see what’s on offer. This is the modern dilemma of the physical entertainment form versus the digital. I like to see the films in front of my eyes – hold the packaging, admire the artwork, choose the one I like the look of best. Music fans who treasure their CD or vinyl collections will know what I mean. Browsing a store is so much more interesting than clicking around a website (though admittedly, not having to queue on the web is a definite plus). And how can a downloaded film or music collection ever be as interesting and fun as a real collection of discs, ones you picked up here and there down the years, and that can be lovingly admired and perused? The act of browsing can be very pleasurable, and that’s the experience the web and downloads have yet to match.

So I will miss the high street dvd sellers – the Zavvis and Virgins, the MVCs and Music Zones, Choices, and of course Woolies – with their tempting but ludicrously over-priced chart displays and their bargain bins of naffness. I certainly enjoyed many a lunchtime searching for the nugget of gold hidden away in their stores. And if you happen to be walking past an HMV, pop inside and take a look around – don’t let it go the way of the do-do (or Woolworths).

Where have all the DVDs gone?

Popping in to town for my lunchtime leg-stretcher, I often call in to those few shops that still sell dvds to see if there are any bargains to be had. The number of shops that actually stock dvds seems to be falling; news of Fopp and Music Zone going into administration came this summer, and even the venerable HMV appears to be taking quite a beating at the moment. Of course, this is all due to us, dear reader: the internet shopper. Why pay the steep price in the high street when you can get the same product for much cheaper online? Only supermarkets like Sainsburys and Tesco have been able to compete. Prices for brand new releases have never been lower, thanks to the web, and older discs can be picked up for less than fiver – much less sometimes. 

While this is all good news for my wallet (and bad news for my dvd storage space at home), it does mean that the number of shops of interest to me on my local high street has fallen miserably. There are now only three dvd retailing establishments left for me to frequent: Woolworths, WH Smith and Sainsburys. None of these three have anything like a decent back catalogue to peruse, and I refuse to buy any new releases on the grounds that in six months time the price will be significantly discounted (yes, I’m a tight-arse – and proud of it).

So all I can hope for is that they have a decent sale on. And sometimes they do – just the other day I picked up Time Bandits and Withnail and I for £2 a piece from Woolies. Bargain. But when the same sale stretches on for weeks, it becomes a tad vexing. I’ll pop in on a Monday lunchtime, full of hope that a new sale will have started, with 2-disc SEs on offer for £1.99 or something. But no – hope to turns to disappointment as I inspect their shelves to see the likes of X-Men and Die Hard still on sale for £5, like they have been for the past two months. And the 5 years before that. Oh, and they have those really awful looking £1 “bargain” dvds starring some long forgotten star from the 80s, or someone reasonably famous like Sandra Bullock when she had just graduated up from high school plays and was happy to take anything that paid the rent.

But hope springs eternal, and I’ll be back there next Monday, just in case I’m missing out on a fantastic new sale. In the meantime, enjoy your high street dvd retailers while they’re still there: you never know when they’ll be forced to pack up and go the way of the do-do. And maybe that will encourage them to have more frequent sales for the likes of me.