Movie Scene tells you how to do it cheap and do it right
By JUDE SEYMOUR
Scene Movie Critic
DVD players are rapidly appearing in dorm rooms of college campuses all across the country, replacing the archaic VCR at an alarming rate. While the average college student once brought their parents' VCRs with them to school five years ago, today many students find their slow-to-change elders unwilling to purchase either the players or the titles. This leaves the average movie collector in a bind: What is a cheap and convenient way to accumulate a precious new DVD collection without the help of Mom or Dad? Here are 10 tips to get you started.
Tip #1: Purchase titles that will be watched repeatedly
Too many enjoyable experiences at the multiplex lead to regrettable DVD purchases. While "Don't Say A Word" may have entertained audiences last fall, it doesn't mean February's DVD release is worth an immediate purchase. Unless "Word" can be watched seven times (two times is a stretch, folks), the $28 is simply not worth it.
In most cases, DVD rental stores can be an ally in deciding what to buy. For a fraction of the cost of owning it, a five-day rental period can help gauge what is worth collecting and what should remain on the shelves. While the $4 rental fee could ultimately add to the price of owning a certain title, renting can save a significant amount of time and money in the long run.
Tip #2: Avoid retail
Compared to retail stores like Sam Goody and Suncoast Motion Picture Company, prices on the Internet are considerably lower, making it a buyer's market. With tools like mySimon (www.mysimon.com), potential buyers can comparison shop for a certain title and find the lowest price.
When the DVD shopping was in its infancy, online retailers like Amazon carried out cut-throat selling practices that kept online prices $10 to 15 lower than its retail counterparts.
The one exception to this rule seems to be Borders, whose list prices are usually comparable to prices online. This is not a hard and fast rule for every title Borders carries, but they do stock hundreds of films at $14.95 each, which makes breaking the retail rule a tantalizing proposition. And now that the DVD craze is here, Internet sites are starting to raise their prices. But they still offer between 15 and 40 percent off the list price.
While buying online does not grant the wonderful feeling of immediate ownership, saving money makes it worth the wait. The lesson: continue watching all retail stores for sudden sales, but never buy from them without checking online retailers first.
Tip #3: Always use a coupon
Coupons are another advantage that online shops have over retail stores. They are easy to use and at the very least cover the cost of standard shipping. Bigger online shops like Barnes & Noble do not usually offer coupons because their name recognition generates enough business.
However, other well-known shops like Amazon and Buy.com feature a new coupon almost every month. Oftentimes, these coupons are not publicized in mailers from online stores.
Before purchasing any title online, coupons can be browsed and picked up at Fightdivx.com (www.fightdivx.com), the best-known DVD coupon distributor. The Fightdivx Web site provides all the necessary information about the coupon's worth, requirements and expiration date.
Some coupons require a minimum purchase as a prerequisite, which encourages the buyer to exceed their spending limits. Be wary of such specifications. Also, try to group upcoming purchases together if possible to take full advantage of the coupon.
Tip #4: Pre-order if possible; watch for pitfalls
Pre-ordering online is much different from retail pre-ordering. The biggest difference is that an online pre-order is not charged to your credit card until the day it ships. Retail shops require at least partial payment on the day the pre-order is made, usually without offering any sort of discount.
The discount is another reason pre-ordering online is more favorable. Most titles are discounted between 25 and 40 percent off to attract customers into ordering two or three months before the disc's street date release, at which time the same titles drop to about 15 percent off. When combined with a coupon, an online pre-order can save a lot.
The most important pre-orders are those titles involving multiple discs. Oftentimes large sums of money can be salvaged by purchasing a box set before it comes out. Since the prices are generally set high, a percentage discount is particularly rewarding. Fans of the "X-Files" television show may not be delighted with Season Five's $150 retail price, but they can save themselves close to $40 if they pre-order it.
The one pitfall of pre-ordering is that it creates a "buy now" frenzy. The lucrative savings can convince even the most frugal purchaser that an otherwise unattractive DVD is worth the money. However, if acquiring a copy of "Behind Enemy Lines" can wait until the summer (which it can, by God), then the difference between its pre-order price ($20.99) and its online price ($24.98) might not matter when the bank account fills with money from your new job.
Tip #5: Set limits on buying
With the purchase of any DVD player, there exist two initial tendencies. The first is to replace every VHS tape with its DVD counterpart. The second is to stockpile titles in order to have a respectable collection. Resist both temptations.
Inevitably, some movies from the previous VHS collection will be purchased immediately on DVD because of a good deal or the title's "repeatability." However, set limits on buying so that the situation doesn't get out of control.
The second temptation is just as dangerous. The old adage "Rome wasn't built in a day" can be applied to DVD purchases. Take plenty of time to meticulously select which movies you logically need to own first ("Casablanca" over "Joe Dirt," for instance) and then set limits according to income. Make the limits reasonable. Purchasing only one DVD a month may be too moderate at the start, but 10 a month is a costly precedent to set.
Tip #6: Purchase different genres
When starting a collection, be sure to consider balancing it out with a variety of genres. If a collection is loaded with dramas and only a smattering of comedies, a desire for a relaxing movie on a Friday afternoon might induce an unnecessary trip to the rental store. However, be careful not to let the need for diversity lead to an increase in titles that will not be watched more than once.
When diversifying a collection, be wary of "special occasion" DVDs. These include holiday and concert discs. Movies like "A Christmas Story" are only watched two months out of the year, making them the most superfluous DVD purchases. The concert DVD is also problematic. After the thrill of seeing your favorite band perform a certain set-list fades, subsequent viewings are usually quite uninteresting. The concert DVD is never taken out of storage more than a few times, which makes its purchase often unnecessary.
Tip #7: Prioritize titles that few own over those that many own
One of the most popular DVDs floating around college campuses these days is "Office Space." Since there are multiple copies available in close proximity no matter where you go, it is pointless to obtain one for any personal collection. Instead, use that $15 to buy more obscure movies that are enjoyable and that perhaps other collectors do not own. Then, when the overwhelming desire to watch "Space" hits, the obscure title might interest the owner of "Space," beginning a good trading system. Graduation will eventually break up that borrowing circle, but by that time, the income generated from a new job can go towards purchasing a personal copy of the comedy caper.
Tip #8: Be aware of company's strategies; try to beat them
DVD distributors have strategies that both irk and thrill even the most resourceful buyers. Oftentimes the companies use a series of releases to con consumers into purchasing multiple copies of the same film. For example, "American Pie" was released in its theatrical form, as an "Uncensored and Unrated Special Edition" and finally as an "Ultimate Edition." The street date of these discs had gaps of time between them so that MCA/Universal could wait until the title's interest was waning before they released yet another "definitive edition."
Some older discs have been re-released on DVD due to a much earlier initial release that has since become outdated. Four years ago, "Seven" was distributed on the old flip-disc format in which the viewer would have to literally flip the disc over in the middle of the movie to finish watching it. In the winter of 2000, "Seven" was released as an "Ultimate Two-Disc Set," replacing the outdated version.
Resourceful DVD purchasers will notice that certain companies wait months before dropping prices. Artisan Entertainment, the distributor of such titles as "Terminator 2" and "Pi," often pulls titles when interest wanes, only to restock the shelves a few months later with the same DVD at a lower price. Sometimes it is just better to wait.
Blockbuster's strategy, when interest in a title wanes, is to sell the disc as "Previously Viewed." The prices for these used discs are often set against online prices. All purchases come with a 30-day money-back guarantee in case of non-function, protecting the buyer who is taking a chance with a used disc.
The strategy to use at auction houses like eBay is to look for popular titles that could be much cheaper than their online retail counterparts. The site was recently flooded with "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" DVD bids after a single seller put up hundreds of copies for sale. Most of the auctions ended with a purchase price under $1.
But buyers beware: dishonest venders and purchases in violation of international copyrights can make any "win" on eBay a potentially sour experience.
Tip #9: Avoid buying a movie solely for its extras
Although you may have nothing but the best intentions to listen to Hans Zimmer's commentary track about his scoring of "Gladiator" on the two-disc set, it's likely that most of the extras will never be seen.
Distribution companies who are faced with poor box office receipts on certain movies add loads of unnecessary extras to the film's DVD release to attract purchasers and to recoup their investment. Their victim is the buyer, who picks up the movie mainly for its extras and never even watches them.
Companies are also being malicious toward buyers' interests by overstuffing DVDs simply to justify a two-disc set. The two-disc set is automatically more costly to produce than one extra-less disc, allowing the distribution companies to slowly siphon more money off consumers.
Look for editions that do not contain the extraneous features. The original release of "Platoon" may not feature Oliver Stone's commentary, but it's significantly cheaper.
Tip #10: Have fun and share
The only worthwhile approach to starting a DVD collection is to have fun with it. Take tours of the extras. Take a few minutes to read the production notes or collectible booklets. Set up screenings in dorm rooms for those not fortunate enough to own DVD players.
Lastly, feel good about sharing. DVDs are expensive, and it's important that everyone treats them carefully so they can be preserved. After the borrower agrees to be careful, there is no reason not to share a movie with someone.
There it is: 10 tips from a guy who spent too much on retail DVDs, forgot coupons, bought movies primarily for the extras, and did not buy different genres. Hopefully, these tips will save you some money while still making your DVD shopping as exciting as possible.
Contact Jude Seymour at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All Scene Stories for Thursday, February 28, 2002