The collector’s mindset
As I’ve covered before, DVD was a huge step in giving the public access to movies instead of having them locked in studio-controlled vaults. Some people, including me, went a bit nuts at this revelation. Today, I intend to cover the idea of our eyes being bigger than our stomachs when it comes to media and what it means to those of us in the audience.
In the old days, my parents bought a couple of movies, but they were fairly expensive. We had hundreds of EP VHS tapes with movies recorded off TV, though. Sure, they were generally cut or time compressed and sometimes had a ticker on the bottom with weather alerts. If you didn’t want them to have commercials, you had to sit there while it was recording and pause and unpause the recording, which was easy to mess up and miss part of the movie. Also, they looked considerably worse than television broadcasts, which didn’t look so great to begin with since we had a rabbit-ear antenna and lived on low ground. However, you could fit about three movies on a tape that cost about two dollars. The main difficulty was storage.
Since there was little incidental cost to recording movies, we recorded lots, but we only ever went back and watched a handful. Some got a lot of play. I watched Spaceballs and The Goonies over and over until my mom got sick of them and recorded over the tapes. Most, though, got watched once, if at all. If someone came over and wanted to watch a movie, we had plenty of options, though. That may have been what kept my mom buying those twelve-packs of tapes.
I use DVD Profiler to track my DVDs and have since 2002. This lets me keep track of what DVDs I own, when I purchased them, when I watched them and with who, etc. Since I had some time today, I went through and updated some records. I removed everyone who has died or moved away as an active user and went through the list and made sure everything I had watched was recorded as such. I went through a few periods where I forgot to write that stuff down. Once I was done, I took stock of my collection. I own the following:
- 92 direct-to-video-movies
- 1371 theatrical movies
- 12 theatrical shorts or collections thereof
- 587 TV seasons or best-of releases
- 24 other (collections of music videos, stuff from the Internet and the like)
- 155 TV movies and miniseries
The problem should be obvious: It would take years to watch all of this, maybe a lifetime. When I was a young man, I didn’t have a lot of money, but was really excited about this new-fangled DVD thing. I bought a significant number of DVDs, but watched most of them within a few days of purchase. After a while of this, I found myself working a block from a used CD/DVD store and pulling in lots of overtime. They had an ongoing special where if you bought three items of the same price, the fourth would be $2.50. I didn’t want to pay more than was optimal, so I always bought in groups of four. They could keep lists of movies I wanted and call me when they go them in, so I had reason to make frequent trips and DVD Profiler kept track of everything I wanted so I could be sure to give them a thorough list. It was pretty common for me to walk in there and buy sixteen or so movies. Sometimes, I’d buy eight or so seasons of TV material. Since I was working about seventy hours a week, I would maybe get around to watching one or two of these. It didn’t take long before I owned more DVDs that I hadn’t watched than had. I made numerous efforts to cut back, but then would see an amazing deal and buy a few dozen movies that I didn’t have time to watch.
For the most part, I’ve rarely paid more than about two and a half rentals to purchase something, but that isn’t a good deal if I never watch it. Since rentals have a definite time-limit, it’s not difficult to avoid going overboard. On purchases, though, I seem to have only watched about 35% of what I own. A lot of the unwatched ones are movies or TV shows I have seen, but have never actually watched my copy. That’s thousands of dollars that would be useful right now. Those great deals I got often aren’t so great in retrospect. For instance, I bought the director’s cut of Lethal Weapon 3 at Wal-Mart ten years ago for $9.98. This was about the first time I’d seen new DVDs for less than $14.99. I have never actually watched it. Now, I could get it for $2.98 on Amazon. I bought Shrek for $16.99 at Best Buy a few months later. Back then, new releases were typically about $25-$30. I think I’ve watched it once. If I had rented it ten years ago, then bought it now, I’d only be out about $8. Actually, I would just get a Blu-ray now and be out slightly less money for a better outcome. It gets worse with TV shows. TV on DVD was initially very expensive. Early releases like the X-Files seasons went for about $100 each. $44.99 was a wonderful price for Band of Brothers back in 2003, when it normally went for $80, but I never watched it and recently got the whole series on Blu-ray for $25.79.
Similarly, When I was 18, I bought a Nintendo 64 in the summer after I graduated. I bought Connectix Virtual Game Station a few months later so I could play PlayStation games on my iMac. About a year later, I got a Dreamcast when they had their big mark-down in a last desperate attempt to keep the system viable. I have played the hell out of pretty much every game I have for those systems. My save file shows more than eighty hours logged in Donkey Kong 64. I got every ending in Silent Hill and Metal Gear Solid. I unlocked everything in SoulCalibur, etc. When I look at my Xbox 360 games, I see that I’ve only ever played about 30% of them for any significant amount of time and quite a few have never been inserted into my machine.
Until recently, this sort of problem was limited to the very wealthy, but thanks to the new-found accessibility of home entertainment, this is no longer the case. Even a minimum-wage worker can rent a DVD with two hours of entertainment for what they make in about ten minutes and purchase it for what they make in half an hour at a pawn shop or Amazon Z-shop. We all can get overwhelmed if we don’t think ahead. This is much like how so many people in the developed world are overweight thanks to instincts developed for hunter-gatherers who might not find another meal for a few days.
When we spend money on entertainments in general, there’s a large amount of speculation involved. We buy a ticket for a movie based on a guess that we will like it. This is frequently inaccurate. The same goes for video games, lap dances, restaurant meals and anything else. Some things have worked out for me. I’ve probably watched all my Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVDs, A Scanner Darkly and Reefer Madness half a dozen times each. They really were good purchases. Other things I watch once and hate (what the hell was wrong with that critic who recommended Smokin’ Aces?) or never get around to watching at all. Renting instead of purchasing changes the gamble somewhat, but overall, it’s the same thing.
I intend to sell off some stuff. I’ve had the first season of Green Acres on my shelf for eight years and never removed the shrink-wrap and this is unlikely to change. Similarly, I have one season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I could get a series set cheaper than buying the other six seasons individually and it will probably hit Blu-ray in 2015 or 2016 anyway. Part of my plan for the weekend is to go through my catalog and figure out what to ditch. Besides my main collection, I have a bunch of first seasons of shows I bought full-series sets for and DVDs of movies I replaced with Blu-rays. This should help net me enough money to live on for a few weeks while I finish my degree. My plan is to always remember apparently good prices are only good by the standards of the moment and almost everything loses value rather spectacularly. I shall endeavor not to purchase more than I plan to watch or play in the next few weeks in general in the future. I am currently working through my collection with a system where I watch one episode each of five shows (Current rotation: Stargate SG-1, Soap, Star Trek, Lost and Smallville), then a randomly selected movie. I plan not to make any significant purchases until I am down to 100 or fewer unwatched Blu-rays.