• Why Dual-Format?

    By Peter Becker

    Last week, we announced that in November, Criterion will begin releasing dual-format editions, including both DVD and Blu-ray discs in one package. The response was overwhelmingly positive, but we knew there would be questions. The most common by far were: “Will the package be Blu-ray or DVD size?” (Answer: Blu-ray size, except the Zatoichi box, which will be Blu-ray height in one dimension, DVD height in the other.) “Will it take up more space on my shelf?” (Not if we can help it.)  And “Is this going to be true forever?”(Nothing is forever, but as long as it works we’ll keep doing it.) 

    Those were the easy questions, but we knew there was another, tougher set of questions, because they were the same ones we had wrestled with as we arrived at our decision: “Aren’t you just making DVD customers buy discs they can’t use and Blu-ray customers buy discs they don’t want? Doesn’t this mean lots of waste? Aren’t DVD customers worse off, because they’ll pay more? Why are you doing this? And why now?”

    It’s been five years since Criterion announced its first Blu-ray titles. During that time, we’ve taken measures to support our audience no matter which format they prefer. Every Blu-ray release has always been available on DVD as well, and as DVD pressing prices dropped, we’ve even passed along some savings to our DVD customers by pricing new DVD releases at $29.95 instead of our traditional $39.95. 

    Today, something like 60 percent of the discs we sell are Blu-rays, 40 percent DVDs. The good news is that the growth of Blu-ray has more than made up for the slide in DVD, and our overall audience is growing. But now, instead of having one physical product to produce we have two, and that’s where the problem starts.

    The only way we can afford to produce the packages we are known for is to print large runs, because at small quantities the cost per unit kills any hope of breaking even. Larger quantities may cost more up front, but as long as we sell the copies, we can capture the savings over time and deliver you a better, more beautiful product.

    Having two physical packages to produce has cut those economies of scale in half. Instead of one big, cost-effective run of DVD packaging, we now need two different runs, each about half as big, one for Blu-ray and one for DVD. But to make the packaging affordable on a per-unit basis, we still need to run the original big, cost-effective quantity of each, meaning, essentially, making twice what we need. The Blu-ray may sell briskly, and the packaging may need to be reordered fairly soon, but the DVD stocks will take longer to dwindle. When we finally run out of DVD packaging, printing another big, cost-effective run will not be an option, because we would never sell enough of the copies to pay for the packaging. And at the price for printing a small run, we might be losing money on every copy we sell. What do we do?

    Looking around the industry, we saw lots of answers we didn’t like. We could stop making beautiful, substantive packaging, but that wasn’t really an option. We could stop making DVDs, but that would mean cutting off 40 percent of our customers, including most schools, libraries, and universities. We could just take the DVD out of print after its initial run, but we have always strived to keep all our titles in print as long as we have the rights to them. We could strip down the DVD packaging after the initial run and drop the booklet, but then we wouldn’t be publishing the edition we think our customers deserve. None of those solutions would serve our DVD customers well, and more importantly, all of them would run counter to our mission to keep up the quality of our product and serve our audience as well as possible, regardless of which format they prefer.

    The model we kept returning to was dual-format releasing, and the more we looked at it, the more sense it made. What seemed like more waste was actually less. Instead of printing big overruns on two packages, we could now make one big, efficient run again. That would mean less wasted packaging. Discs can be printed in small quantities as needed, so there would be no wasted inventory there either. The savings we’d been passing along to DVD customers had evaporated at this point, but while DVD customers would be back to paying a higher price, they would also be getting a product that was “future-proofed” against the day when they might upgrade to Blu-ray. Blu-ray customers would not pay more for the addition of the DVD discs, so they would be no worse off, and they could even use their DVD copies as loaners to introduce their friends to their favorite films. Most importantly, it would allow us to continue to publish the best possible product, which is what we think you want from us.

    So that’s how we got here. We’re still finding our way a bit, but we have a good feeling about this. We’ll still release straight Blu-ray upgrades from time to time, but you can expect all of our new Criterion releases to be dual-format for the foreseeable future. Occasionally, we’ll retire existing DVD and Blu-ray editions and replace both with a single dual-format edition. We’ll continue to use a mix of plastic and paper packaging, but we’re going to do our best to make sure the new packaging doesn’t take up extra space on your shelf. (Check out how compact the Zatoichi set is!) All special features on Criterion discs will appear on both formats, but Eclipse will remain a DVD-only line, in keeping with its original goals and identity.

    That pretty much covers the range of questions we received after last Thursday’s announcement. For us, all the questions boil down to one: how can we serve the films and the audience, make the best thing we know how to make, and make enough money to do it all over again tomorrow? Today, the best answer to that question is releasing dual-format editions. We’ll see how that shakes out!

209 comments

  • By Zach
    November 29, 2013
    11:47 PM

    Please let us choose which size case we want for the dual format releases! Yes, I'll admit that I am a bit OCD about my DVD collection..
    Reply
  • By Matthew Buckingham
    November 30, 2013
    03:39 AM

    I think dual formatting is a great idea for homes like mine with different players in different rooms, especially if there's no difference in price.
    Reply
  • By jeanarama
    December 05, 2013
    11:30 AM

    I was quite delighted when I started seeing this new format on Amazon and then came here to read up on it. I have been slowly making the switch to Blu-ray but do still watch a lot of things in the DVD format when that is the only option so I am excited about having both for all your great releases. Can't wait to receive my Breathless pre-order!
    Reply
  • By thesprucegoose
    January 03, 2014
    12:12 AM

    seriously w.t.f. people ? a brand new basic entryź level bluray player is $60-$80 now...just go get one already. you don't have to drop $500 for an Oppo; unless you want to :-)
    Reply
  • By Austin Matthew
    January 10, 2014
    07:12 AM

    Thank you Criterion! This is a great idea! I prefer watching Blu Ray, however if I want to watch a movie at a friend's house or anywhere but my house, It is very limited where I can play this disc.... This way, I get the best of both worlds, and I honestly don't mind paying a little extra.
    Reply
  • By Barry
    February 15, 2014
    06:55 PM

    I hate digibooks or packs. Please offer a plastic case alternative as you've done for some titles.
    Reply
    • By Stardust
      February 24, 2014
      12:17 AM

      I Agree, some digibooks sucks but! the digibook or wharever name of Pandoras Box DVD is amazing, so fine papers print... and I repeat the only thing that HATE really HATE of criterion is the NO spanish subtitles!
    • By Josh K
      May 30, 2014
      02:06 PM

      I second this. I was so excited abiout some of your upcoming releases (especially that amazing cover for Scanners), but finding that they won't be uniform packaging with the rest of my Blu-Ray Criterion collection, I am not so sure I will be picking it up now. Perhaps I am being a bit OCD, but the way your discs look (or rather now, "used to look") in a row on a shelf has always been a selling point for me.
  • By Barry
    February 15, 2014
    06:56 PM

    I currently don't own Nashville, Dazed and Confused, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Night of the Hunter, and the future Red River and Ace in the Hole due to the book packaging. I really want a plastic case alternative.
    Reply
  • By Brad
    March 09, 2014
    06:15 PM

    I will continue to buy films that i already know and love when they are released on Criterion 3 disc dual format, like the upcoming Breaking The Waves. But when i saw how fat the new packaging was for Tokyo Story, I immediately canceled my preorders for Foriegn Corresponent, Nashville, The Freshman, Persona, Fantastic Mr Fox, and King of the Hill. I held my preorder for Tess for a while, because that movie is so important to me. But once i realized that i can get it from Germany with the same pathe restoration, and without forced subtitles, i cancelled that Criterion preorder as well. I trust that each of these Criterion editions are great. But shelf space is a premium, and these sets are substantally thicker than a three disc set from the majority of other distributors. I will make room for an edition that has substantial printed materials included. But these dont. There are too many movies to buy; i cant have all i want. Some need to be screened out. And with these being so thick, they are obvious choices to remove from my purchases.
    Reply
  • By Sean
    March 19, 2014
    12:04 PM

    Sadly, I won't be buying any Criterion new releases until they are packaged as Blu-ray only releases. I left DVD behind years ago, and do not want my Blu-ray discs packaged with them, even if they are "free". I have no use for them, and I absolutely loathe the dual format packaging concept. I'm really sorry to see Criterion go this way.
    Reply
    • By Criterioner
      March 20, 2014
      02:27 PM

      Plus one.
    • By Daniel W.
      March 20, 2014
      05:02 PM

      I really doubt that will happen as often as you would like. So there will be many releases that you will miss. I personally don't mind it.
    • By TFSyndicate
      April 17, 2014
      08:44 PM

      Look, nowadays they're trying to get you to play DVDs on your laptop computer for when you're on the go. So it would be good to keep those DVDs on hand when you're in such a situation. Besides, aren't Blu-Ray players backward compatible with DVDs?
  • By Eric Stroud
    March 19, 2014
    07:22 PM

    The case is the blu-ray case, so you are just depriving yourself. Give the DVD to a friend or sell them as people seem to do on eBay.
    Reply
    • By Brad
      March 25, 2014
      10:34 AM

      Hi Eric - You are right, partially. The dual format packaging is the same size as the traditional blu-ray only packaging, but only when there are 2 discs; 1 blu-ray, and 1 dvd. But when there are 3 discs, 1 blu-ray and 2 dvds, then the packaging is completely different, and quite thick. I posted above that I can't buy the 3 disc versions unless it's a movie I already know and love. Most of the films that I buy through Criterion have been blind buys. They are an outstanding company, with license to distribute beautiful films. But its a matter of space, and there are other companies out there respectful of collectors shelf space. Hoping that Criterion finds a way to respect that space again soon.
  • By burn
    March 29, 2014
    03:44 AM

    I'm only interested in collecting Blu at this point, but I accepted this dual format business as a decision that is annoying but doesn't really affect me. That was until I got the novelty jumbo packages of Jules & Jim, Foreign Correspondent, and Tess. Three Blus that take up the space of FIVE regular cases. At this point Criterion are wasting DVDs and my shelf space. Plus they are still releasing some "Dual" titles as DVD solo releases. Pretty irritating.
    Reply
  • By Majus
    March 31, 2014
    12:03 AM

    Personally Criterion can release as many dual-edition digipacks as they like so long as they are sound and beautifully designed; as for shelf space I'll just head on down to Ikea and buy another Billy to hold them...
    Reply
  • By Nigel
    April 08, 2014
    05:40 AM

    Why not just issue DVDs in Blu-ray size containers? (which is what you are effectively doing now except you are throwing in a blu-ray disc).
    Reply
  • By Nic
    April 10, 2014
    11:20 AM

    Since Criterion started going to Digi-Paks with all these ridiculous 3-Disc Dual Format editions I've stopped buying criterion and focus spending my money on Masters OfCinema releases as well other studio releases that use stand blu-ray cases. I just abhor my discs to be houses in paper boxes.
    Reply
  • By Gord
    April 10, 2014
    01:50 PM

    I love the paper packaging. They've been using it for a long time and the old seem no different than the new ones to me. They are beautiful in a tactile and visual way. And they hardly take up much more space. My paper digipacks of Brakhage, Playtime, Madame de..., Ugetsu, Bicycle Thieves, Leopard, Seven Samurai, Waterfront, etc., etc., etc are not unreasonably thick. If using up a few more millimetres of shelf-space is a problem for you - you have real problems (if you know what I mean). Perhaps Criterion could consider using the flip holders (like MoC/Eureka!) to preserve precious bodily fluids...I mean shelf space. The explanation of why they went to dual-format makes sense to me and I support and applaud Criterion's attempt to be more efficient while at the same time trying to please all of their demanding customer-types. I for one am still here - fare thee well Nic. And Nigel - send your superfluous Blu-ray discs to me, care of: the 21st century, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada :) I have found little use for the DVDs in the dual-format releases (many do), but I know it saves Criterion plenty in packaging costs and their presence affect me is precisely zero ways. Why did they go back to releasing solo DVDs? Maybe it's an attempt to see if they appease complainers (see above) and institutions that weren't buying the duals. These DVDs are cheaper because they don't have the booklets/essays. No pleasing some people. God forbid you get cheaper DVDS or free DVDs with a Blu-ray for the same money. Sorry for my scatter-shot remarks. I can't believe people think THIS is worth complaining about. Nice "problem" to have when some can't afford gas to get to their crappy job.
    Reply
    • By burn
      April 14, 2014
      11:31 AM

      Gord says at the end of his very long post "I can't believe people think THIS is worth complaining about. Nice "problem" to have when some can't afford gas to get to their crappy job." While I can't begrudge anyone their opinion, trying to high hat opposing viewpoints while also complaining and trying to score superiority points in pretty contemptible.
    • By futurestar
      August 11, 2014
      07:59 PM

      I concur that it's tough enough just to get an original Criterion release, then they go rerelease them, and yet add a blu-ray/DVD biblical collection version of. you don't want to part with the initials since their out-of-print may make for added value. how many copies of one thing can you have when enough is enough? I decided to place my $ on originals, and maybe, perhaps, get the release if if it adds to the extras and is blu-ray. the only collection I don't have it Tati. will I get to? doubtful unless I find a 50% sale.
  • By Sean
    April 17, 2014
    08:39 AM

    Agreed, burn!
    Reply
  • By DUDElaundrey
    July 15, 2014
    07:21 AM

    wow.. i must jump in.. I am very OCD about my films collection. Last time I counted, about a year ago, I had over 800 (dvd &blu ray).. Around 150 are criterion. I usually have them in some kind of order, always by director.. For the people who complain about the packages with books, and how they don't like the way they look sitting next to the rest of your collection. that isn't a cute idiosyncrasy. thats just stupid. wow.. go eat mud, big rig
    Reply
    • By futurestar
      August 11, 2014
      08:10 PM

      didn't I just read this above somewhere. I admit to having an absurd amount of Criterion and I remember thinking when I had none if I just had 12. now I have halved that X 10 and then some half the Eclipse. there should be a detention center for people whom have addictive collectable nature. even if I watch them all 4 - 5 times, bought most at 50% discounts would I still be satiated? doubtful!
  • By sowilo_rune
    November 13, 2014
    11:03 AM

    dual format is beautiful. i'm still "transitioning" and i love having both so i can watch whichever on whatever player i have at hand wherever i am. and i think it's great for people who don't have blu-ray yet. it's inevitable that they will eventually! they're paying the same price as they would normally, they can enjoy the dvd and they don't have to buy another copy on blu ray when they get something to play it! as for those who already have blu ray capabilities, i think the dvds are still handy to have. i got into blu ray almost two years ago and there have been several extended periods (sometimes months at a time) where i couldn't do blu ray, for whatever reason. like, in my own case, for instance, last night i bought the hidden fortress and a few others. i can stay cozy at my computer and take in all the extras and commentaries here on dvd and then enjoy the blu ray in all its glory on my tv when i get all that sorted out again. you can take the dvds out to a friend's or on vacation or loan 'em out. my mom can hang on to my fantastic mr. fox dvd for as long as she likes. and this post itself explains why it's good and efficient for the company! for that alone you should support dual format. i never thought so many would be unable to appreciate it.
    Reply
  • By Jeff T.
    November 18, 2014
    01:51 PM

    I love the dual format idea. Becker's post offers good reasons why Criterion chose this appraoch, but I'll give you one more. I use an Apple iMac in my office and a MacBook on the go. None of Apple's product line is formatted for Blu-ray (a longstanding fight between Steve Jobs and the founders of Blu-ray when it first came out that is still in force now that Jobs has passed away.) Criterion's dual format solves the problem. Please keep it going. Thank you.
    Reply
  • By Gord
    November 20, 2014
    11:58 AM

    "burn" (witty tag!), your hypocrisy is more contemptible than anything in my original post. You don't begrudge other's opinions?! REA-lly. How am I "high hatting" (whatever that means). If you can't handle a thoughtful discussion (your short, shallow, snarky comment would suggest as much) why not keep out of it? I can only imagine your defensiveness is because I threaten you. I apologize. Lastly, your suggestion (edict really) that I shouldn't "complain" (once) about the silly complaints (ad nauseum) over this issue is bordering on the morbid - in other words I should keep silent. That's "big" of you. End of Discussion.
    Reply