• 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!


  • By John U.
    August 30, 2013
    12:02 PM

    I LOVE this idea!!!!! As a film enthusiast I wanted to pick up the blu-rays...but as a public school teacher I was torn as to which version to buy. I show many films in class and many more in my after school Film Club, but my school is no where close to having blu-ray technology, leaving me to only purchase the DVD editions. Thank you again Criterion for all that you do....this is a wonderful idea...like I needed another reason to love you guys!!!
  • By alexanderplaz
    August 30, 2013
    02:00 PM

    Sometimes I wonder if the Criterion fans collect the disc, no matter what the format, or do they want the films. I want the films, for my library, to watch, learn, view, enjoy, not what looks good on my shelves. Criterion is a company that, in my opinion, has come to the reality that a majority of their customers buy during the bi-annual Barnes and Noble sales or 2 for 3 sales or Amazon 50% off etc. I know, I sell Criterion. Some super hot, rare titles will move on release day Tuesdays and there are customers that will buy a disc or two during the non-sale cycles. I wondered, two years ago, how Criterion would work its way out of this financial dilemma. The company needs a consistent revenue stream all year, not just during these super sales. I applaud their thinking of a strategy to keep their company going. That said, I had made the decision, a couple of years ago, to only buy the Eclipse series and some box sets in the DVD format. There are some titles that I have had in my hand, dozens of times, but, then I think, what if that title comes out in Blu Ray in six months. The main question is do you trust this company and I do. I don't care if the cases don't line up the in some OCD way. I care about the films, the extras, the transfer, the documentaries, the commentaries and sound quality. One more point, thank you Crit for clearing up some of your lesser release choices. There have been times when I shook my head in wonderment over picks like La Cage. Now I know it is so they can afford The Early Fassbinder films.
    • By andsoitgoes
      November 19, 2013
      01:02 PM

      The cases for the dual format will be almost identical, so this change comes with no impact to the consumer. That said, while I buy my Criterions for the films, the case quality and aesthetic value is unfair to ignore. My criterion films are separated from the rest, and while I dislike certain decisions like the digibook cases for some releases, I don't base my buying decision on what the case looks like. But seriously, 400 blows came with the world's worst case. Bleh. Here's hoping we have fewer digibooks, though. I understand they may be necessary for multi disc releases, but I'd prefer to have them the minority.
    • By Michael H. Smith
      November 20, 2013
      07:36 AM

      Hear, hear.
    August 30, 2013
    04:03 PM

    Like so many have already said, thank you for making the push to dual format releases. As a school teacher, I try to use as many criterion films as possible in my literature classroom activities. The change to dual release will enhance both my home entertainment and classroom experiences. And, as customers we still get to enjoy amazing film transfers, insightful film essays, and beautiful packaging. Thanks again criterion for showing the world how companies can meet the demands of both their vision and their customers. Stay golden. -J.
  • By Christopher Sharrett
    August 31, 2013
    05:13 PM

    Not to belabor the transition issue, but I would agree with the concern about smaller Blu-ray cases. And can I register a complaint about Blu-ray itself, a vastly overrated format? Admittedly some films look great on Blu-ray (mainly films shot on digital), but many others look terrible. What you gain in detail you tend to lose in atmosphere and resonance. Is this not another commodity forced upon us whether we like it or not?
    • By Gord
      September 01, 2013
      03:57 AM

      I'v been very happy with the Blu-ray format. as you say some Bly-ray editions are great, but even the disappointing ones have been better than DVD if only because of better sound quality. Digitally shot movies are of course perfect for the medium (although I think they look like cartoons and often dislike the look), but some of my favourite Blu-rays are Kubricks, technicolor, silent films, and films noir so I don't agree with the common argument (not necessarily being made by you) that old movies aren't served by the format. I too wish we had the larger booklets & I like DVD menus better, but I'm glad for Blu-ray. There are a lot of movies that I encountered for the first time on VHS or DVD so I understand your nostalgia for DVD (if that's what you mean by "atmosphere and resonance"). As far as being force fed commodity - egad! Don't get me started on 3D tv! :D
    • By Cezary_C
      September 11, 2013
      12:34 PM

      I was sceptical about Blu-Ray, as well, as I didn't think the improved resolution was a big deal and was wary of studios eliminating film grain to "improve" older films. Seeing The Thin Red Line on criterion Blu-Ray completely changed my mind about the resolution concern; the difference in image quality is vast. I've since purchased several older films on Criterion Blu-Ray, and every time I watch one it feels like I'm watching the first projection of the first print struck from the master negative. I've since began re-purchasing my favorite films, on Blu-Ray. I do research on the disk before I purchase it, especially if it's a movie that was filmed over ten years ago, because a lot of other companies are "enhancing" films for Blu-Ray, or are not staying true to the color or grain on the original prints. DVD had similar quality issues in its infancy, and I expect that, in the coming years, I'll be able to pick up Blu-Ray releases without worrying about quality. I've NEVER had to worry about the quality of a Criterion Blu-Ray release, though.
  • By VseslavBotkin
    September 02, 2013
    04:21 PM

    the only thing I'm mad about is how I own all DVDs and these blu-ray sized dual-things are going to look so weird mixed in with the rest
    • By Gord
      September 02, 2013
      05:43 PM

      If you live in a 7-figure mansion and spend a couple hundred grand each year for an interior decorator I understand. Otherwise, I don't know what to tell ya OCD's a bitch I guess.
  • By Emma
    October 19, 2013
    01:22 AM

    Seems like a good idea. I don't have a Blu-ray player, so I'm grateful you guys will continue turning out DVDs, even if it's grouped with a Blu-ray disc. I could always give the Blu-ray to someone who has a Blu-ray player.
  • By andsoitgoes
    November 19, 2013
    01:04 PM

    One question that just I still have is how multi disc DVD releases will work. For example, The Last Metro was on 2 discs for its DVD release, one on Blu. Does that mean in the future, dual format releases from multi disc DVDs will need to hold 3+ discs? God, how big will the fanny and Alexander set be? Or The Battle of Algiers?
  • By Collection
    November 20, 2013
    07:05 PM

    Instead of Dual-Format, why not opt for Blu-Ray only when it comes time to reissue titles already in The Criterion Collection? First, each of these films were already in circulation for a given period of time in DVD format. Next, it having been years since your last DTS encoded DVD release and now with almost all Criterion branded new releases being sourced from either 2K or 4K transfers, Blu-Ray users would appear to be the only ones benefiting from upgraded picture and sound. Although, one argument to the contrary would be that there is no cost difference between your Dual-Format and Blu-Ray releases, issues of waste-reduction and The Criterion Collection's profit margins are valid concerns raised in the above essay and comments. Therefore, although this suggested change also constitutes a deviation from your past practice, it seems unnecessary and wasteful to include DVDs vis-à-vis Dual-Format editions of re-releases. After all, "Blu" is the Warmest Color.
  • By CL78
    November 21, 2013
    08:03 AM

    Personally, I love the dual-format idea. I picked up Frances Ha last week, and upon watching, immediately thought of a friend who I knew would love it, but who doesn't have a Blu-ray player. This allows me to loan out one disc, as Mr. Becker suggested in his post, while retaining the other. I'm sold. I agree with Collection, though, about occasionally (or regularly) doing Blu-ray-only upgrades for existing releases. Unless it's an out-of-print title coming back into print (in which case, it absolutely makes sense to bring it back with fanfare), or one which hasn't seen much love for a long time (i.e., a non-anamorphic transfer), I think a Blu-ray only release is fine. Case in point: Grey Gardens. The DVD box set of the two films stands on its own just fine, so I'm glad you guys opted to just do Blu-ray for the upcoming release. I'm not concerned about anything here. You guys have always been thoughtful about what you've brought into the collection, and have obviously been giving this a lot of thought as well. Whatever you decide--for any given release--I'm sure will have been carefully considered by your folks. Carry on, and thanks for sticking to your guns and maintaining the high standard you've built your name on.
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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...
  • 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.
    • 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 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
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.