In Praise of Physical Media

I am a realist, I am not blind to what I see coming with the technology available now and in the immediate future. I have plenty of students who don’t watch anything on network TV. Most have never seen a Laser Disc, few an LP and soon, the small number who remember VHS will grow to be called “old”.  My daughter went to a sale at a Barnes and Noble that was closing, and she heard an eight year old ask when he saw a tool for opening a CD, “What’s a CD?” The times they are a changing.

At the start of the year, one of the “Old Movie Weirdos” that I follow on twitter and Facebook [both of which are already severely dated from the millennial perspective] shared this little incident at the close of the previous year.

 

Streaming is the present, I’m not sure what the future is, but I know there are things about the past that we are going to miss and it makes me a little sad. The past is not dead just yet however and there were two examples of physical media that came into my life in the last few weeks that I wanted to share and praise.

“Stranger Things” is a TV Series that appears on Netflix, so it is readily stream-able for anyone interested who subscribes to the service. It does seem however that someone out there is a genius at marketing because my daughter got a gift for me at Christmas that is so meta, it should be studied in communication schools around the country. I received Season 1 of Stranger Things as a a Blu Ray set, but it is packaged in the most amazingly appropriate manner imaginable.  The show is set in 1984, at the start of the Home Video Revolution. VHS had defeated Beta as the format for home video and it stood astride the home entertainment market place like a colossus, about to get even bigger. So what could be more retro/meta/perfect than packaging this 2016 product as an eighties piece of merchandise?

 That’s right my friends, it is delivered to you in a VHS style box. Complete with the details that most of us from an older

generation remember from a thousand trips to the video store.  There is a color coded sticker on the cover so that the crew at your video store [well before Blockbuster in 1984] will be able to restock it in the right place. Down on the corner there are some details about the “tape” specifications.

Please notice that your VHS is in hi-fi, so you can hook it up to your audio receiver and listen to it loud. Don’t neglect to examine the details on the back cover for more information but also for a perfect replication of the design of those boxes. Including the FBI warning that was so ubiquitous. Just this alone should justify owning this in physical form. How would you enjoy all the retro references and nostalgia without it. But as they used to say in the infomercials of the day, don’t answer yet , because you also get…

the inside of the VHS box, a container for the DVDs that will make you laugh and cry simultaneously for your long lost youth.

 That’s right, the container box is a cardboard duplicate of a VHS tape, with a window on the tape box and another sticker. This one tells you to “Be Kind, Rewind”. Because returning your tape without rewinding it was rude and often resulted in an extra fee. Now streamers may have access to their material on any device and be able to watch wherever there is an internet connection available to them, but they will miss out on the tangible goodies that often came with old school media. I had Kiss albums that included a Toy Pop Gun, a multi-part puzzle, and most came with some kind of poster as well. The people who put this box together did not forget you.

Located on the inside of the box lid is a pocket containing an “exclusive” Stranger Things mini poster. Available only to those who purchased this Video copy.  I’m sorry, but that is just the kind of catnip that will get a hoarder like me to bite. When the E.T. VHS came out, you could be assured it was “official” if the lifting cover on the tape was gree rather than black. That dumb piece of merchandising probably sold them an extra million copies so that people could keep one pristine.

OK, I know it is marketing that is yanking me in to make this purchase, but it was inexpensive, and worth twice what my daughter paid. (She actually bought one for herself as well.)

The second piece of marketing that makes an old guy like me appreciate physical media is something I have been enamored with for just over a year now. I still have nearly a thousand Laser Discs that I treasure and try to display. If you watch the video at the start of this post, you will see a sort of “Un-Boxing” of the Classic Jaws Laser Disc release. We made that at least six years ago but it shows you how a format that had been dead for more than a decade still held fascination for me. Well last year, Disney did some marketing for Great Britain that is not available here yet. They have “Big Sleeve Editions” of their Bu-Ray/DVD releases, that mimic the old Laser Disc packaging.

The drawback of these products is that the DVD is region coded so that they will not work on most U.S. players, but the Blu Rays work just fine. In addition to the 12″ covers, the jackets have a beautiful interior gatefold to show off additional artwork. There is an exterior sleeve with a mirror front edge to match the front cover, but when you take off the sleeve, the specifications disappear and another nice image is made available. Each disc comes with four special 12″ image inserts that make the package even more special.

Yesterday, after searching ebay and converting dollars into pounds, I obtained a “Big Sleeve Edition” of the most recent Guardians of the Galaxy film.

Look at these images and reveille in the joy of thoughtful marketing for film enthusiasts.

The Back cover without the sleeve.

And now the contents which yield a bounty of fun for obsessive fans and collectors.

 

 

There is a three song vinyl ep with songs from the score and the final credits. Just the kind of bonus to attract people who still think owning something tangible is more pleasurable than visiting something that you don’t really possess.

This is one of the four art inserts and it would be enough by itself to get my blood hot for this sort of product. This is just too much fun, and I can’t understand why we want the future to come and take it all away from us.

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