Why studios should thank people who pre-order DVDs

Simon wonders, as movie studios continue to battle online piracy, whether they should stop and show a bit more appreciation for legitimate customers

Disc battles: a curse of the modern age

Does anyone remember the point where Titanic was eating up cash like there was no tomorrow at the box office? It seemed to have residency in cinemas at the start of 1997 and for several months thereafter, and it was tricky to go through a day for a few weeks without someone eulogising about the film. I never went head over heels for it myself, and for my trouble, I frequently got greeted by shocked looks from the film’s devotees when I told them this, who in turn stared at me as if I’d just dropped out of a dog’s bottom.

I do have one distinct memory from that time, though, and it’s something I’ve pondered on and off ever since. And that’s about the market for pre-ordering what was videos then, and is DVDs and Blu-rays now.

In the case of Titanic, I remember that a month after it had come out at the cinema, and with no sign of a home video release anywhere close to being announced, a series of stores at the time began taking pre-orders anyway. I thought this a little opportunist and bizarre.

But then I went shopping. And sure enough, I saw people walking up to the counter of Woolworths asking to reserve a copy of Titanic on video, and handing over a £1 deposit. In return, the store gave them a piece of paper confirming their reservation, but absolutely nothing else. There was no price incentive for pre-ordering, there was no free gift. Heck, they didn’t even know how much they’d be charging, and whether there’d be a collectors’ boxset or anything. At times as I watched, they struggled to even splutter out a thank you to the kind of customer that surely they should have cherished more.

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Now I had a couple of thoughts at this point. The first was why? Why on earth were people stumping up their hard-earned quid and sticking a pre-order in already? Were they genuinely expecting there to be a shortage of the film when it was released or something? I’ve racked my brains and can’t ever recall a day when I’ve walked into a shop on the day that a big blockbuster is released and failed to even come close to not finding a copy of it. Quite the contrary. Titanic, if you recall, went on to become the biggest film at the box office of all time (not accounting for inflation): was it really likely that the demand for the video would be in any way underestimated? I’d be surprised if a store on the planet had sold out of it at any point in the last decade, yet alone on launch day.

That aside, though, it did set me thinking that those who pre-order films are surely the most loyal of customers, and in these days when legitimate consumers are increasingly inconvenienced by anti-piracy measures, perhaps there’s an opportunity here for studios to actually say thank you.

I remember throughout the 90s, for instance, that I would always make an effort to go and pre-order new Disney releases, because I knew that somewhere like the Disney Store would give me a small something for doing so (and a mildly creepy grin from a greeter on the door, but we’ll let that pass). Even if I didn’t hugely like the quality of the gift, it did feel like someone actually appreciated me going and putting my order in early. It wasn’t just Disney either. I’ve still even got my cheap and cheerful James & The Giant Peach mug for when I pre-ordered that. I used to think it was a nice touch.

The thing is, the onslaught of the Internet has taken away the incentive to pre-order (short of saving an extra pound, which, to be fair, is hard to knock), and a lot of the time, it’s hard to find any reason to do so. We all know now, surely, that no matter how much a DVD is selling for on launch day, it’s just a matter of three months before the aggressive discounting begins. Now granted, I’m still the kind of person who’s keen to get his hands on the latest releases as soon as possible, but even I’ve been tempering my purchases, and holding off for titles that once upon a time I’d have snapped up on day one.

Those customers though, who buy a DVD or Blu-ray within three months of its release, are surely like gold dust to movie studios. These are the people who actively support their businesses like no other, and these are the very people it makes sense to keep on their side.

So I’ve had a thought. Instead of hammering these legitimate customers with messages about how if they even think about copying a DVD they’re going to get their ass spanked, how about simply saying thank you? How about offering some kind of token of appreciation to the people who love films enough to have their order in sometimes even weeks before a movie is released on DVD?

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Why not, then, bring back pre-order gifts? Why not give those passionate enough to put an order in early a token of your thanks, or perhaps some reward points that could go towards a greater incentive? Heck, I’m not really bothered what it is or how it’s done, I just think that, right now, it wouldn’t be amiss for legitimate customers to simply be shown a modicum more respect and appreciation than they are right now.

It’ll never happen, of course, and even as I write these words, someone somewhere is planning the next non-skippable advert on a DVD that stops three steps short of calling you a thief. But, with a war being waged against The Pirate Bay and with peoples’ budgets stretched more than ever, there surely needs to be a thought spared for those of us who loyally stump up our cash.

After all, if you can spend lots of money lambasting the people who are stealing products, then surely it makes sense to invest a little in those who aren’t?

It seems remiss not to end this piece anyway with The IT Crowd’s quite brilliant take on the UK anti-piracy adverts that appear on DVDs…And don’t forget too to check out:An open letter to movie editors and directors;How to improve cinemas in one simple step;10 ways DVD content creators pwn you