Now that we've been treated to Zack's game-buying secrets, I'll offer my comparatively unimpressive DVD-buying strategies.
First of all, I don’t buy DVDs quite as often as I used to, so if readers are aware of some magical new shopping venue not mentioned here, please jump in. Also, my shopping decisions are based on a combination of price and convenience, not necessarily just the lowest price. Obviously, where you should buy your DVDs varies based on what kind of stuff you’re looking to buy.
1. Online retailers. When it comes to ordering online, I’ll generally go with Amazon.com. I used to order from Buy.com, which, as of the last time I used them, consistently undercut Amazon by a buck or two. Take that for what it’s worth, but also realize that Buy.com has the worst customer service possible, short of a Help screen that gives you the finger. As far as I can tell, there’s no way to call or email any kind of human entity, only an endlessly looping series of FAQ and Help screens that tell you nothing useful at all. Amazon’s customer service number is a big secret, but you can find it if you search the Internet at large and not Amazon’s site. I’ve soured on buying DVDs online lately, since I’ve found myself in situations where discs were scratched on arrival, and I’m too lazy to bother with shipping things for returns. If you like going to the post office, this shouldn’t be an issue, but having to ship something to return it is a dealbreaker for me.
I've known a few people who swear by Deep Discount DVD, but I think they're just dazzled by the name and the animated shark. The prices are slightly better than Amazon, but the site is ugly and no fun to navigate, not nearly as enjoyable an online shopping experience. I think that Amazon's ease of use and attractiveness are worth the slight price difference. Also, I've often found weird gaps in their selection that seem to omit exactly what I'm looking for, but this may have improved since I last looked for anime there. And then there's the online ordering aspect, which I try to avoid ever since I had to re-buy my Freaks and Geeks set.
2. Best Buy. Usually my first choice now when I’m looking to buy a DVD new. Their prices on major titles tend to be best the first week it comes out, and it’s automatically on sale. After a couple of weeks, the prices bump back up closer to retail and Best Buy offers less of a price advantage. Good selection, though. And most importantly, easy returns of defective (scratched) merchandise. On the downside, you can’t escape a certain suspicion that when you return a disc that’s scratched, there’s a chance that they’re just shrink-wrapping it and putting it back on the shelves for some other sucker. But I’m willing to take the chance. The odds are no worse than worrying about a disc coming loose and getting scratched up in shipping, and if I ever get stuck with a bad disc, at least I can exchange it easily at a brick-and-mortar store.
3. Target. Has pretty good prices but a crappy selection. If you see something you like while you’re there, though, you can pick it up with confidence that you’re getting a reasonably good deal.
4. Costco. You may feel irrationally compelled to pick up your DVDs at Costco, since they have such great deals on everything else that you may look at their DVD prices and think, “I’m at Costco! Surely these prices are rock bottom, lower than I could possibly find anywhere!” Well, no. You’re not buying a hundred-pack of DVDs, and there’s no wholesale discount to be had. They’re about on par with Best Buy and Target. Sure, it beats retail, but who pays retail for DVDs anyway? Where are you shopping, Borders? Are you crazy?
5. Used stores. You can search around for DVDs at stores like Rasputin and Amoeba, and you’ll occasionally find a great deal on something good. (Don’t buy new stuff there, though!) More often, you’ll find shit you don’t want for maybe a buck or two less than getting it new, in which case why bother? But the hunt is fun, if you like that sort of thing, and every now and then you’ll find something worthwhile. If you’re looking to buy a specific title, though, you might as well spare yourself the headaches and just go get it.
For mainstream (non-TV) fare (i.e. Spider-Man 2, Napoleon Dynamite)
- If you want it new, go to Best Buy the first week or two after release.
- If you’re willing to wait, this stuff will show up on the Pre-Viewed table at Hollywood Video within a couple of months for $14.99 at most, and you’ll feel like a fool for buying it new. Even Costco or Best Buy will generally run about 19.99 for it. Wait a few months and check the Pre-Viewed pile periodically, and some of the hundreds of extra copies they used to stock the store will show up soon enough. If you wait for multiple titles, you can pick up a few with their 3 for $25 deals. One caveat: You should probably check the discs as soon as possible so you can exchange them if they’re scratched or unplayable.
For TV shows:
- Just go ahead and buy them at Best Buy. Hollywood's used table makes you buy each disc separately until you're paying as much as you would for a new set at a decent store anyway. Also, the multiple discs mean there are that many more discs that could get scratched and spoil your set.
For esoteric Asian films:
- I’ve ordered from Poker Industries a few times and recently ordered from Yes Asia. They both seem good, but I think Poker Industries is a bit more expensive. Each seems to have some titles the other doesn't, so you may have to check back and forth sometimes. If you have a good Chinatown video store nearby maybe you can get around this, but this is probably the easiest way to get Asian titles that I know of. Make sure to get All-Region or Region 0 discs only, in NTSC, not PAL.
- For Battle Royale specifically:
I’ve bought this movie four times, so I know what I’m talking about.
i. Don’t buy the Korean 2-disc “Director’s Cut”. This is probably the easiest one to find and the one people automatically go for. It’s not technically the director’s cut, which implies existing material the director was forced to cut out; what it is, is the extended “Special Version” with new scenes and added blood (which, oddly, resulted in a more teen-friendly rating in Japan, allowing youths to go see it). The new scenes are kind of interesting if you're a completist, but they don't add much, and are generally not worth it if you plan to own only one version of Battle Royale. Also, the subtitles are fuzzy and the translations of the added scenes are practically incoherent. The special features have some interesting behind-the-scenes footage but have no English subtitles.
ii. Go to Amazon.co.uk and get the region-free NTSC version of the Tartan Asia Extreme release of Battle Royale. This has the clearest picture and crisp subtitles with no embarrassing typos (“That were my friends!”) or confusingly poor translations. It’s the original, shorter cut, which plays tighter and more briskly and doesn’t drag out the ending until the audience’s patience is spent. It’s a stronger film in its original form, and this, not the Korean version or any of the bootlegs, is the definitive version to own if you speak English and live in North America.
iii. Don’t buy Battle Royale II in any form unless you have a morbid curiosity about how bad it can be.