Shelf life: the dying art of physical media
The issue of lost media can be mitigated by a return to physical media.

I grew up surrounded by technology of all forms. I witnessed VHS tapes and cassettes on their way out, and I saw DVDs and CDs become increasingly important in the average household. This is where I think I get my love of physical media from. 

Ever since I was a kid, I’d see my father actively look through weekly flyers to see if he could find a film that we had all liked, so that we could own it on disc—so that we could play it any time we wanted. It was a bonding exercise between us. I remember looking through the Best Buy flyer and seeing that certain Blu-ray movies would only be for C$5.99 if you traded in any DVD you owned. My parents took me to Best Buy five minutes before the store opened so that we could get first dibs on a film we saw in the flyer. It’s little things like this from my childhood that have molded me into the person I am today: an absolute hoarder of all physical media—and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

This is why the recent news of Best Buy stopping their sale of DVDs, Blu-rays, and CDs hit me hard. It was confirmed in October 2023 in a statement made by the company to APNews that locations in the US would stop selling these items as abruptly as the start of this new year. And when the store reopened after the holidays, Best Buy kept their promise, much to the dismay of collectors and physical media lovers, like me, around the world. 

What made the commitment to this decision by the company even more baffling is that two months after their decision, Oppenheimer—one of the most critically and commercially successful theatrical films of 2023—released on DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K UHD Blu-ray on November 21st, and was immediately sold out at every major retailer, including Best Buy. Restocks for this film’s physical editions would reach almost the same level of hype that StockX gets for shoe drops. Raking in this much money for sellers across the world was almost assurance that physical media was here to stay for at least a little bit longer. On January 2, however, photos surfaced on X showing the shelves at Best Buy being wiped clean.

Not only do business decisions like these limit newer generations from the nostalgia and glee that comes from opening the package of a new movie, but these decisions also bring about an overreliance on streaming services—the main factor as to why physical media is becoming obsolete to begin with. As consumers, we pay upward of C$12 a month on average per service. If we have multiple services, these prices add up quickly. Yet, this payment doesn’t guarantee ownership of the media we stream quite like how owning a movie on disc does. 

It’s common knowledge that Netflix removes movies and TV shows after a certain time due to licensing agreements ending. This already goes against the idea of media on the Internet living forever. If I wanted to watch a certain film on Netflix, and it just got removed from the service, I’d have to resort to other means. Adding on to this, stories of services like Disney+ removing certain elements of their existing older content in the attempt to censor it demonstrates how paying for streaming services can never match the quality of physical media—media that, once you purchase it, cannot be altered or taken from you.

While larger corporations are continuing to stray away from fostering this unmatchable experience of owning physical media that I was lucky enough to grow up with, smaller local businesses are coming in to save the day. Bay Street Video, located in the heart of Toronto, right near our very own St. George campus, is one of those saviours.

Running by and for avid lovers of cinema since the video store days in 1982, Bay Street Video is one of the last remaining video stores that make purchasing physical media accessible to Torontonians—and its owners are well aware of that fact. Wearing that title like a badge of honour, the store is often active on X and is tirelessly working on more ways to grow its loyal consumer base. Local businesses like these, which operate day-in and day-out to ensure that physical media stays alive, deserve all the recognition they can possibly get. It’s these same places that give hope for new generations, but also give hope to me, an adult refusing to let go of traditions that the kid in him grew up with.

Photos Editor (Volume 50) — Daanish is wrapping up his final year at UTM, majoring in Technology, Coding & Society, and minoring in Mathematics and Cinema Studies. He's aware of how odd that combination is, but that is enough to describe him in a nutshell. Carrying his cameras wherever he goes, you can find Daanish furiously writing Letterboxd reviews, cheering on the Maple Leafs, and blasting the Jonas Brothers any chance he gets.


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