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Dollar-Store Mentality Affecting DVD

2 Jun, 2006 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Remember the days of built-in obsolescence? We used to blast manufacturers for making products, such as lightbulbs, that didn't last nearly as long as we felt they should, solely so they could sell more of them.

Now, we're facing a new menace: too much stuff, sold for too little. Wal-Mart blames sluggish sales on soaring gas prices, but my hunch is consumers are getting a little weary of what I call the dollar-store mentality. You buy a bunch of gadgets and gizmos you don't really need, simply because they're so cheap. Then one day you get sick and tired of cluttering up your house, and you stop. You can only buy so many electronic foot massagers, off-brand TVs and touch-control lamps before you recoil in disgust and consciously avoid the high-traffic aisles at Wal-Mart and other big discount chains.

This same set of circumstances, I believe, is at least partially responsible for the malaise in the home entertainment industry. DVDs have become so cheap — one chain last week was selling the latest big hits for $13.77 — that the perceived value is sinking to record lows. Factor in the steady flow of new product, much of it repackaged catalog titles. Toss in the $5 dump bins at Wal-Mart and the $7.88 endcaps at Target. The message we're sending to consumers is that Hollywood's movies are a disposable commodity, something you buy on impulse, watch once or twice, and then file away, give away or throw away.

Any time you saturate the market with cheap goods, you run the risk of consumer fatigue. The solution? For once, I have one: Create really “special” special editions, such as Warner Home Video's Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz and Ben-Hur extravaganzas, and consider expanding the moratorium strategy pioneered by Disney and now used selectively by other studios, like Warner on its upcoming Blade Runner re-release.

The concept here is to make the product more valuable and more desirable, and to eliminate some of the clutter that has led to the establishment of those sad $5 dump bins, where perfectly good movies go to die in plain sight of an increasingly indifferent public.

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