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TK's MORNING BUZZ: Clamoring for Higher Prices on New DVDs? Remember the Lesson of Laserdisc

17 Jan, 2001 By: Thomas K. Arnold

If I can fire one more salvo at those misguided individuals who are clamoring for higher prices on new DVDs, let me remind everyone that one of the key reasons the laserdisc failed to ignite the mainstream's fancy was its high price, rarely below $39.95.

To be sure, there are other reasons the laserdisc, with its superior (to VHS) sound and picture quality, is today branded a noble experiment that failed.

The disc's size certainly didn't help matters. At the time of the laserdisc's launch, CDs were just being introduced into the music market. Just think of the mixed message consumers were receiving: On the one hand, they were being told 12-inch analog discs (vinyl LPs) are outdated, while on the other, they were told 12-inch analog discs (laserdiscs) are the Next Big Thing.

Another factor was the failure of studios to release laserdiscs day and date with their cassette counterparts. A few studios began doing so in the early 1990s, but it was too little, too late.

We can't rule out the time, either. In the middle 1980s, the public was still infatuated with their brand-new VCRs. The novelties of renting movies on tape hadn't worn off yet, and it was too early to try getting consumers to transition to something else.

But the clincher, as far as many industry minds are concerned, was the price. The sellthrough market was born, developed and matured, and VHS prices came tumbling down, from $39.98 for The Wrath of Khan way back in 1982 to no more than $25 for direct-to-sellthrough blockbusters by 1995. And yet the laserdisc stubbornly clung to its high price, with only a few suppliers, in the format's waning years, issuing discs for less. But by then, it was too late, because everyone was already talking about this wonderful new 5-inch optical disc format that was digital, to boot.

None of these factors alone brought the laserdisc down. But together, they contributed to the format being relegated to the scrap heap of failed technologies, a scrap heap that doesn't judge products by their quality (Beta was clearly better, whilte 8-track was inherently flawed) but, rather, is ready and willing to accept anything that missed its target, for whatever reason -- usually having to do with marketing.

Let's not make the same mistake again.

Comments? Contact TK directly at:TKArnold@aol.com

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