Friday, October 31, 2008

Trick or Treat?

Time was our only option for movies was to see them at the theatre, or wait a year or more for them to play on cable or make it to home video. And if you didn't have cable or a VCR? Then you had to wait a few more years for the movie to make it to television, usually hacked up and censored to make room for commercials. Because that's really all television is, a delivery system for commercials. That's what made cable so alluring. You could get movie channels and actually watch movies, uncut and without commercial interruption. What joy!

Of course this was before corporations plunked down billions in marketing ads to convince us that these older formats were crap. Still it took a while for the average Joe and Jane Consumer to take the bait. Betamax was supposedly superior to VHS. It's tapes were smaller, the video quality better, but it didn't allow us to record and didn't allow for the same length (time wise) of movies as did VHS. So it died. Then along came Laserdisc, DVDs lumberjack grandpapa, alas the discs were too bulky and it cost too much. So it, too, got tossed onto the heap of discarded consumer tech along with 8-track tapes and phonographs.

But, for a while, before we realized how horrible the video quality of VHS was, we actually had it pretty good. There were mom and pop video stores everywhere. The titles available on VHS were an eclectic mix of public domain classics, studio blockbusters (and misfires), and, thanks to the camcorder there was even ultra low budget shot on video flicks. Didn't like the selection in your corner video store? You could always go visit your friend across town and check out the stores in their neighborhood.

Then came the retail chains. The major retail chains squeezed the life out of the mom and pop video store forcing them all out of business. Alas, now that they are the only game in town, these chain stores offer little more than mass marketed mediocrity. Sure they sometimes have DVDs at great budget bargain bin prices. But the problem is they literally dump these DVDs into a bin. That's not just disrespecting the product that's disrespecting the customer. What these stores are telling you is they view you as pigs and the product is slop. So, go ahead, dig on into that bin piggy.

Funny thing is we actually have less of a selection on DVD than we did on VHS. Our choices have literally dwindled down to the same handful of regurgitated Hollywood titles carried by every chain store. And don't even ask about imports. These stores wont even special order domestic releases!

Which leaves online vendors. Alas the lumbering leviathan retail chains hinder the availability and accessibility of these sorts of titles. Without access to these titles on legit DVD we can't buy them. If indie labels and Z-budget studios can't get their DVDs stocked they can't sell them, thus they can't make money, which means the legit DVDs quickly go OOP. Thus even online vendors wont have them.

So what's a person to do? When all else fails they'll likely end up at the site of a gray market "collector video" vendor, if only because these sites will be the only one's to pop up in a search for certain rare OOP titles.

Alas, too often, the prices are way more than the cost of the legit DVD. And what are you getting for your money? Is it a rip of a DVD or a one-off dub from a VHS recording burned to budget media DVDr? There's just no way to know. And don't expect to get a decent case with cover art! You'll be lucky to get a jewel case with that DVDr.

Alas, for too many titles, this may seem like the only option if you want to see the movie before you die. And why? Because the retail chains are acting like thugs, refusing to carry certain titles while filling their shelf space with the same tired old mass produced crap. What's worse these mass market retail chains are a pirate's best friend. Without their virtual monopoly of the market, controlling what gets stocked and for how long, thus creating the perfect cesspool in which bottom feeders thrive, there would be no gray market video.

What can we do? Well for starters we can try to: Complain to our congressman. Complain to the MPAA. Complain to our local TV station. Complain to the management of the retail chain and ask that our titles/product gets stocked. . .

Alas talking to the in-store management of a retail store is like trying to get a earthworm to sit up and beg for a doggy treat, they just don't seem to care. Sadly I speak from personal experience. They'll blame the lack of decent stock on everything but their own incompetence. The most used excuse is the store only carries what they are sent and they have no control over what they get sent. If you try to point out the in-store computers and ask about ordering such items what invariably happens is the manager suddenly "remembers" they have something to do, whereupon they disappear.

And you wonder why the economy is in the state it's in?

I've walked in a certain bookstore chain that carries DVDs, CDs, and even recently renovated their in-store 'café'- if they'd only put that money into STOCKING their shelves!!!!- with a 30% coupon in my pocket and left, empty handed, so many times that it's not funny. For instance to this day I have NEVER seen a single DVD of HUNDRA in a brick and mortar store. Even the aforementioned chain, which has in-store computers and claims they can order stuff for you, couldn't get it. Of course it wasn't their fault. (Is it ever?) But then I've heard so many excuses over the years from them I've given up trying. It's never their fault it's their vendor, the product is on back order, the movie wasn't released yet (total BS on that), or the movie wasn't available because it'd gone OOP or been cancelled (again total BS) or. . .

This is our retail industry? I have money in my pocket and you're giving me excuses rather than product? It's bad enough the people hired to walk the aisles don't have clue one about what's in the store, much less knowledge about the section they are hired to patrol. They're just bodies filling space. And don't ever dare ask them any probing questions that require them to do something so radical as think!

So, as you enjoy your treats this Halloween, think long and hard about which stores you want to support. Because odds are you're not just getting the short end of the stick you're getting tricked.

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