Wednesday, October 27, 2004

A few words about video games

Were you aware that the video game industry now makes more profits than the music, movie, professional sports and Broadway industries combined? It's true. And yet one can't help but feel as though it's being run incorrectly. My music distributor Alliance is a "One Stop" distributor, meaning they cover video games and movies as well. It's helpful for a smaller place like ours. We can get whatever we need from them without juggling three separate distributors. Granted we only carry music and some DVDs, but I get the occasional special order for a video game. This week for example, my coworker ordered a game called Harvest Moon for his kid. On books we get a 35% employee discount. On CDs and DVDs we get 25% off. Yet I was unable to offer my coworker a discount on this game. It retails on shelves at $39.99, but when it arrived they'd charged roughly 35 dollars. That's barely a 10% discount, and that's an older title!

As I've mentioned before, my friend down the street owns a video game shop. He's been trying to make a go of it for a couple years now but it's obviously not going to last. The hottest, newest games retail for $49.99 and stores like his will end up paying 45 - 47 dollars to get each copy! That's an insanely small profit for any industry to offer their retailers. The large chain stores in town have home offices that buy huge amounts of these games and get a slightly larger profit, so they're not quite as bad off as the little guy. But woe to either store when the price drops occur. In video gaming, after about six months the industry often drops the price of a title, anywhere between ten and thirty dollars. It's too late to return it to the distributor, so stores get stuck with games on their shelves which will lose them money when they sell. In my opinion, the game industry should be run more like music and movies: set a retail price and allow the retailers to organize sales and price drops.

Worse still is the problem of release dates. Your average music release may see several date changes before it's released, but ultimately it gets locked in and set at least a few weeks ahead of time. Games can change their release dates right up until they hit store shelves. And whereas I am able to order music and get almost every album on its release date for my customers, I pity the small video game store owner. Game supply goes entirely into the hands of the huge chains like Electronics Boutique and Wal-Mart. My friend's game shop has to wait a minimum of three days after the release date to get copies from their distributor. Meanwhile they have to watch hardcore gamer after gamer come into the store, ask for the new game, then walk out again and head for a chain store instead because they don't have the latest title.

I ask you, does this sound like sour grapes here? I'm not asking for the moon, am I? Huge chains have every right to do business to the best of their ability and I have nothing against them. It just seems to me there should be a level playing field so that the little guy can do his or her best too. In the current state of video game retail, this is absolutely not the case.

*steps off soap box*
*goes home*

Post-script: It should be said that in terms of profits and discounts, the video game industry has a set of variables that mandates running things very differently from other fields. For more information check out
this page and scroll down to the "Economics" section. Still, my main point is the one about evening up the playing field on product release dates. The deck is currently stacked very much against the independent retailer.


Tuesday, October 19, 2004

The telephone madness continues. Today I got in the weekly special order shipment and started calling people. At one number a woman picked up the phone:

Woman: Hello?
Me: Hi, I'm calling for Arthur.
Woman: Oh okay, thanks. *click*

I just stood there looking at the phone dumbly for a minute. Finally I called back.

Woman: (perturbed) Hello?!
Me: Um, hi. May I speak to Arthur please?
Woman: (using her "duh, you idiot" voice) He isn't home!
Me: Oh, sorry. You failed to explain that when you hung up on me a minute ago.

Phone calls can be a lot of fun. At least they break up the monotony of the average day in retail. You never know what you're going to get when you call someone's house. There are long, boring messages that need to be edited: "Hi this is Thomas Johnson and his wife Mary Johnson. We are either out or away from the phone, or we are nearby but unable to answer the phone. Or we are possibly asleep, or in some other way cannot hear the phone ringing. After this message you will hear a tone. When you hear the tone, please state your name, your phone number, the date, and what the call is regarding, and when we get your message, either Mary or I, Thomas, will call you back as soon as we are able. But we may be busy so it might not be the same day. If the weather's nice we may be at the lake too. Or we may be working. Thank you very much."

Come on, is there anyone unfamiliar with answering machines at this point? I don't need directions, thanks. On the flipside, how can anyone not have an answering machine? In this crazy modern world, most of us are gone all day and much of the night. Trust me, you need some way for people to leave a message for you. I have several CDs sitting here from the past couple weeks and I haven't been able to reach the person because their phone just rings and rings. When you buy the machine, however, I must beseech you not to let the toddler give the message. I hate calling Dave Haversham and getting a message like: (3-year-old voice) "Hewwo, dis da Habersplaby rezdits. No-bee cub to phone nooowwwww. Pwease...uhhhh... (adult voice prompts them)...leaf a mezzidje....uhhh...(adult voice prompts again)...affer da beep...BEEP!...BEEP!...(adult voice says that's enough)...sorry."

Back when I worked at Strawberries we got a call from this one old guy. He goes, "What kind of juice do you use for your smoothies?" My boss responded, "We're not a smoothie place, we're a music store." The guy repeats his demand, apparently not listening to my boss at all. Finally my boss just caved in: "We use apple." The guy screams at someone in the background, "SEE?! I told ya, moron. It's apple!"


Thursday, October 14, 2004

-Hello, music department.

-Yeah, I'm looking for either a tape or a cassette with just harp music?

-Either a tape or a cassette?

-Right, either one will do.

-I...see. Nope, no I'm afraid we don't have either. Just CDs.

-But that's what I asked for! A harp CD!

-Oooohhhh. I must have misunderstood you. *smirking into phone receiver*

-Oh, and do you rent books?

-Do we what?!?

-You know, book rentals. My daughter's doing a school project.

-On book rentals?

-No, on the Civil War.

-Gotcha. Well, sorry but we don't rent books.

-Oh. Thanks anyway. *click*

-But I haven't told you about our harp mu--. Ma'am? Ma'am?


Monday, October 11, 2004

Woo-ha! VanDAMN, that's some spicy food. I went back to Panda IV tonight and grabbed some shrimp fried rice. I asked for some mustard, expecting those bright yellow packets of institutional Chinese restaurant mustard that you get most places. This place tossed me a hand-packed little cup of the hottest condiment I've ever eaten. It's kind of a dark, burnt umber-ish looking paste, really thick like they took wasabi and added a sprinkle of mustard powder for color. As soon as the top layers of skin grow back on my tongue, I really need to congratulate them on some damn fine 'tard.

Ran into Rod downtown the other day. He was on the way to see his fifth show in George Lynch's new tour of New England's finest bar and grills. Lynch was the guitarist for Dokken, and it must be something of a rough change to go from packing stadiums to playing free-ticket shows in front of a dozen drunk reprobates. Not to slight Rod though, he's the real deal fan that guys like George should thank their lucky stars for. When he got there and found out the show was free due to poor attendance, he went ahead and bought a shirt so Lynch would see a little cash for his effort. Coolsville.

This week the shop is having its annual Teacher Appreciation event, a whole week in which teachers get 25% off their book and music purchases. They certainly deserve it but it makes for a busy few days. Oh yeah, and it's my birthday today. Nothing like working until 9pm on your birthday.


Monday, October 04, 2004

It's been a couple months but I finally saw Ed the Regular today. Still sporting the frosted sunglasses and blue windbreaker, and unfortunately still obsessesed with the Bellamy Brothers. "That album must be due pwetty soon I think. They said it was going to countwy wadio but I never heard it. I called up the wocal countwy station and they said it never came out. But it's coming out this fall, the Bewwamy Bwothers said so."

This went on for a good 15 minutes. He kind of talks in circles, bless his heart. I went on about my business, entering data and looking at the monitor while he chatted with himself. He's just one of those people with an overactive sociability gene. He needs to be conversing, even when he's the only one involved. I heard him laugh in surprise a few times, like he just told a joke he hadn't heard. I can only imagine the conversations at home...

Mrs. Ed: What would you like for dinner Eddy?
Ed: Y'know the Bewwamy Bwothers have a song about dinner. That weminds me, I need to go to K-Mart for some socks. Do you wike horsefwies?

At some point I came to and realized he'd started talking about CDs in general:

"Sooner or wayter these CDs are gonna be solete. Then something new will take its pwace. I just bought a doombox. There's no cassette in it 'tall. Just a CD and a wadio. Y'know, it takes a wotta money to make these things. These CDs. Just to go in the studio an' whatnot. I wead up about it in my countwy books."

I did ask why he hasn't been in much lately. Turns out he's been partaking of five mile walks to the next town and back. "I wost 22 pounds!" he informed me. His wife showed up when she was done shopping in other stores. Turns out it's their 29th wedding anniversary today. The woman's clearly some kind of saint. As he trotted after her, he paused long enough to poke his head back in for a second. "I'll be back to check on that Bewwamy Brothers wecord." I'll be here, Ed. I will most definitely be here.


Sunday, October 03, 2004

So I'm sitting here on another Sunday, trying to stay awake and listening to Honeybus. They're a late-1960s group trading in mellow sounds that make The Byrds sound like rockabilly in comparison. In short, not a band that I imagined would ever offend anyone's delicate sensibilities.

Well sure enough, after a few minutes of playing it at low volume, a middle-aged woman poked her head in from the adjacent used book room and said in clipped tones, "Excuse me, but you need to turn that music down. It's really disturbing." I donned my "what the f*@$ are you jabbering about?" face and asked what she was doing. "I'm reading. And it's impossible with that loud rock music." Man, I didn't know whether to bust a gut laughing or toss a stapler at her head. The music was barely audible in the music room, so I'm quite sure it was a mere whisper where she was. You want silence, ma'am? Feel free to take the book out into the book store proper where we have comfy chairs you can rest your pampered heiny on and read all day long.

What is it with people anyway? Half the requests I get are for "relaxing music" or "mellow music" or some other variation on a theme. Are Americans really that keyed up? Do you really want to go through life with an anonymous new-age soundtrack conveying you to the cemetery? Why not put your arms out in front of you and shamble along making zombie moans? My brother actually said it pretty well, too many folks are using music as pacification. I don't expect everyone to have Sabbath playing in their car, but have a little soul, folks. If your life is so hectic you need Zamfir's pan flute playing at all times, what you need to do is not buy brainless muzak. You need to seriously rethink your priorities, take some personal time and sort the shit out.

Okay okay, lecture over. Gotta go help someone find the George Winston section...


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