Businesses Behind the Times

Some businesses just don’t even seem to be trying.

This came to mind this afternoon when I spent a few minutes in a Borders book store. I like book stores, generally, and book prices in these stores are usually comparable with prices online. Stores like Borders and Barnes and Noble need to compete with online retailers, particularly, that offer similar prices, wider selection, and the convenience of shopping from your own home. I don’t know how they’re going to do that in the long term, but sharp businessmen can figure it out I’m sure (or else the bankruptcy courts will have to).

What perplexed me though wasn’t the book section, but the music and video sections of the store. The average price for music CDs—regular, old-fashioned physical albums on compact disk—was an insane $17! It was like a flashback to 1998, when the grossly overpriced wares of the music industry pushed pushed people to illegal downloads from Napster. Average CD prices dropped to $12 or $13 in the early 2000s, then dropped further to $9 or $10 in the last couple of years. These price drops were long overdue, especially given the relative dearth of good music these days.

Today, a wide variety of new and old albums are available from Best Buy, WalMart, Target,, and elsewhere in the $8-$10 range, with popular new albums rarely priced over $12 or $13. Albums from digital retailers like Apple iTunes or MP3 are rarely over $11 or so, even when brand new. I can’t understand how Borders expects people to pay $17 for something they can download in five minutes on iTunes for $10. Quite unsuprisingly, while there were plenty of customers in the browsing books, the music section was essentially deserted.

The video section was equally bizarre, with DVDs—even bad movies that blew through the theaters in a week—running upwards of $20. Some even approached $30! I can get those same films at Target, often as low as $8 or $10.

You know, if book stores stocked hard-to-find import music and DVDs, or otherwise differentiated their selection, this would at least make a little sense. But no, we’re talking about Britney Spears albums and the new Pink Panther movies—your standard ‘popular’ tripe. I don’t get it. Why even bother selling music and movies if you’re not going to differentiate yourselves or, at least, price the product reasonably?

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.