BD player giveaways have US retailers singing the blues

Consumers may be delighted that the price of Blu-ray Disc players has tumbled so quickly, but in the States retailers aren't so happy.

It seems a hi-tech product they all hoped would provide them with a decent business for several years has rapidly become seen as something you get free when you buy a flatscreen TV and, as one commentator put it, "Blu-ray may be the world record holder for screwing up a category the quickest."

The comments came from David Workman, Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of the PRO Buying Group, which co-ordinates merchandising, marketing and other business services for a group of independent US consumer electronics retailers with sales of over $2.0 billion a year.

Speaking at a retail round-table event held recently by US consumer electronics trade magazine TWICE, he said that "Here's a product that is in a very early stage of penetration and could do $2.5 to $3 million this year, $5 million next year, and $10 million the year after. But the manufacturers figure we've got to move flat-panels, so let's give it away free.

"It's not just the fact that you created the free product to move the panel; what it also does, pretty much, is make 'free' your new starting point.

"Blu-ray may be the world record holder for screwing up a category the quickest. I know a lot of that gets funded by the software manufacturers, so maybe you give people some titles instead of bringing the product down to free."

In other words, the Blu-ray Disc player market could go the same way as the flatscreen TV market has here in the UK, where deep discounting in the past has numbed consumers to the real price of new models.

Once people believe that £899 is what you should pay for a 50in plasma screen, it can be hard to convince them that the new model is truly worth 50% more, however much more advanced it may be. Let alone that it's worth paying three or four times as much for the very best TVs on the market.

Cynical? Maybe, but don't take my word for it - ask Pioneer...

Andrew has written about audio and video products for the past 20+ years, and been a consumer journalist for more than 30 years, starting his career on camera magazines. Andrew has contributed to titles including What Hi-Fi?, GramophoneJazzwise and Hi-Fi CriticHi-Fi News & Record Review and Hi-Fi Choice. I’ve also written for a number of non-specialist and overseas magazines.