Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Broken Street Date

Our local Borders at Sun Valley Mall broke the street date on the Player's Handbook 2. I called over there and the cheerful sales clerk put aside one of the last two copies for me. She was in a good mood as the book was selling well since they put it out for sale on Friday. The street date is Tuesday, today. A call to Wizards of the Coast merchant relations went to voice mail, so when the books finally arrived yesterday, they went directly to the shelf.

One problem however: about a third of the shipment arrived damaged. Since a third was already accounted for by pre-orders, this left a grand total of 3 books unsold by the end of the day. More won't arrive until tomorrow, so I'm bringing my own book back and offering up the damaged copies with the promise of a swap on Wednesday. If I had been Borders and received damaged copies on Friday, I could have had replacement books by today. It seems one of the truths in this trade is that whenever something big comes along, there's a big box store waiting to steal your thunder.


  1. I'm not a fan of the system as it stands. There's far too much incentive for big-box stores to break street date, and far too little consequence if they do so. Meanwhile, the small guys face the unpleasantness of having the behemoths steal time on them and may well be punished for breaking street date even if the big guys did it first.

    If I were running WotC, I'd make a policy: one broken street date means a one-year boycott of ALL your locations. Drop PHB2 early? Your entire chain may not restock ANYTHING of ours until one year after the street date you were given. Of course, that WOULD rapidly drive the company into the ground, but at least small store owners wouldn't be getting quite so screwed by the big chains!

  2. The simple answer is to allow small stores to obtain their product well enough in advance to counter any potential problems. WOTC used to ship us product by Friday for a Tuesday street date. It's very easy to pop open a box if a competitor starts selling early.

    As it stands now, we get things the day before the release. Not only can't we do anything about broken street dates, but if there's a problem with the product, we're at least 2 days out from getting a replacement. That's not acceptable. We could conceivably miss the release entirely if there's a shipping problem.

  3. Unless the supplier is willing to enforce 'death penalties' of the type Silas describes against the big chain stores for broken street dates, then all stores, regardless of size, should receive their product at the same time.

    The fact is that WotC isn't big enough for the threat to really mean anything to the chain. It would hurt them far more than it would the chain.

    An interesting tangent is that the modern power imbalance between big chains and their suppliers is largely a direct result of the imbalance being in the other direction 50 years ago. You don't have to read too deeply between the lines of Sam Walton's biography to see that a large part of his motivation in building Wal-Mart the way he did was to get revenge over the suppliers that screwed him over in his earlier business ventures.

    What goes around comes around.

  4. Perhaps a better system would be to have a contractual penalty of several dollars per book for broken street dates, and then divide the fine money with the local competitors who didn't break the street date. If the Concord Borders were having to pay a fine to WotC (to be divvied up amongst their local competitors) for this, they might pay more attention to street dates in future.
    Another idea would be to make the store that breaks street date liable to buy any overstock that their local competitors have on hand (i.e. that they didn't sell because they played by the rules, and didn't jump the gun).

    In either case, the publisher needs to come up with a significant penalty that doesn't involve shooting themselves in the foot.

  5. Responding to both: yes, my "death penalty" is more seppuku than headsman. Everyone getting product at the same time (or, my preference, giving priority to smaller businesses with thinner margins) would alleviate the problem.

    Really, though, it's pretty much time street dates came in the form of a binding contract with swingeing penalties for breaking it. This ensures the suppliers will provide sufficient material, AND that the retailers will not break street date, because if they do Corporate will descend on them like a ton of bricks for costing them large amounts of money. I hate to say it, but the movie/music industry has street dates sorted out and I've never heard of a hot movie release breaking street date...

  6. Unfortunately we're back to the case of relative importance of the companies involved. Borders cares about breaking the release date on Letters from Iwo Jima, because it means that Warner Brothers won't even ship them Dark Knight until a week after release. Warner Brothers will end up making up the lost sales through other channels, but Borders won't. Even Wal-Mart pays attention to that.

    Hasbro doesn't have anything that's worth as much to these chains. Wal-Mart might feel it a little if they delayed release of the next wave of Transformers, but probably not enough for them to care. There are plenty of other toys, and only collector's market cares, not the kids that still make up the majority of customers.

  7. And Hasbro needs WalMart (the country's largest toy retailer) far more than WalMart needs Hasbro. Borders has an incentive to break street date on the D&D because they are borderline out of business. They have been up for sale for some time. Barnes & Noble declined to buy them when offered.

  8. This does suck.

    I'm trying to help by helping D&D Gamed day at my FLGS rock out.

  9. A simple policy of "break street date, get your new release orders a week late for the next x months" would go a long way to resolving this.
    The length of the penalty period would need to be extended for repeat offenders.
    And it would have to apply to an entire chain, if it was a chain store.

  10. WOTC never did return my phone call.