Dec 22 2010

The Six Biggest Media Pricing Scams You Fall For Every Day

Published by at 12:00 pm under Lists,Movies,Television,Video Games

In this day and age of new media, stubborn institutions refuse to adapt to the changing landscape,continuing to overcharge for goods or services that aren’t worth the asking price. But as we’re so accustomed to these scams, we keep shelling out for them anyway, so really it’s almost just as much our fault.

A lot of these things we just accept as standard, when really we’re getting ripped off to a pretty huge degree, and our “leisure” budget is taking a big hit as we spend inefficiently on these items.

Check out my list below, and make steps to change your buying behavior so hopefully these situations can be rectified some time before I die.

1. Cable Subscription Packages

Good lord, I’ve been frustrated by this for years, but it’s not getting any better, and in fact, is most getting worse.

How many channels do you actually watch out of the 200-1000 you have access to? I would say at the absolute most ten. I will never watch a single minute of 99% of the channels I’m paying for, because I don’t have an option not to.

And furthermore, on each of the channels you DO watch, how many shows do you watch ON them? I may want to have FX for Sons of Anarchy, or NBC for its Thursday night lineup, but that’s one or two hour out of a 168 hour week. And that’s just on one channel.

Television needs to move to a microtransaction model. And fast. There is no reason to pay $60-$100 a month for hundreds of thousands of hours of TV you’ll never, ever watch, not to mention an additional $10 for a HD box, and another $15 for a DVR.

Ideally, TV and the internet will merge, and there will be an iTunes-like store where we can buy individual shows for a few dollars. Yes, you can do this now with a enough technical prowess, and I’ve considered cancelling my cable and just pirating or Huluing EVERY show I watch, but I haven’t pulled the trigger yet.

But the problem is, we keep paying for it. My cable and internet bill is $130 a month after Comcast’s BS promotional offers ran out, and I can’t pry myself away from it because I want to be able to watch shows the night they air, or casually watch CNN as I make dinner. But the other 990 channels? I couldn’t care less, and I feel like I’m throwing money away, buying an entire henhouse when all I want is a few eggs.

2. Name Brand Cables

Fun facts for the technologically illiterate out there. Never, ever buy any sort of audio, video or internet cable from an electronics store like Best Buy. When I worked there, you get an employee discount of at cost, plus 5%. That wasn’t much on things like DVDs, but for cables? You could get an $150 “high quality” video or audio cable for under $20. It’s the biggest scam in the electronics business.

Companies like Monster exist solely based on price inflation, pushing the belief on people that there is actually a difference between a $200 video cable, and a $12 one you can find on Amazon. As a million tests have confirmed, the difference between them is negligible to almost everyone.

Consumer protection websites like The Consumerist have devote endless amounts of digital ink to companies like Monster, and the moral of the story is to just find generic brand cables online, and hopefully these scamming companies will learn their lesson and either go out of business or adjust their prices accordingly.

3. Hard Drive Space Lies

I still don’t understand this one to this day. When you buy a new computer with a 1TB hard drive, you would expect to have your computer come with, I don’t know, a 1TB hard drive. Sure, the operating system and installed junkware would take up some space, but what happens when I boot it up?

890GB free of 919GB.

What? OK, so there’s the 30GB of OS and crapware, but WHERE THE HELL DID MY OTHER 81GB GO? It wasn’t even listed as having existed and just that it’s filled. It’s not even THERE.

And this extends to nearly every device that has a hard drive. I bought an 8GB iPhone because I had about 7.5GB of music. But what does it start with? 7GB, making me delete 750MB of music to fit my collection on there.

The worst offender in my eyes are external hard drives. I turn on my Seagate 1.5TB drive for the first time, and what do I find? 1.36 TB free. How do you just LOSE 140GB? There is no OS here, nothing that would explain that much space just vanishing, and I think I’m entitled to a 10% discount as that’s how much of my damn product is missing.

4. Video Game Prices

Video games cost $60. This is the way it’s been. This is the way it will always be.

Sometimes, you will get your money’s worth in a game, as pouring 100 hours into a title will net you a pretty cheap value per hour sum. On others however? How can a four hour campaign on The Force Unleashed 2 compare with 200 hours you can easily sink into Oblivion? How the hell are these two things the same price?

$60 itself is pretty steep for a title, and is far beyond other media like movies, TV and music. But the problem is, the market has shown itself to be willing to pay this much, and so these prices will stay indefinitely.

I thought that perhaps with the move toward digital, prices would be lower as the middleman of Gamestop or Best Buy was being cut out. But no, that just means more money for the studios, and you think they’re just going to give a discount because they’re nice?

Stores like Steam are combating this trend, with huge discounts and sales on a routine basis. This is great for PC, but a console equivalent is needed desperately, though I fear we’ll be paying the same prices for games for a long, long while.

5. DLC

Continuing in the video game arena, DLC is fast becoming a new trend to steal our hard earned dollars when we’ve already plunked down $60 for the game. Now, let me be clear, not all DLC is evil, and there are some packs that are well worth their money.

But I’m pointing a finger at series like Halo and Call of Duty, who release map packs for $10-$15, a quarter of the price of the game itself.

There will usually be 3-5 maps in each pack, and half of those will likely be “reimagined” maps from previous games, ie. copied with new textures. You could buy four map packs for Halo, get 12 new maps and have paid the same amount you paid for the game in the first place.

I’m sure map design isn’t easy, but it sure as hell doesn’t take 25% of the time it took for you to develop the entire game. This is blatant price gouging, and sadly on perpetuated because we the people keep paying anyway.

6. 3D Movie Tickets

I’m noticing a disturbing new trend at the movie theater lately where I’m paying almost double for movie instantly now. Every other movie these days is in 3D, and the problem is, 2D options are become more and more scarce. For example, Tron Legacy was playing in three different ways this weekend: IMAX 3D, regular 3D and 2D. Unfortunately, 2D only had a few select times I couldn’t attend, so I was left choosing between the other two, meaning that my $7.50 student rate ticket was now automatically $14 at the very least, an almost 100% increase.

Even worse, some movies I’ve found don’t even have a 2D option sometimes. I really did not want to pay $14 for Jackass 3D, but I was given no other option when I arrived and saw that 2D wasn’t even available at the theater, nor at any within miles of me.

As more and more movies are 3D, and that format becomes standard, I’m worried that these massively inflated ticket prices are also becoming standard. I think that depth of field 3D is a logical progression for movies (though I still hate the glasses), but an evolution in the technology is NO reason to increase ticket prices 50-100%. They will tell you that the cost of the glasses is what jacks things up, but let me keep my damn glasses and I’ll eliminate that cost for you straightaway. Showing a movie in 3D costs almost nothing extra for the theater, and there just isn’t justification for that huge of an increase in price.

In Conclusion

There is a central thread running through each of these problems, and it’s something I’m guilty of myself. We keep paying these prices despite knowing we’re being overcharged. That’s the only reason the prices exist in the first place, because the market has said that’s where they should be, as it’s what we’re willing to pay, despite often not getting something of equal value in return.

My advice? I’m not sure. It’s hard to fight the establishment, as I don’t know what can even be done about problems like hard drive space. But a 2D ticket, cancel your cable and watch everything online. Rent Force Unleashed 2 instead of buying it. These are concrete steps that can eventually change these industries, but it’s going to be a long, hard fight to get there.





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36 responses so far

  • Camden

    Halo map packs have never been more than 800 msft pts. (10 dollars) and so far they have all been worth it. You must be thinking call of duty map packs, 1200 pts a piece (15 dollars).

  • Hyuri

    On your number 3: it has more to do with the way we think vs the way the computer calculate than getting ripped off.

    For humans:

    1000 bytes = 1 MB
    1000 MB = 1 GB
    1000 GB = 1 TB

    For computer:

    1024 bytes = 1 MB
    1024 MB = 1 GB
    1024 GB = 1 TB

    So if you plug in the calculation, you see where your missing 140GB went :)

    As for DLC, screw Activision and every other company out there that charges for FPS map packs. Remember CS? all the maps are free! And 3D is a crock.

  • BuddyLee

    Hard drive manufacturers report the size of hard drives using the decimal definition of these terms (10^6, 10^9, 10^12 resepctively), whereas operating systems and other software use the binary definition of these terms (2^20, 2^30, 2^40).

    As you can calculate, these values are close, but not exactly the same. 10^6 is 1,000,000, but 2^20 is 1,048,576. Once we get to larger hard drive sizes, the difference really becomes noticeable.

    One gigabyte in binary is 1,073,741,824 bytes (2^30), but in decimal it’s only 1,000,000,000 bytes (10^9), which is a difference of 73,741,824 bytes (~70MB). So, when we’re talking about storage size in gigabytes a hard drive’s capacity as reported by the OS will be about 7% less than what is advertised by the hard drive manufacturer.

  • http://www.unrealitymag.com Paul Tassi

    @Hyuri, BuddyLee

    You know, I thought there was probably a technical explanation for that, but I still maintain that to the lay consumer, it’s false advertising. You think you’ll have X amount of space to store stuff, but you really have X minus 7-10%.

    @Camden

    Yeah, I knew one of them was $15, $10 is still too much though for how easy the content is to produce.

  • Spaceno39

    The harddrive is 1 TB in size. It’s how Microsoft formats the drive. Way too much info

    “Hard disks by contrast have no inherent binary size. Capacity is the product of the number of heads,number of tracks, number of sectors per track, and the size of each sector. Sector sizes are standardized for convenience at 256 or 512 and more recently 4096 bytes, which are powers of two. This can cause some confusion because operating systems may report the formatted capacity of a hard drive using binary prefix units which increment by powers of 1024

    A general rule of thumb to quickly convert the manufacturer’s hard disk capacity to the standard Microsoft Windows formatted capacity is 0.93*capacity of HDD from manufacturer for HDDs less than a terabyte and 0.91*capacity of HDD from manufacturer for HDDs equal to or greater than 1 terabyte.”

  • Steve

    It’s funny, I was thinking of this the other day. I only watch tv from 3pm-2am (depending what time I go to bed). Though to be honest, the best programming is on from 11pm-2am. And I don’t watch tv AT ALL during the weekend. I proposed a theory to my brother that he said was a good idea.

    Why not pay for the hours of the day you will watch tv, as opposed to paying extra for more channels? Look at it this way, even if you stay up late channel surfing like me, you’re still not watching tv from 2am-10am (depending on what time you get up). Then you go to work/job or whatever. So you don’t need to have 24 hour programming that you have to pay for.

    They should make a system where you get charged a certain amount depending on how many hours of the day you want to have cable. Look at it this way. If I want tv from only 3pm-3am, that’s only half the day, and thus my bill should be half the regular price.

  • Aaron movie man

    A 3-D movie requires a new movie screen, a nice new digital projector and a double lens and bulbs. The cost for 3-D conversion is slightly over $100,000 per auditorium. Plus the bulbs are REALLY expensive and only last 1000 hours. I’m hearing chatter that after the cost is paid back for the entire system, the prices will go back towards normal. But since no one goes to the movies anymore its going to take a while.

  • Josh

    Spot on for DLC. I suspect some companies hold off on some content with the intention of selling it later for $5-10. I only get DLC if it is FREE.

    Of course, I am a cheapskate, anyway. I wait for a game to hit the $20-30 range before I buy it. I can wait 6 months for the price drop.

  • Matthew

    DLC is rarely worth it to me, unless it is cheap. dead space had costume and weapon packs, and they are a few bux a piece, maybe a dollar or so.
    Cable is a crock, but i pay it so i can WoW and watch tv at the same time. .. lame, i know, but it keeps me occupied.
    3d movies are never cool. they weren’t cool when it took the red and blue glasses, and it won’t be cool now. it is just an expensive waste.

  • MrZarq

    @Spaceno39: this isn’t Microsoft’s fault. I’m currently working on an Ubuntu 10.04 install and my hard-drive is exactly as big as on Windows.

    The difference is between kilobytes (KB) and kibibytes (KiB). A kilobyte is 10³ bytes, in compliance with SI rules, just as kilogram, kilometre,…A kibibyte is 2¹⁰ bytes.

    When you buy a drive of say 1KB (ridiculously small, but it’s easier to explain), you get a drive that’s 1000 bytes big. Your computer however, despite saying kilobytes, works in kibibytes. 1KB is smaller than 1 KiB, and as a result your computer tells you you’ve got 0.93 KB (but in fact means 0.93 KiB).

    The problem isn’t in false advertising (it isn’t, 1KB is 1000 bytes) but in the fact that your computer uses another system of measurement (binary instead of base 10).

    And one of the main reasons this doesn’t get changed is because people are used to it now. If one company should change, people would be more inclined to buy the other, because “those are bigger”.
    However, the difference between how big the drive is, and how big that is on your computer is sometimes (mostly actually around here; Belgium) in small print on the box.

    Want another price scam? How about Disney’s “only re-release a movie every 15 years”-policy. The Lion King for example is extremely overpriced because it’s been really long since Disney released it. And I dare you to go check the prices for the Tron dvd on Amazon.

  • Mikey

    I used to work at a movie theater, and got my friend a job there who knows the ins and outs, and the price of the ticket is dictated by Hollywood/distributors/production companies, not the movie theater. Its something like the 1st week of the movie, 90% of it goes back to the production company (Universal, Dreamworks, etc), then subsequently goes down 80% in week 2, 70% week 3, and so forth. The movie theater is making almost no money on the movie itself. That’s why the concession prices are so astronomical. Don’t buy concession food. They get a 50lb bag of kernels for about $30 (the price could have gone up) which makes AT LEAST 150 bags of popcorn. So at $7 a bag, that’s a $1000 profit per bag of kernels. It’s the same with the pop syrup.

    I totally agree with DLC. It seems to becoming an industry standard to bring out an unfinished game (at $60 no less) and then release more content later for more money. Games are almost becoming $100 each, without people thinking about it like that. It’s disturbing.

    The video cable thing is hilarious. I bought an HDMI cable on Amazon for $2.50. The same one at Best Buy is $40

  • Skeebo

    1. Buy you video cables from MonoPrice, not Amazon. $12 will get you a 15 ft High speed HDMI cable. The average user doesn’t need more than 4/6.

    2. Video games have not always been $60, that is a new(ish) development. They were $50 before the PS3 and the 360 came out and were less than that back in the 90s.

    3. DLC, I used to be ok with DLC, but with studios releasing the full game with ALL DLC within a year of the original game release for the original price… f’ them. I can wait. DLC used to be cool additions to the game, now it has become content that has been deliberately left out of the original game so that the studio can cash in and release the game before it is really completed.

    4. Ticket prices at the Theater are over priced even before you add the 3D fee. The cost of a movie ticket has doubled in the last 10 years alone. That’s just ridiculous, especially considering you can get almost a better experience in your home these days.

    5. HDD sizes are what they are, a 1 TB drive is going to be the same size as any other 1 TB drive. You buy for a ton of space, not necessarily the exact amount. As for your iPhone example…. you touched what should’ve been another item on your list, iGadets.

  • mcnuggets

    this may not be in the same boat as your complaint about hard drives (not gonna explain it, it already has been; you can also see the same complaints in regards to screen sizes as well), but i complain about jigsaw puzzles. puzzles that clearly advertise 2000 pieces when it has significantly less. considering it can take me hours to just place a single piece, that’s days’ worth of value lied about.

  • MrDudeMan

    I think the worse offender with DLC is actually EA, primarily EA sports. With Skate 2 (and/or 3) they released DLC for the game the day the game came out. Not only that, but they also took out a cheat in the game (which they put in themselves) which allowed you to unlock all of the clothes and boards, then they released what was essentially the cheat as DLC. Not to mention their new tactic of only enabling multiplayer on the new sports games if you bought the game new.

  • bigpartymaker

    Thanks to Gamefly, I only buy 1, maybe 2 games a year now. The cost of DLC bugs me as well. In fact, I’ve only bought DLC for Borderlands. I find it worth it, because I’ve been playing that game for almost a year now, and it still isn’t old for me thanks to the DLC.

  • moddyd

    I mentioned to my brother that if Disney was smart they would have released the Tron movie on Blu-Ray/DVD for Christmas especially with the new one coming out (I have never seen it all the way through).

    He said it was smart of them because its one of the worst movies he had ever seen. Apparently the new one is not any better.

  • Rob J

    1) I live in Ireland and the cable fees are way more flexible than your 130 euros haha. We have 3 main providers and one of them is terrible. The other one is Sky and there packs start as 20 euros a month for the entertainment pack and the local channels. Entertainment pack contains over 100 channels that are the useful ones including the good american ones like FX, Hallmark, Sci-fi, etc. And you can add all the discovery and science channels, music channels, lifestyle channels and extra news channels for 2 euro each a month. thats about 30ish euros for 400-50 channels. Movies channels and sports are both 15 euros each extra. HD is an extra 10 euros a month and a one off 100 euro payment for a HD DVR recorded with 320GB HDD. In the uk they also throw in 20mb broadband for another 30 euros and your home phone for free.

    And I still just download everything because fixed time slots dont suit me but it means you can get good tv, internet and phone for about 50 euros a month here haha.

    3) I think everyone has explained the technical end of the HDD storage system enough for now and while it is false advertising its makes technical sense and I don’t really have a problem with it considering the cheap ass price of 1TB and 2TB drives at the moment.

    4+5) I could write a massive post about the benefits of PC gaming because of this but short points:

    Cost of a good gaming PC: 700-800

    Apart from massive storage, better sound and graphics, access to tv, films, music, bluray, internet browser, emulators for old games and huge mod library’s adding infinite fun to new ones

    DLC is nearly always free or much cheaper than consoles equivalents and games are much brand new games are usually 33-50% cheaper than console versions on release. That would more than cover the cost of investing in a gaming pc for the casual gamer over a year or two.

    I picked up battlefield bad company 2, burnout paradise ultimate edition and left for dead 2 for 26 euros yesterday on PC. Tell me thats not the way to avoid problems 4 and 5.

  • Skeebo

    Rob J, Euro != Dollar. What you described with base package (20), discovery, science, lifestyle (10-15), sports (15), HD (10), and broadband (30) is about to 90 or so Euros or roughly 120 US Dollars. Add on gov’t we feel like fees and it comes out about the equivalent. DVR service is just about thrown in on all packages now.

    So outside of standard 20 mb broadband (Would be nice) and the ability to not have some of the chaff channels if you don’t want them, it is pretty much the same.

    And brand new games and DLC are priced on the PC almost exactly the same as their consoles equivalents over here.

  • Avi

    My way around 3-D is just taking old glasses, buying a ticket to some other movie and walking into the 3-D one. I have done this since 3-D started cause I am both cheap as hell and not willing to just pay extra for those damn glasses every time.

  • Dirtydblfjc

    Your comments about cables is the reason why I will never ever ever shop at a Best Buy. The least knowledgeble ( including yourself, your comments proved it) worst trained home theater sales people in the buisness. I did Home Theater Sales and installations for years for legit companies like Tweeter and The Good Guys ( R.I.P. both those companies). If you know what you are doing and what to look and listen for it makes a tremendous difference. But if you are never taught ( which you obviously were’nt) You will never be able to properly demonstrate the difference in quality. Your ignorance and lack of training is your only saving grace.

  • Brads

    Jigsaws are a complete con. I bought one that said 8-12 years on it a while back. Finished it in 6 months. Fucking rip off.

  • Drester

    ^Haha I’m gonna remember that one

  • Anonymous

    @Josh

    I believe the Bioshock 2 developers actually did that for their first map pack. The jerkoffs actually left the map data (on top of other content included in the DLC) on the disc and used the DLC file more as a method of “activating” the maps, if I remember correctly. Pathetic.

  • Th3st0rmk1ng

    ive always hated 3-d movies, ill just buy a ticket for a regularr movie, and then take a pair of glasses out of the bin where ur supposed to throw them away, clean them, and then throw them BACK OUT after the movie, because honestly im not gonna pay 7 dollars to pretty much rent 3-d glasses for 2 hours. and i totallly agree on the game and dlc prices, activision is making it a lil better because if u buy theyre game new, the first 6-7 dlc they release will be free

  • Matt Chi

    @Dirtydblfjc

    Clearly a troll, because you’re flat wrong.

    HDMI cables are the biggest rip off in the business as said above. I found a 25 ft on amazon for $10 when it costs upwards of $100 at entertainment stores. There is no change in quality of signal in an HDMI cable, it either works or doesn’t.

  • trashcanman

    You are performing a valuable public service here, sir. I’ve been just saying no to map packs, 3D, brief full-price action games, and any cables not sold on Amazon (got a $40 cable and $20 adapter for $1 apiece for my HDMI) as is. Unfortunately, cable tv is here to stay for now. Not much we can do if we want our South Park and Walking Dead without waiting for the DVD’s. But premium channels can eat a dick. I will buy the True Blood DVD’s for $40 rather than watch HBO spread that shit out for months and rape me for one show.

  • sepirothpk

    Wow $60 for a game. I wish it was like that in Aus. Here it’s about $100 for a game, though it’s getting a bit better. Before you could excuse it with exchange rates, but know the Australian Dollar is about equal (and for a little while, more) in value to the American Dollar.

    Also at my theater, you can take your old glasses and it cuts the cost for 3D movies a bit.

  • BuddyLee

    Ultimately it comes down to the fact that we can make or break these companies with our dollar. Too many lemmings would rather satisfy instant gratification than sacrifice for a principle so we (the minority that say screw this crap and decide to not feed the machine) whine and complain but I don’t see it changing anytime soon.

  • Skeebo

    @Th3st0rmk1ng

    Actually, Activision making the first 6-7 DLC free with a new game and releasing within the first couple months of the game being out is even MORE infuriating. What it basically says is that they deliberately rushed the game publishing and either withheld portions of the game or just flat out didn’t finish the game and never planned to before its release.

  • dirtydblfjc

    @ Matt Chi

    I come to this site daily. I love this site so watch who you are calling a troll. You are epically wrong. Grow up.

  • dirtydblfjc

    The fact that you dont agree with what I have to say does not categorize me as a troll. Ive ran numerous tests and there are noticible differences. I never even mentioned HDMI. You may be right on that point but the sound quality you get from up graded audio cables and most styles of upgraded viodeo cables are huge. Try doing a little QUALITY research son, you may be pleasently surprised.

  • http://www.unrealitymag.com Paul Tassi

    @dirtydblfjc

    I never worked in home theater at Best Buy, so no, I wasn’t trained there, however that does not change the fact that there is a MASSIVE markup on cables like that, which is the issue at hand.

    As for the difference in sound quality? I’ll point you here:

    http://consumerist.com/2008/03/do-coat-hangers-sound-as-good-monster-cables.html

    But hey, I’m sure in home theater sales it’s good to sell people $100+ cables, so more power to you.

  • Jac

    60 dollars is too much for a new game?
    Try Australia where it’s ~$120 for new release games.

  • DiscrimateClicker

    I’m sorry, but this list is just… FAIL. You hardly did any homework about why things are the way they are. Granted, there are a few points worth noting, but the majority of your observations are unfounded and biased. Thanks for the FAIL list stumbleupon, another site to thumb down.

  • Thatguy

    I have a very simple solution on the subject of video games being $60: patience. Wait long enough, and ANY game’s price (new, let alone used) will plummet. I’ve rarely spent more than $20-$40 on a game.

  • Jippen

    As a note, for #3 – Apple changed the way it displayed harddrive sizes so that a 1 TB drive shows up as 1 TB. Its just not doing the conversions anymore.

    Now, if only Microsoft would take that leap sometime, then people could stop bitching about that. I’ve been hearing that complaint for about 15 years now.
    :/

    And $60 for a new game? Check out this comparison, including inflation: http://www.1up.com/news/90s-game-price-comparison-charticle

    We’re spending less. And thats just for NEW games, for people who don’t shop around. I got Farcry 3 this week off amazon for $35. New, sealed, everything. If you’re not willing to do any research before buying, marketing companies WILL screw you over every chance they get.

    Cable company screwing you over? Well… its not like there isn’t Netflix, or Hulu, or companies streaming their own shows online. And if those aren’t sufficient, you probably watch sports. And the entire industry is out there to milk money out of you for that. Have fun.

    The 3d movie one, and the overpriced cables are the only sections with any merit to their arguments. The rest are the same whining complaints that I’ve heard since I was 10.

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