You Made Me...Promises...Promises!

It's Monday, and if you're in the United States it's the Monday after the Thanksgiving Day weekend, the traditional start to the holiday shopping season that begins with a weird pseudo-holiday we call 'Black Friday', and that follows up with the American Express sponsored Small Business Saturday, so that local businesses can pick up the bread crumbs that are left following the fiasco of cheap television shopping and deeply discounted random things we don't need.

It should be the beginning of a season of joy.

But, despite the beginning of the holiday season, there were dark tidings in our industry, as it seemed we were reminded that rules are only rules when they suit both sides of an equation. Let's start with the long-time issue of two companies and their inability to enforce street dates; Wizards of the Coast and Pokemon USA. These products lines are notoriously available in mass market stores before street date, and that trend continued with Explorers of Ixalan, with photos being posted around the internet in the days before Thanksgiving, like this one from a Wal-Mart.


I've stopped being overly enraged, because I just expect it at this point. If anything is being done to enforce street date regulations by Wizards of the Coast when it comes to the third party vendors that supply places like Wal-Mart it is clearly a woefully inadequate measure. I'm reminded of fines levied against oil companies, and while I doubt the scale of economics is the same, if the 'fine' is 1% of what a company makes selling the product, it's clearly not a deterrent at all. The above photo was supplied from a Wal-Mart before the product had even arrived in my store, so there seems to be a simple solution here. Stop shipping these third-party vendors so early. Product should leave the Wizards warehouses on release day, not one second sooner. Better yet, give WPN locations the same two week head start on Magic that we get on Dungeons and Dragons product. For Pokemon, just follow the above advice...ship it on release day. The current Pokemon policy as stated to me is "If a mass market store in your area breaks street date, you are also allowed to break street date..." What the ever-loving... This is a case where the rules are only the rules for FLGS, and if they are at all applied to mass market competitors they are applied in a way that is not coherent, and we have never seen any consequences.


This week a company I am unaccustomed to seeing break the rules also broke their own street date. I had a Facebook feed with a healthy amount of people showing off Necromunda, purchased direct from Games Workshop and delivered to their homes two days before I'm allowed to sell it... /poignets Games Workshop did a brilliant job of proving the rules don't apply to them, which is disappointing to me. Games Workshop is a company that I frequently hear consumers complain about, but as a retailer I have always enjoyed working with them. Finally, we come to the biggest of rules that matter to me. It's time that we talk about MAP policies. On Wednesday, only an hour or so before I walked out of the store to enjoy Thanksgiving (by 'enjoy' I mean sleeping until 0700 instead of 0630, and decorating the store that day for the holidays) one of my publishing partners announced that they were suspending their MAP policy for the period of time between Black Friday and Cyber Monday... /poignets I became furious. I started texting that publisher to share my disappointment at this decision. I explained that I had made buying decisions based on the promise of price protection, and put his games on several of my demo tables. I had no plans to discount those games, I was planning on teaching people fun games and selling them at retail, because that's what I do. We disagreed on the effect it would have, and so I came home to do research. Here I shall share that research.

 

Wednesday Prices

 

Publisher 1 - Previously MAP Protected, MAP Suspended Game 1 - 20.26% off on Wednesday Game 2 - 20.01% off on Wednesday Game 3 - 20.26% off on Wednesday Game 4 - 20.01% off on Wednesday Game 5 - 12.5% off on Wednesday I mean, technically four of those are breaking the MAP, but it's 20%, so we'll live. This also seemed like a good chance to look at some other publishers, and how MAP affects retail throughout the weekend. These five games are from a variety of places in their catalog. Game 1 has been a disappointment for the publisher, games two and four are evergreen titles or close to it. Games three and five were breakaway hits, bestsellers for me this year. Publisher 2 - MAP Protected Game 1 - 20% off on Wednesday Game 2 - 19.71% off on Wednesday Game 3 - 18.61% off on Wednesday Game 4 - 20.01% off on Wednesday These are all evergreen titles that I keep in stock at all times. Publisher 3 - MAP Protected Game 1 - 30.01% off on Wednesday Game 1 Expansion - 16.67% off on Wednesday Game 1 is in violation of MAP, and it's Amazon undercutting every third party seller by $6.00. Every third party seller is in compliance with the MAP policy of this publisher. This is an evergreen title in my store that received an expansion during this calendar year. Both of these products do well in my store, so they were added to this tracking. Publisher 4 - No MAP Policy Game 1 - 28.42% off on Wednesday Game 2 - 33.27% off on Wednesday Both of these games are new releases with $60.00 retail price points. This is the side effect of no price protection. /poignets Publisher 5 - No MAP Policy Game 1 - 26.11% off on Wednesday A recent release from a publisher I love, this game has done well for me, but is now a one-of on my shelf. I think I rode it pretty hard at release and reached most of its potential market. With this information from Wednesday night I prepared to follow prices for the weekend and get cranky with several publishers. So, what happened?

 

Thanksgiving Prices

 

Thanksgiving came and went without any major changes. Publisher 1 did see Game 5 go from 12.5% off to 20% off, which is within their MAP, and I was honestly shocked to see it at only 12.5% off on Wednesday anyway. Publisher 2 saw Game 3 go from 18.61% off to 20% off. Again, no big deal. Publisher 3 saw no changes, while Publisher 4 saw another 5% get taken off of Game 2. Publisher 5 wrapped us up with no changes in prices on Thanksgiving.

 

Black Friday

 

That has to be a disaster, right? Publisher 1, who is the reason I started this little project, saw only one major change, with Game 1 dropping to 50% off. No surprise, I think that's the title that they had high hopes for, and a lot of places I know went deep on it. This was a good game that got lost in the pile of good games, and if I had been deep on it I would have been discounting the stuffing out of it. Thankfully I was not. Publisher 2's products mostly held the line, except for Game 3, an evergreen title that has been with us forever. Despite MAP protection it became available online at 45% off on Black Friday. My other three test publishers saw no changes on Black Friday. In the case of publishers four and five I began to think there is a well-established floor here, because of the heavy discounts applied normally to product that is not MAP protected.

 

Small Business Saturday

 

The second day of the shopping weekend that kicks off the holidays in the United States. Sometimes I want to complain about consumer culture, but that would just be silly since I sell stuff for a living.

I didn't expect a ton of movement in prices on this day, and my expectations were met. That game that was half off from Publisher 1 on Black Friday had returned to 20% off on Saturday, as the deepest discounters online sold out and the market returned to the strange baseline it lives in. Publisher 2's evergreen product stayed at 45% off, just crushing that silly MAP they keep in place. The products from Publisher 3, still MAP protected, remained at their same prices, one of them violating MAP and the other not. Publisher 4 proved me wrong, we hadn't yet found the floor on their products, as Game 1 bled another 5% in the land of games without a MAP, and Publisher 5 saw no changes.

 

Sunday

 

The final day of the holiday weekend. We saw Game 1 from Publisher 1 dip back below MAP pricing, which of course had been suspended for the weekend. It dropped to 30% off MSRP on this day. Game 4 also bled a little value, but we're talking about a single percentage point, or less than $1.00 in value. I was still able to buy Game 3 from Publisher 2 at 45% off at several places on the internet, and Game 4 held steady at 37.61% off, both of these violating MAP for the second straight day. For the third straight day Publisher 3 saw no changes, with the base game still violating MAP at several places, and the expansion for it holding value at MAP pricing.

Publisher 4's products continued to be available around 35% off everywhere, as they had been even before the holiday. Publisher 5's product dropped $1.00 between Saturday and Sunday, available at 30% off by this time.

 

Wrap

 

The holiday weekend continued what has been a really good year for us. I believe more and more that it's possible to succeed in this business if we just make the right choices, which is why I was so angry about Publisher 1 making the decision they had made. I had put money into several of their products and was terrified we would see the value of some of those tank. It turns out there was some value tanking online, but it didn't occur in the two most recent releases I was concerned about. Several $40 games of theirs did end up at $20 and $22, and I saw $20 games at $15 and $15 games at $13. The $40 game at $22 made me sad, as that is one I sell a decent amount of, but the titles I was most concerned with seemed to hold their value. Please though, don't do this again. I suspect that most of these things held their value because the online deep discounters made their sale decisions months ago, and probably worked with distributors to get things cheap that they could then discount even further. The late announcement of suspended MAP may have saved the values of these games, while if this had been announced a month ago it would have had a different effect. MAP matters, a great deal. I support companies that protect the value of their products. While this suspension of MAP did not, in this case, seriously harm my business from a financial standpoint, it did harm my image of this publisher, and that saddens me. I actually believe that sometimes publishers should suspend MAP, but ONLY for certain products. I believe if this publisher had, a month ago, told us they were closing out certain products, and that had been communicated clearly, we could have worked with them to create some holiday deals where we make a little money and they get warehouse space.

Ultimately, I was less than thrilled at the suspension of the MAP, and now worry that it could happen again with no notice and do more damage than it did this time. This could effect my order numbers in the future from this publisher. At the same time, I was reminded that I need to pull back some of my support for Publisher 4, whose new releases have been a difficult sell, and now I know why, they're available at 10% over my cost everywhere. If you're reading this as a publisher and you don't have a MAP policy, it's past time. If you do have a MAP policy, remember that it needs to exist always, and that it might even be time to strengthen it.

Come back tomorrow for a special Tuesday blog, because I had a completely different topic I wanted to talk about today before this had happened.

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