Buying cheaply

15th May 2008 – 1.59 pm

Dungeons and Dragons fourth edition rulebooks are to be released soon, and my RPG group is in the process of ordering or thinking about ordering copies. There are a few deals floating around to order the books at a discount before they are released, with the books becoming full price the week of release. Some of the group have ordered the books through Amazon, although I am considering getting them from Orcs Nest. The books are a little cheaper from Amazon and the postage is free, whereas I'll have to pay about five pounds more to get them from Orcs Nest, yet I am more likely to get them there. Having recently bought Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and A Scanner Darkly on DVD for three pounds each it left me wondering why I seek bargains for some goods and not for others.

In the case of the D&D books it isn't a matter of convenience, as ordering from either on-line shop would be just as easy and the books would probably be delivered just as timely from either too. I would like to hand-wave the extra cost away as being 'only a fiver', but even though it certainly isn't a cost that would make me lose sleep five pounds could easily get me a cheap, and good, DVD. So why am I prepared to spend a little extra? I would say it is because of a couple of factors.

First, I know the brick-and-mortar shop that is Orcs Nest, on Earlham St. in London, and visit it on occasion. I still like to be able to buy a physical product from people sometimes, and have a tangible representation of the transaction instead of an e-mail and tingling sensation that some money has just been charged to my credit card. Although it is becoming rarer by the year because of closures, I really appreciate any relationships that I've built up over the years with small, independent retailers and it makes shopping more of a pleasure. It's not just a matter of having my purchases validated by someone, it can reach a point where the assistant or owner of the shop will actually make recommendations or offer advice, or even bend the rules slightly, because of the established relationship. It makes the world a more pleasant place by connecting with people.

Second, because RPGs are often large books full of details and illustrations there is a certain satisfaction in being able to pick up the book and browse through it leisurely. To feel the quality of the pages and get a sense of how the material is presented can help in making a decision on whether to try a system or look for something different. It's possible that on-line shops will be able to get closer to this experience soon, with PDF versions of books available and becoming more popular, and sample chapters offered for browsing, but as we are still some way from electronic books becoming relied on solely the hardback will still be the default reference version. At least, it will for me. Because I value flicking through books and seeing more of them than an on-line shop offers I also value the physical shops that stock them, and I want to support those shops that I value.

With DVDs I don't feel the same way. The physical case of the DVD doesn't offer me any more information than an on-line shop can display, in particular anything that could sway my decision to buy the DVD or not. The title, actors, director, special features, and other information is all made available and is not enhanced from reading it on a physical box. The quality of the item is rarely in dispute either, with decent packaging being a nicety but far from necessary to enjoy the recorded content. On top of that, the only places I see DVDs being sold are major shopping chains, and there never seems to be a niche market that isn't covered and needs to be sought separately, unlike on occasions with CDs where I still value buying from independent music shops when I can. Computer games are much the same as DVDs, with identical quality across different regions and no niche markets to cover, so buying cheaply again becomes important. Well, I suppose Mac games is a niche market, but one that is actually better covered on-line than in meatspace.

When I can get the same range of items with the same quality of transaction on-line at a cheaper cost than in meatspace it makes more sense to buy on-line. It's when I value more than the item itself that encourages me to see that value in the extra cost involved in the purchase. I may well end up spending an extra five pounds on the fourth edition D&D books but when I next head in to Orcs Nest I will appreciate being able to browse through the selection of books on offer, particularly after having seen a few shops that were favourites of mine go out of business in recent years.

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