Sorry, Best Buy Can't Sell You A Non-Scratched DVD

If brick-and-mortar retailers and entertainment companies want their customers to keep showing up and paying for content, it might help if they worked together to make sure that the DVDs on their shelves are playable, and not mysteriously scratched all to hell. Spencer bought two “American Dad” box sets at his local Best Buy, seeking out the least-mangled one on the shelf. He checked the DVDs of one set when he reached his car, found scratched and smudged discs, and headed back into the store to see if he could get a refund. Unfortunately, he could have ripped the DVDs in his car in the intervening ten minutes, and Best Buy wasn’t interested.

Yesterday (06-15-2011) I went to Best Buy #[redacted]. They had a good deal on one of those bundle packs of the first two “American Dad” box sets for $24.99. I picked the set that looked like it wasn’t beat to hell, paid at the register, and went to my car to open up the first season and check for disc scratches. If there are scratches, sometimes they play, sometimes they don’t, so I don’t like to take any chances.

The first disc had a massive circular scratch on it. It went all the way around the disc, and was about a quarter inch wide. Now, I have gotten scratched discs before, and it has never been anything that bad. It’s usually a scratch from the disc spinning on the little spindle in the case, or it has fallen off the spindle and gotten scratched that way. This looked like it got caught in a DVD player or something, I knew it wouldn’t play.

Looking at the other discs, I could see fingerprint smudges and other fine scratches characteristic of sliding a disc across a coffee table. In addition to that, the artwork looked as if it had been slid in and out of the cases several times, there were scratches and edge wear on each sheet. I knew it was probably repackaged and sold as new. I didn’t even bother opening the second season set. So I went back into the store to see what I could do.

I know the return policies for DVDs like the back of my hand, as I have to exchange probably ten or so a year because they are damaged right out of the case. Depending on what store you go to, every once in a while a compromise can be made with the manager to get something aside from a new copy of the same DVD, and seeing as the rest of the sets were beat up as well I wanted either store credit or a refund.

I went back into the store to the customer service area and met with a little girl with glasses who was probably no older than I am (20’s). I showed her the scratched disc and explained that the disc had a massive scratch, they looked like they had been returned and repackaged, and I’d like to just return them for store credit or a refund. I didn’t want another copy, I literally just purchased it, at the least I’d like store credit to purchase something else.

As I expected, she began buffing a spot on the disc with her shirt and explained their policy to me, saying she could only exchange it for another copy. I assured her that I understood their policy, and why it is in place, but I literally just purchased it, and there wasn’t a way that I could rip the three DVDs in the set that was opened, nor the three in the set that was unopened, in that amount of time.

I didn’t even leave the parking lot. I told her that I’d be happy to leave the product with them and accept store credit, essentially allowing them to keep my money, as apposed to going home and calling my credit card company to dispute the charge. She said “You aren’t even getting it, it’s opened, because of copyright stuff, we can’t take it back.” I understood that, I understood she was just doing her job, and she didn’t have the authority to make exceptions for someone with a defective product, but thinking with a logical mind, the policy shouldn’t matter as there was no time for foul play on my part. Either way, it was defective, and I didn’t want another one of the smashed copies.

She called over an older lady, who I’m assuming outranked her, but if I recall correctly they were both just blueshirts. I went over it all again with her, and the younger girl said “I wiped it on my shirt and it rubbed off, I don’t know what his problem is.” That pissed me off. I asked to see the disc again, and showed the still visible scratch to the older lady. She kind of huffed and said “Yeah, that probably happened in your DVD player.” I said “No it didn’t. I literally just left the store, checked the discs, and came back in.” She gave me a dejected “Oh” and repeated the spiel about just getting another copy.

I decided to humor her, she went and got another set, we opened both up, I started examining them, and it was the same situation. These discs were actually dirty with something gritty, there were finger smudges, the cardboard cases were in even worse shape than the previous ones, the clamshell cases were somewhat warped, this was another repackaged set, I’m convinced of it.

She claimed the fingerprints could only be the result of someone at the factory touching them, which I highly doubt since in my ten years or so of buying DVDs I’ve never gotten anything with fingerprints or dirt on them. She looked at me like I was trying to return a big screen TV the day after the Superbowl and said “We can stick it in a DVD player and see if it works.” Figuring that either it would take a half hour for the DVD to start skipping, or that I would have to open up the few remaining (and most likely damaged) copies, I said screw it and decided to take the “new” set. The older lady gave me a cheery “You’re all set!” and I went back out to the car.

Disappointed, I started cleaning and examining the discs again, and wouldn’t you know it, the first disc of the second season had a similar, full circle scratch on it. Unfortunately, I do not have a photo of the first massive full circle scratch, but I have photographed the squashed season 2 box and the similarly scratched disc from that set(you can see the scratch near the outer edge, sorry for the quality).

americandad.jpg

I realize this story has been incredibly wordy, too wordy for something that, according to the timestamps on the sale and exchange receipts took only 13 minutes total, but I find the whole thing absurd. Since I’m one of those folks who still wants a physical product in exchange for my money, I deal with scratched DVDs, CDs, and games frequently, and the experience is infuriatingly similar each time. I would appreciate not being treated like I’m trying to pull a fast one on the staff at Best Buy just because I want to return a defective product, and do not want to accept another defective product in its place.

I could have easily downloaded the entire series for free, in a few hours, from the comfort of my home. But for the most part I actually purchase my favorite shows and movies, because I like to support the ones I think deserve it and I like the boxes, artwork, and special features. I’m the type of guy who would go out and get every season of every Star Trek series in a weekend if it was a good deal, but I do not want to play disc-scratch Russian roulette with dozens of discs.

More and more I’m realizing DVDs are glorified backups. Backups printed on a material that is apparently as delicate as the Dead Sea Scrolls. I can’t believe the up and coming next generation format is also disc based. Are we all really going to play this game with Bluray? I know I’m not.

DVDs seemed more sturdy than VHS tapes back in the day, and ultimately they are. What will be our standard format in the future, though? Currently there are multiple DRM-laden digital video formats. What would be a sturdy and reliable entertainment delivery system for content that people want to own, not rent access to? Or are we kidding ourselves, and buying a DVD or Blu-Ray is itself just a movie rental?