The PSP No-Go: Are Retailers Justified in Refusing to Stock the PSP Go?

October 2, 2009 § Leave a comment

When people start talking of a future without retail games, the topic of how retailers will react never fails to make an appearance. They’ve not been doing so well of late, first losing the revenue from album sales, as well as the continued demise of printed media, whilst everything continues its transition online. Logically the next step is games, and with the PSP Go! Sony, by eliminating the UMD drive and thus the need to buy anything other than the console from a physical store, have taken another large step towards this future.

For this system to work however, a certain amount of co-operation from retail is necessary. They still need to sell the console in the first place after all. In recent weeks various stores such as EB Games Austrailia, as well as the Dutch retailer Nedgame have indicated that they will not be stocking the new handheld.

Their reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, they believe that the price of the console is simply too high, which will mean low sales, and less profit generated. Secondly there’s the problem of them being completely removed from the sale of games, seeing as every piece of software for the console will be bought online, and downloaded directly. But are these good enough reasons for a boycott of the system? Have these stores shot themselves in the foot with this move, or are they simply reacting to market demands which to them make the console seem more of a PSP No-Go?

On first impression the price reason for the boycott doesn’t seem valid. Sony made a point when announcing the Go! at E3 2009 of saying that it was going to be sold with the same recommended retail price the original Playstation Portable had upon its release. Retail stores didn’t have a problem with stocking the original, so why do they have a problem now?

Even if they deem the price to be too high to make the console a runaway success, this is still a Sony product launch. A large marketing push, plenty of advertising, and word of mouth should ensure the handheld will sell a good amount of units, each of which the store will make a profit on. Believing demand for the console will be low could be used as an excuse to simply lower the amount of stock that they order in, rather than ordering none at all. A smaller amount of profit is surely better than none at all.

Perhaps the most interesting issue surrounding their boycott is that of digital distribution. Refusing to sell a product because it won’t lead to the sale of more products would be a ludicrous proposition in any other industry; you don’t see kitchen appliance stores boycotting fridges because they won’t be able to sell the customer food, nor do you see furniture stores not selling wardrobes because they don’t sell clothes. If you’re making a profit on the original item, why is there a need for it to necessarily lead to the sale of others?

If you look more closely at the situation however, there is a large amount of evidence to suggest Nedgame and co. may be justified in their position. Although the price may be the same, this new iteration of the handheld is being released into a market very different from the one it originally faced. The DS has in this time turned in to an unstoppable force, and the state of the world’s economy means that there are far less people around willing to shell out for a premium priced product.

This price point is made into even more of an issue when you consider the fact that there’ll be a pretty similar console in the form of the PSP-3000 being sold just down the aisle for much less, and importantly with an almost identical feature set. The 3000 can still download games, it just lacks the massive internal storage of the Go! which can be easily rivalled by simply upgrading the size of your memory stick.

Maybe this is a bad assumption to make, but I don’t think there are going to be many readers of this blog who’re going to willingly buy themselves this new console, and as a result the purchasing responsibility will fall on the less-informed, those who’ll see a PSP Go!on store shelves and buy one on that recommendation alone. Failing to get the console into their line of sight will undoubtedly hurt Sony a great deal.

It might be that the console, with its lack of new features aside from an aesthetic redesign may yet be the orchestrator of its own demise. Maybe retailers haven’t affected its success at all, maybe they’ve just looked at the console, and decided it’s a no go after all. We’ll just have to wait for sales figures to come out before we’ll know whether they were right or not.

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