amazon overstocksThe critically-acclaimed, Oscar-winning movie “Birdman” was only released two months ago. I just bought this movie on Blu-ray for $5. The case was in great condition, had a blank label over the bar code, but had no shrinkwrap seal. The disc appeared in excellent order, with a little bit of minor scratching around the edge that could have happened in shipping. The bundled code for a digital copy had not yet been redeemed, and I was able to add it to my Google Play account with no problems. It loaded up in PowerDVD and played just fine.

That’s a pristine, unused new-release movie, with an MSRP (which, granted, nobody actually pays anymore) of $39.99. Even on Amazon, the sale price is currently $19.99. So, how did I score it for five bucks?

Blame Amazon.

Birdman isn’t the only $5 Blu-ray I’ve scored lately, either. You see, I like Blu-rays. Not so much out of a desire to “own” my movies, but because I have a 5.1 surround setup and you can’t actually stream from most online services in 5.1. So I’ll buy them when I can get them cheaply, and I buy almost no DVDs anymore. But Blu-rays are expensive enough that I had given up hope of building my collection very quickly.

Then I ran across Bulldog Liquidators, a salvaged-goods shop here in Indianapolis. It’s an amazing hodgepodge of all kinds of different things. Board games, electronics, vitamins, motorized scooters, TV sets, cell phone cases, bedding, collectibles, furniture, and so on, much of it rock-bottom priced. And because it gets in new shipments practically every day, you never know what you’re going to find.

But the thing that draws me back to the store again and again are its collection of $5 Blu-rays and $3 DVDs. And not just of movies nobody’s ever heard of, either. Popular titles, including recent titles and all-time classics. In fact, I bought every Blu-ray and DVD in the above photo there. A couple of the sets were more than $5, but most of them weren’t, and I ended up with Blu-rays of movies likeSnowpiercer, Dredd, Tropic Thunder, Pulp Fiction, and Dances with Smurfycats for $5 each. I have to try to space out my visits, or I’ll end up coming away with more movies that I want to have but probably will never actually get around to watching. At that price, it’s very tempting to own them “just in case.”

When I was up there the other day, I chatted with one of the employees who was stocking the movies, and he explained that they came from Amazon. Some of them had been damaged in shipping (such as the Sleepy Hollow disc, fourth from right in the second row, which has a big chunk torn out of the slipcover, or some other discs whose clamshell cases were actually crushed and broken), and others were simply overstocks, as Amazon ordered too many copies of the movie and had to dump some. I suspect that explains the whited-out bar code on my otherwise-pristine copy of Birdman. Sometimes they even got movies in before their actual release date, he told me.

The interesting thing here is that, if that employee is to be believed, Amazon will dump salvaged goods on the market very quickly. Even before they actually start selling them. At first glance, it doesn’t seem to make sense. Leaving the crushed-and-torn-case discs out of the equation for now, DVDs don’t spoil. That Birdman Blu-ray would play just as well in six months, or a year, as it would if it sold right now. So why dump it?

The thing about Amazon is, the company is all about making profits by acting quickly. Time literally is money for Amazon, whether that’s filling orders in an amount of time that strains the warehouse staff, shipping goods to arrive in just a couple of days, or keeping goods moving down their logistics chain. The question isn’t whether that copy of Birdman can make them a few dollars in six months, it’s whether something else using the space it would be taking up would make them that few dollars now.

I strongly suspect that Amazon’s inventory management system has a level of automation that would turn Wall Street stock-trading programs green with envy. It must always be calculating demand and deciding when to cut its losses on merchandise, possibly even before it goes on sale if it didn’t get the number of pre-orders it was expecting. It might lose some money on the discs it’s dumping, but not as much as it would lose by not having something else that customers want more.

And Amazon has gotten very good at this. That was one of the biggest takeaways from the Amazon/Hachette dispute, when Amazon reduced the inventory of Hachette-published books it stocked in its warehouses to put pressure on the publisher during negotiations. Suddenly Hachette book orders could be delayed for weeks, because Hachette was simply nowhere near as good as Amazon at shipping out orders on demand.

Amazon might keep its margins slim, but it earns those slim margins very, very quickly. (Let’s face it, when you can turn a profit from selling used books for a penny each, you’re really good at slim margins.) Keeping too much stock too long gets in the way of those margins, so it has to go. And that overstock ends up in places like Bulldog Liquidators, where you can buy it for five bucks.

Isn’t that crazy? Amazon is so big and so fast that it can apparently make slightly more money by dumping a new-release movie well below market value and replacing its inventory slot with something else. It’s like a whole new way of doing business, only possible with computers and lots of warehouse space. Small wonder that Amazon’s competitors and suppliers alike are scrambling to keep up, and trying everything they can to hobble the giant. Small wonder they aren’t succeeding.

One other thing I couldn’t help but notice about Bulldog: for all the different types of salvaged and overstock merchandise it does carry, one thing it doesn’t carry is books. But then, Amazon doesn’t need to sell overstocked books; thanks to the system of pulping and returns the publishing industry has had grandfathered in since the Depression era, it can destroy or return those to the publisher for full credit, and the publisher, not Amazon, takes care of overstocks from there.

Publishers have historically worried that Amazon is devaluing books and hurting new book sales by listing used books along side new ones. Is Amazon also devaluing movies by dumping two-month-old hits onto the market cheaply enough that a reseller can sell them for $5 each and turn a profit? It’s a good question—though in this era of streaming services, perhaps a better question is how much longer consumers are still going to want to own their movies. Not everyone has the same reasons for wanting Blu-rays as I do, and those streaming services are getting better and better.

One thing is certain: as much inventory as Amazon goes through, there must surely be more salvage liquidators selling it off than just Bulldog. If you’re in the market for some cheap Blu-rays, you might want to look around and see if there are any such liquidators in your area, too.

Originally posted on Entertainment Tell

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TeleRead Editor Chris Meadows has been writing for us--except for a brief interruption--since 2006. Son of two librarians, he has worked on a third-party help line for Best Buy and holds degrees in computer science and communications. He clearly personifies TeleRead's motto: "For geeks who love books--and book-lovers who love gadgets." Chris lives in Indianapolis and is active in the gamer community.


  1. A lot of this is due to the economics of manufacturing discs. Almost all of the costs are in the mastering of the disk and creation of the packaging. Duplication costs are practically nil. It doesn’t cost much to make more disks than you expect to sell in case you have a sleeper hit. If they don’t sell right away, you get rid of them to avoid warehousing costs.

  2. and Ebay are always the best bets for disc based media. On most DVD’s are solidly in the 75 cent range and I’m sure that BluRays are always a bargain. The only problem is that the shipping and fixed fees will cost a buyer about $3 per item. Ebay has been pushing buyers for free shipping, but prices there are a bit higher.

  3. I have bought so many things at that I probably could teach a class on it. The key to is realizing that buying more than one item from the same seller results in lower shipping costs. For DVDs, shipping cost of 1 item from the seller is $2.99. If you buy additional DVD’s, it’s only $1.89.

    For books, the one item vs. multiple items from the same seller is $3.49 vs. 1.89 (paperback) and $3.99 vs. $2.49 (hardback).

    Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to buy multiple books from the same seller than multiple DVDs or CDs. Also, doesn’t make it easy to filter by seller, so you have to do these things manually.

    Basically, two or three times a year, I review my wishlist, make notes of which major sellers carry a particular item, and figure out which of the bigger sellers carry several titles I am looking for.

    Wow, news flash! Looks like removed the page which lists shipping costs. The only way you can determine shipping costs is to look at the selling information for individual items. (My experience has been that Amazon lets sellers have a lower price, but the higher shipping costs make up for that slight advantage. Amazon has no kind of discount for multiple purchases from the same seller.

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