Walmart, at it again

I’ve long hated Walmart for their “force their way into small communities and ruin the local business which cannot compete” tactics. And, later, for their “force the music industry to alter album lyrics/cover art through their clout as the largest vendor of CDs” approach to music. Now, another reason to hate the giant:

Wired News: The Games Wal-Mart Doesn’t Play

Wal-Mart sells 25 percent of the computer and video games purchased annually in the United States, a share worth $1.58 billion in 2001, according to the Interactive Digital Software Association and NPDFunworld, the industry’s data clearinghouse.

With that kind of clout, the discount retailer can exercise considerable influence over the kinds of titles that find their way into consumers’ hands, simply by determining what goes on its shelves.

I remember once someone responding to my criticisms of Wal-Mart that they are doing nothing wrong; that this is free-market economy functioning as it should. Well, that may be true but there are two key assumptions implicit in such a comment: one, that free-market economy is all good, all the time and that monopolies aren’t bad things.

And, ultimately, for free-market economies to work, monopolies must not be allowed. When monopolies exist, the “free” part goes away and all you are left with is what is forced down your throat. There must always be choice and there must always be a way for consumers to have the power to decide what they will and will not buy. To the argument that this situation is the result of those consumers making these very choices I argue that Wal-Mart making the choices for them is not the same thing. If all products were available and no one was buying a certain one, then that product would go away through direct consumer choice. If a retail chain drives all other retail outlets away making it impossible for consumers to make those decisions, something has gone wrong. Wal-Mart has grown so large that it is now capable of driving small businesses out of business wherever it lands leaving itself pretty much the only store in the area. One vendor is a monopoly.

It doesn’t really matter if the people are doing this to themselves by sheepishly following the lowest price around or if the company is forcing itself on them (it’s both, in this case). What does matter is the end result: one vendor, no choices. And, ultimately, a company that has the power to censor games, music, and who knows what else? Are books next?

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