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The Hidden Costs of Bargain Electronics

michael posted more than 10 years ago | from the what-goes-around dept.

The Almighty Buck 689

Fill Dirt writes "Mike Langberg of Knight-Ridder newspapers wrote an interesting article on the the hidden costs of bargain priced consumer electronics. I saw it in the Seattle Times business section with the title Can't lose with bargain DVD player, but low cost carries price ."

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FP! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7871708)

w00t, FP!

Pollution? (5, Interesting)

grioghar (228683) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871711)

Seems to me the biggest thing is the pollution generated by these bargain electronics. If it's dirt cheap, then if it dies, you throw it away, you buy more dirt cheap.

Not so good for our environment.

Re:Pollution? (1)

Belzu (735378) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871731)

Yes, the $29 DVD player sold at Walmart, that motivated that fatso stampede, crushing some poor woman, and sending her to the hospital. 9574.stm

not really "our" environment (5, Informative)

Tirel (692085) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871733)

It all goes to China [] , where it's disassembled by teens in makeshift tents looking for a quick way to earn a buck (and perhaps die because of the dangerous toxins in CRT screens.)

Life is just grand, isn't it?

Re:Pollution? (4, Interesting)

cgranade (702534) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871757)

Of course, the same argument can be made for many things. I have the same feeling about American cars... you're likely to have a Ford or GM last 5 years. Now, before everyone floods me about how "my truck has been around for 40 years," let me pre-emptively defend myself: 1) trucks are a little bit different still, 2) there are always exceptions (I have a friend who loves his CyberHome brand DVD player) and 3) well, 20 or 40 years is a long time removed from now.
Getting back OT, it seems like the parent poster is right on, but I would extend this argument to a much larger scope of problems, and one that doesn't just affect China, but all nations.

Re:Pollution? (1, Insightful)

Munkey_123 (737498) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871769)

Globalization of the economy has many downsides, and one small "upside"; prices.
Things get cheaper because of globalization, but how can you buy anything when you don't have a job?

Re:Pollution? (1, Insightful)

shepd (155729) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871840)

>Globalization of the economy has many downsides, and one small "upside"; prices.

Also one large upside: Improvement of life in developing countries by sending much needed money into their countries the old fashioned way rather than the "economic life-support" way.

Re:Pollution? (5, Insightful)

dandelion_wine (625330) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871895)

I know this sounds obnoxious, but I can't say it better than she can. Read Naomi Klein's "No Logo" if you want an inside look at how the export of manufacturing "aids" developing countries. She makes many technical (but important) observations about how the system is set up to take advantage but not benefit these workers and these countries.

I'll make the simpler argument: you don't support change but supporting the status quo. Employers in the west never volunteered minimum wage, child labour laws, working hour restrictions, etc, etc, etc. It had to be fought for, and these people don't have a voice in the marketplaces where their goods are being sold.

Re:Pollution? (1)

Goldberg's Pants (139800) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871850)

I've bought two APEX DVD players.

The first, the AD-1500, I've hacked to remove region codes, RCE, macrovision etc... (I'm not in the US, so you assclowns who post about me violating the DMCA can go shove something sharp and pointy in the orifice of your choice.)

About a year ago it started acting up. It would freeze up. A power cycle was all that would fix it. Would often go days without one, then would go tits up many times in quick succession.

Local store got some APEX 2600's, so I bought one.

Within 48 hours, the disk tray motor died. Took it back, got a replacement. The replacement, so far, is fine, aside from an occasional flicker on the signal going to the TV (but then my PS1 used to do the same, but strangely stopped doing it.)

APEX are rated as less than satisfactory by the Better Business Bureau, and supposedly their customer service is terrible...

Well naturally (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7871716)

Did you think you were getting a bargain? Sheesh.

This speaks for itself. (2, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871717)

All DVD players are now made in China, so there's no "Made in the U.S.A." option.

Re:This speaks for itself. (0)

shione (666388) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871754)

Yea because you know the extra cost in making American goods goes into the design and materials and not the wages.

Re:This speaks for itself. (1)

putaro (235078) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871819)

And what's wrong with the money going into the wages?

Re:This speaks for itself. (1)

shione (666388) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871865)

If you dont mind paying more for your goods without having an improvement in quality, then nothings wrong...

The article is looking at this topic from a consumers view, which is the same way I'm looking at it.

Mod parent troll (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7871826)

The country of origin has little to do with it. Do you honestly believe the quality of goods would improve if they were made in the USA as opposed in China? no. The only thing you are going to see if they're made in the USA is a higher price tag because of the higher min wages.
If you want good qaulity products, look at the brand, reviews, other peoples experiences etc.

The only thing the country of origin tells you is how much of the products manufacturing price went into wages.

Re:This speaks for itself. (1, Insightful)

nsda's_deviant (602648) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871827)

So what's wrong with that?

I work for a company that specilizes in product design/manufacturing so MILLIONS of Americans can buy goods 3 to 4 times cheaper than they could before, because of international trade. That 4 dollar battery operated spinbrush doesn't happen through magic, it happens through manufacturing efficients, pioneering technology, brilliant engineering and low cost manufacturing. There is nothing wrong with something being not manufactured in the United States.

The real problem with what your saying is that it is devoid of any acknowledgement about the benefits of products being made outside of the USA. If China can make a DVD player cheaper and more efficientlly than in the US, then why the fuck should the USA make DVD players? Would American jobs even be possible if Americans can't be competitive with DVD players at the competitive world price because of lower cost Chinese made DVD players? It seems unreasonable that very many people in the US would spend anywhere from 20-200% more for a DVD player soley because its American made. Do you think it would be better for Americans to say no to all foreign DVD players so Americans could enjoy American made DVD players for a much higher price?

If you don't like the fact that there are no major USA branded DVD players then suck it up because I for one enjoy the ability to buy my dad a nice DVD player for under fifty dollars and so do MILLIONS of Americans (Black Friday anyone?). Maybe you'd prefer a world full of USA only goods. Start by throwing your cellphone away, your game consoles, probablly everything your computer runs on (but thankfully Microsoft Windows operating system is still a Redmond, Washington produced fabrication), not to mention clothes-food-power-creditcards-banks all financed by people & institutions from all over the world.

Re:This speaks for itself. (3, Interesting)

dafoomie (521507) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871853)

It's cheaper in China because of the near slave labor conditions, lack of labor, safety, and minimum wage laws, and China's artificial (and illegal) manipulation of its currency. We shouldn't have to compete with that. Unfortunately we do. But I might actually -want- to play a little more for a DVD player made in the USA, or at least a country with better working conditions, to 'vote with my dollars' against this stuff. Theres nothing wrong with it not being made in the USA, but there IS something wrong with how things are in China right now.

the nature of competition (1)

dandelion_wine (625330) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871879)

I think you're absolutely right that we shouldn't have to compete with that, though I'm using the word "shouldn't" a little differently.

I think the real world for most of us in the west involves moral choices versus -- of all things -- convenience, and petty cost (I mean, we're talking about DVDs, here. There should be no competition, because people fortunate enough to be purchasing luxury items should be able to look beyond their own comfort to someone else's suffering and count that into their cost, take one look at this "deal" and say: no way.

Then again, for years GE has made parts for nuclear warheads, and I don't see the anti-war crowd buying less of their stuff. Actually, I shouldn't say that. Some might take it as a positive endorsement.

Re:This speaks for itself. (1)

BoldAC (735721) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871847)

Alas, the capitalistic mess (about which our founding fathers worried) rears its ugly head.

Although it may trigger "in soviet russia" jokes, it's true.

How do we fix this?

We all know not to buy that brand again.
We must become more educated and not buy from the original producer of the product. A large part of this junk is the same crap rebadged and remarketed with different names.

Some people will say that you can fix this just by taking "the Apple" approach--buying the most expensive in hoping you are getting the best. Personally, I am just too poor for this option... and I have to hope that there is a happy in-between.


Re:This speaks for itself. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7871855)

Apple powerbooks are also made in China.

Most of the computer parts are made in China these days. Most notable exceptions are CPUs, memory and GPUs (which are made in Taiwan :)).

Re:This speaks for itself. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7871887)

Yeah, it does speak to something: How stupid/lazy/lame people are.

For crying out loud, a DVD player isn't rocket science. For less than $10,000 *YOU* could be building the "Made in USA" DVD player ($9,500 for the Technical Institute diploma to learn to read databooks, $250 for the tools, $250 for the parts). If you're so unhappy with it not existing, and think there's people willing to pay for it, WHY THE HELL DON'T YOU MAKE IT HAPPEN?

It's pathetic how today people want everything handed to them on a plate. Get off your arse and be the change you want to see in the world. Stop bitching and change things you aren't happy with. Otherwise, phone for a WHAAAAAAAAmbulance and get it over with.

cheap products (2, Interesting)

oateater (593228) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871719)

This must be the same way a store like "Steve and Barry's" can sell all new clothes and the like for under $13(US). I never knew how it all worked, however..

I'm sorry, but this just does not surprise me. (-1, Troll)

James A. C. Joyce (733782) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871721)

Often times, low-cost, batch-produced items are made of low-cost, batch-produced components. Lower cost in electronics often means lower quality (just ask someone knowledgeable about the widely acknowledge low quality of the 555 timer chip, commonly used in cheap products) and as such you're advised to purchase products which are inexpensive but not consumer-priced.

Re:I'm sorry, but this just does not surprise me. (1)

JanneM (7445) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871748)

"Indeed, the famous brand names also make their DVD players in China, often on the same contract assembly lines as the no-names."

Re:I'm sorry, but this just does not surprise me. (1)

KozmoStevnNaut (630146) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871771)

It's quite normal actually.

All of B&O's stuff is Phillips parts inside, I believe.

Ultimately, the only way to make sure you know where your stuff is made is to make it yourself.

Re:I'm sorry, but this just does not surprise me. (1)

shione (666388) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871892)

Or just look on the web and let somebody else do the finding out for you. =)

A lot of the time the look of the player and the remote are the same, buttons are in the same spot etc, . You can tell what rebadged/unbadged model you have just by looking at it.

Fatwallet (5, Informative)

BoldAC (735721) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871729)

I have seen the real hidden costs of bargin equipment!

As many great deals that I have found in fatwallet forums [] , I'll be damned that it seems I get more and more broke everytime I visit there...

Of course, whenever my bookoo of rebate money rolls in, I'll be doing much better.

Damn you fatwallet! :)


Apex... (3, Informative)

Lordfly (590616) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871734)

Apex DVD players are junk... and so are Cyberhome, for that matter.

I sell them at a national department store, and roughly 80% of them sold come back defective... usually the drive door breaks, or it eats a dvd, or the components come loose in the back.

Not worth it. Spend 50 bucks and get a decent one.


Re:Apex... (2, Informative)

BoldAC (735721) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871759)

I was a huge fan of apex DVDs previously. They were inexpensive and had ton of functions.

However, it died. Dead as a doornail.

Opening it up, I found several leaking transistors...

My "n of 1" is that I agree. Cheap Apex DVDs suck.


Re:Apex... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7871774)

So you're one of the remaining 20%? :)

Re:Apex... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7871802)

how do transistors leak? Did you bust out your oscilloscope and find electric leakage, or are you talking about capacitors?

Re:Apex... (1)

BoldAC (735721) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871824)

Capacitors... capacitors...

I am sure.

Dammit Jim, I am a biologist not a electrician.

I stand corrected.


Re:Apex... (1)

shepd (155729) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871877)

Leaking Capacitors [] are actually a very common problem for all hardware, expensive and not-so, made in the past couple of years ("High-End" computer companies such as ASUS and ABIT have even been caught out). Sorry to hear you were bit by the pirate hand that feeds some of these companies.

Re:Apex... (3, Insightful)

ajagci (737734) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871770)

I sell them at a national department store, and roughly 80% of them sold come back defective... I think you are making that up. Even if 100% of them were DOA, you wouldn't get 80% return rates--at those prices, half the people won't even bother driving back to the store. I am using a Cyberhome player (cheapest I could find) and have been happy with it. It seems to use the same drives everybody else is using and it plays everything I put into it just fine.

Re:Apex... (1)

ForestGrump (644805) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871784)

i back you up.
I bought a norcent dvd player for 30 off amazon (they charged me 10 shipping tho)
I use it to play non-region 1 dvds (there is a region menu, i just set it to 0 and it plays everything)


Re:Apex... (2, Funny)

Bloodmoon1 (604793) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871891)

I personally will take back anything I have, no matter the cost of the item, if it breaks within its warrenty through no fault of my own.

That being said, you grossly misunderestimate how cheap people are. Having worked many a shitty electronics retail job, I promise you, people will bring back anything that has broken if they think they have even the slightest chance of getting money/exchange/repair/anything.

Doesn't matter if their DVD player (or anything else, for that matter) ran out of warrenty 3 years ago, their kid spilled a 2 liter of 7 Up in it and their dog somehow managed to take a shit in the open drive bay, they'll bring it back. And then they'll get mad at you personally when you refuse to give them anything. I've seriously nearly got into physical fights with people over my refusal to do anything for them in accordance with whatever store's (Circuit City, Best Buy, etc.) policies. Seriously.

And then you have the true top 1% of humanity who brings back stuff they think is broken but they just didn't turn on the power switch in back or turned down the brightness and contrast all the way, etc.

Re:Apex... (2, Informative)

Skuld-Chan (302449) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871785)

I still use my AD-660A (which I paid about a hundred bucks for - a deal at the time 3 year ago) - rarely it locks up when coming out of standby (I just switch it on and off) other than that it works like a top.

Re:Apex... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7871789)

My ass, when your 50 dollar more DVD player can play unencoded raw burned MPG files, then we can talk

Re:Apex... (1)

Bloodmoon1 (604793) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871822)

Very, very true. I worked at Circut City about 3 years ago, when a decent DVD player cost $200 and only had AV out. We had some Apex's for about $50 or $60. I would sell these to people, then the same people would bring them back within 2 weeks, maybe a month at most. One day I was back in receiving and one of the managers had a palette of Apex's stacked up and shrink wrapped. 7-10 boxs tall, 3 or 4 wide.

Me: We got another shipment of these pieces of crap?

Manager: Nope. These are all going back defective.

Me: Oh.

Manager: You get what you pay for.

Collectively: Yep.

Apex is true, utter garbage.

Re:Apex... (2, Insightful)

WoTG (610710) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871868)

My first question would be, is Apex that bad, or does it look bad because of the volume?

Apex gear sold like hotcakes... didn't they have about 1/3 of the DVD player market for a while? A palette of returned Apex's doesn't sound necesarily bad...

FWIW, most folks I know have various off-brand DVD players. I've heard of few, if any problems.

Re:Apex... (2)

DJStealth (103231) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871837)

It seems to me that the Apex players I've seen are more reliable than the Toshiba, Sony, and JVC players that seem to freeze on a lot of DVD's.

Re:Apex... (1)

rjamestaylor (117847) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871863)

We have an Apex DVD player. Since we do not have broadcast TV, cable or satellite (by choice) we rely on VHS and DVD for our entertainment. We subscribe to Netflix and keep the rotation pretty constant. IOWs, we use the heck out of our DVD player and have for more than 2 years.

In fact, my only complaint is that the Apex is slow to respond on startup.

Other than that, it's great.

Re:Apex... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7871866)

I've actually had great experiences with Apex DVD players (not sure of the model numbers, but they were only around $50). On the other hand, the Sylvania DVD/VHS player in the other room is the worst thing I've ever seen (it technically works, most the time, but it jitters an obscene amount with everything, et cetera; it was a gift, or it would have been returned).

Re:Apex... (4, Insightful)

NotAnotherReboot (262125) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871867)

Oh, come now, 80%?

I have dealt with a number of Apex players, and even have a Cyberhome player. All of them have functioned without problem.

I have no doubt that a number of them will fail, but, I would be surprised if more than 10% of the total sold are returned defective. The idea is that you get it so cheap that if it does break after awhile, you can buy another and be at the same point. Odds are that the first won't break, and I would wager that the odds of both breaking before the time a player that costs twice as much is lower.

Re:Apex... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7871893)

I have an Apex DVD player. I've had it about a year, and I bought it at WAL-MART as a replacement for my $300 JVC DVD player that went belly up.

I don't care if my Apex DVD player goes belly up; I'll just buy another one, and it will STILL be cheaper than buying another "high quality" DVD player. In fact, I could buy a WHOLE BUNCH of Apex DVD players and still come out ahead.

I love my Apex DVD player. I too, noticed that it takes a few extra seconds when you start it up, but other than that (which I can live with) it's tip-top.

Ok, I'm stupid. (1, Flamebait)

SharpFang (651121) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871736)

But can I use such a $20-40 DVD player with a PC? Does it have any kind of such output or can I hack it to make it an IDE device?

Re:Ok, I'm stupid. (1)

torklugnutz (212328) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871778)

No. You can't. Nor would you want to. Consumer DVD players don't support multi-speeds (other than the differences required to read the inside tracks vs. the outside tracks)

You can get an IDE DVD-ROM drive for $40 anyway. Why bother hacking? Oh yeah, because it's fun. It's not gonna save you any money though.

Re:Ok, I'm stupid. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7871886)

You can get an IDE DVD-ROM drive for $40 anyway. Why bother hacking?

Older Apex DVD players had an IDE drive inside which was region-free (RPC1, at a time when almost all computer drives were RPC2).

Re:Ok, I'm stupid. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7871899)

Ok, I'm stupid. But certainly not more than moderators.

there's another evil (1, Funny)

SHEENmaster (581283) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871739)

you can buy american, let the MPAA get their membership fee, and fund terrorism.

Re:there's another evil (1)

cgranade (702534) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871767)

you can buy american, let the MPAA get their membership fee, and fund terrorism.
You know, you pay US taxes on many imports, too. Oh, you meant the MPAA fee funds terrorism...

As my dad always says (1)

SHEENmaster (581283) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871831)

Taxes started the revolutionary war; its your duty as an American to screw the government out of every tax dollar you can.

Terrorism is just superfluous justification for that.

So True (5, Insightful)

rhetoric (735114) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871741)

(from the article) " If we all stopped buying DVD players tomorrow, conditions in China would probably get worse rather than better." And this folks, is where the real issues can be glimpsed.

People won't change. (3, Insightful)

Denyer (717613) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871742)

The only thing which will make a difference is legislation penalising companies which deal with off-shore producers who flout human rights.

Re:People won't change. (1)

rhetoric (735114) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871752)

But that imposes on "free trade." OMG you communist! Seriously this is why people need to oppose things like NAFTA and the WTO.

Re:People won't change. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7871782)

Amen! I'm tired of some little Chinese dude doing my old job for a fraction of the wage and sending crap back over here that I used to take pride in making. Not that I can buy it. I'm unemployed. That's not republicans...look further back for that trade agreement you Bush bashers.

Re:People won't change. (1)

rhetoric (735114) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871814)

republicans, democrats, that part is almost irrelevant. we're getting way off topic here, but the video clips at this site [] particularly the one entitled "The Corporate Globe" may provide quite a bit of insight into the situation as a whole.

Re:People won't change. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7871835)

yeah lets get rid of nafta becouse it keeps generating jobs for mexico...them damn mexicans need to stay poor. Just to insure people don't think I am a racist the above is sarcasim. Nafta has produced more jobs, more prosperity, and more hope then all the unions of the world combined.

One thing I would like to point out...China is not a democracy. If you want to complain about the evils of the world lets talk about Moa and the millions of people whom he starved to death in his battle against capitalism. I don't like what China is doing but think first its not the capitalism that is wrong in china...its the one party rulership that stips its people of rights. People can't demand better working conditions becouse of government control not free trade.

Commodization drives down prices and margins (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7871747)

...and drives jobs to countries with lower labor costs. It has happened with all manufacturing. Now it is happening with software too, and we have ourselves to thank. If we aren't taking advantage of low prices at Walmart, we are taking advantage of free software.

that article (5, Insightful)

dandelion_wine (625330) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871751)

was a strange mix of negative comments -- horrific near-slave working conditions in China, coupled with... no S-video output? Cause if it had the S-video connection, I'd be in there!

Seriously, though, as we insist on human rights (never mind fair wages and conditions)as the basis for the entire world, not just our citizens (and not just out mid/upper classes), prices will go up. That's as it should be. We have arrived at a time of unprecedented purchasing power, and have done so at the cost of people we don't have to see or hear on a daily basis. No labour rallies in the streets or our factories, and no one (including my country, Canada) seems willing to cut ties with a powerful trade nation such as China over a little thing like human rights. As long as they're not crushing people with tanks, of course. That upsets the missus.

Re:that article (2, Insightful)

Zork the Almighty (599344) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871808)

Choice quote : "Maybe, in the end, it's enough to be aware of what's happening behind the scenes as we enjoy this cornucopia of bargains."

[Insert cynical comment here]

Re:that article (1)

dandelion_wine (625330) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871844)

I hope that's the worst thing I hear in 2004.

Somehow I don't think it's going to be.

Re:that article (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7871848)

That's as it should be.

No, it's not. Fuck you.

Wages (2, Interesting)

rjamestaylor (117847) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871885)

Complaints of low wages usually come from higher-paid workers in modern countries. In Cambodia, for example, those well-publicized Nike sweat house jobs are highly sought after by Cambodians looking for work. But US workers wouldn't want to work there, no doubt. I know I wouldn't. How can you compete against cheap labor? Quality. What if quality difference is minor? Legislation!

Re:that article (1)

Zachary Kessin (1372) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871897)

OK i will say that the idea that I'm buying something made in a sweat shop in china by someone poor shlub making $.03/hour bothers me. But I'm more worried about it in clothing than DVD players. I buy clothing more often than DVD players.

I just don't know what to do about it. Maybe I'll pull out the sewing machine and do more of my own sewing.

buying more expensive items won't help (5, Insightful)

ajagci (737734) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871755)

Yes, working conditions in China probably can be poor, even hazardous. But if the fashion industry is any indication, many of the more expensive items are made under similarly bad conditions. With electronics, often, the high price and low price items are just minor variations on the same design anyway.

And what is the alternative? Do you think the Chinese that work in those shops are going to be any happier if you don't buy their products and they are out of a job? If they had an alternative, they'd probably take it.

Europe and the US went through periods of horrendous exploitation and abysmal working conditions before workers demanded, and got, improvements. China will probably follow the same path if given a chance.

Re:buying more expensive items won't help (0)

Tritoph (694474) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871794)

"Europe and the US went through periods of horrendous exploitation and abysmal working conditions before workers demanded, and got, improvements. China will probably follow the same path if given a chance."

Except those countries weren't communist.

Re:buying more expensive items won't help (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7871846)

Neither is China. And Europe and the US in the 18th and 19th century weren't really that different from China: small ruling classes, great concentration of wealth and power, and laissez-faire capitalism--as long as you didn't step on the wrong toes.

Re:buying more expensive items won't help (5, Interesting)

James in Iowa (540361) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871828)

Europe and the US went through periods of horrendous exploitation and abysmal working conditions before workers demanded, and got, improvements. China will probably follow the same path if given a chance.

Amen! Although I would say that the reason developed countries' workers received improvements is due to increased productivity; i.e. the workers were more valuable then the pitence that they were paid.

Same thing should happen in China and other third world countries if the US, Canada and Europe give them a chance. The Chinese workers will gain some skills on the assembly line and then they'll protest for and get higher pay or better working conditions.

Now before I get flamed for being naive or what not, I must point out that this is happening in the Chinese toy industry. Workers their have to master the skills to put together the current "hot" toy whether it is a Furby or an XBox. They've gained some skills in doing this and now they have better working conditions. The Economist had an article about this a couple of years ago.

Re:buying more expensive items won't help (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7871843)

> ..if given a chance.

Now there's the rub.

Re:buying more expensive items won't help (1)

bm_luethke (253362) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871894)

The difference being that those govts had a much easier mechanism in place for the average person to have a say in thier govt. Chinese people have little say.

I also agree with much of what you say. I find myself in a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation and that sucks.

I guess I figure that thier govt is probably more willing to change if they are faced with the "rich" countries not purchasing thier good than business as usual.

Basically, are you willing to screw people in the short term to have great long term advancement. That's a hard thing to stomach, especially if it isn't you (or me) who is going to starve and I do not see a clear moral path.

Maybe it's because I'm evil (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7871760)

Maybe it's because I'm evil but I cannot be the only person who values stuff more when a child being paid 2 cents an hour is building my stuff.

They are poor, I am not, screw them.

Too bad we can't keep slaves either.

Re:Maybe it's because I'm evil (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7871803)

It's the children's blood in the electronics that seals the deal for me, personally.

Sometimes you get what you pay for (5, Interesting)

Richard M. Nixon (697603) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871762)

Sometimes you get what you pay for, but you have to pay attention.

One thing the article doesn't seem to mention is that it is usually the no-name less expensive DVD players that allow you to play other region DVDs.

Is there a middle ground where you can get a cheaper DVD player that plays foreign DVDs, doesn't allow blocking of skipping commercials that some DVDs force you to watch, and is made with "fair-trade" labor practices?

Being able to play PAL formats as well as divx cdrs would be nice too.

Oh, and if you buy a cheap DVD player, or whatever, and it doesn't work then take it back.

Law of the Cheapest (4, Insightful)

PRES_00 (657776) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871768)

Those "hidden" costs (strange, it says made in china on it) exist on most of the electronic appliances we buy. Why should we start worrying now? Even if it had that "made in USA" sticker on it, u might still miss the little disclaimer that says "with parts from -insert poor countrie's name here-. So, even that's not certain.

I'm glad that digital stuff can reproduce media without any loss in quality due to hardware (compared to magnetic mediums).

I would go even as far as encouraging China's non proprietary video format which can be played on royalty-free hardware thus lowering the price even more.

Besides, all the big brand names in digital devices are Japanese. Isn't this outsourcing too?

Re:Law of the Cheapest (1)

wkitchen (581276) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871851)

Besides, all the big brand names in digital devices are Japanese. Isn't this outsourcing too?
Yes, but Japan has good wages and working conditions. Of course, some Japanese branded items now come from China also.

But wait! (1, Flamebait)

Infonaut (96956) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871777)

That would mean that... *shudder*... there may actually be a difference in hardware quality between a $600 "cut as many corners as possible" computer and a $1,000 computer. By extension, this would lead to the notion that in some cases, the cheapest possible computer hardware is not actually the most cost-effective.

I know we're talking about electronics here, which are a world apart from personal computers, but I just couldn't help but let my imagination run with this one.

Some crazy people might be tempted to bring this wild line of reasoning into discussions about the differences between Wintel and Apple hardware. Gosh, I hope that never happens.

Re:But wait!..a captain obvious update. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7871804)


Re:But wait! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7871816)

Much apple hardware IS made in China.

No, Don't wait. (2, Interesting)

waferhead (557795) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871896)

You are right, you get what you pay for---Unless you buy a Dell/Gateway or something.

If you make an educated purchase list based upon several of the great HW sites out there, wou can have a killer machine for $600, using all name-brand, respectable hardware that will last for years.

Modern hardware (usually) just works.

Or you can get that $1000>$3500 Dell/Gateway, which will be full of the lowest common denominator, bottom of the barrel hardware, even if you get the topline machine.

You will not find a std retail MB in these machines, no Abit, Asus--- You will get a "custom" MB made for Dell in one of those sweatshops, and pay 2-3x more for low performing junk most likely.

If you are lucky, you'll be able to swap it out and at least reuse the $20 case, and maybe the power supply.

More $$ != more quality, just sometimes.

Consumer electronics is a LITTLE better, but only to a point.

Umm, no. (0)

imstanny (722685) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871786)

"But there are hidden costs. Horrific working conditions on assembly lines in China, heightened trade tensions with Asian nations and Wal-Mart store clerks paid so little they qualify for food stamps, are partially related to relentless pressure to sell popular products at eye-popping low prices" Ahh.. so basically if a person at Walmart is WILLING to work for less money than another, he really has no right to do so b/c the author is not comfortable with that person's wage. This isn't slavery/forced labor, it's capitalism.

You know.. (5, Interesting)

boomgopher (627124) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871787)

Shit is so cheap these days, I actually feel bad when I shop now. I'd rather pay a lot more for niceties like DVD players knowing that they weren't built by slave labor. Workers in China are treated like shit, but what the hell do you do? Every damn thing you see is made there these days...

Below is a response I recieved from the CEO of an american toy company I contacted after I read about the conditions of a factory used by them in China. It reeks of bullshit, but what can you say in response?:

Dear Mr. XXXXX:

We were very concerned to read your e-mail regarding some misinformation you
may have received regarding our manufacturing practices.

We are a global provider of game and toy brands for children, and the
conditions under which our products are manufactured are a matter of serious
and long-term concern to XXXX. We are committed to ensuring that our
products are manufactured under safe, humane and non-exploitative

In fact, as early as 1993, XXXX established its Global Business Ethics
Principles ("Code of Conduct"). Participation in the XXXX program is
mandatory for all of our suppliers and vendors. Among many important areas,
the Code of Conduct governs:

* child labor --no person younger than 15 or younger than the age for
completing compulsory education in the country of manufacture (where such
age is higher than fifteen) may be employed to produce XXXX products -- In
China the minimum school age is 16;

* working hours and compensation --employers must comply with all
applicable wage and hour laws or, if prevailing industry wage standards are
higher, then employers must comply with or exceed these standards --In
China, minimum wages are set by province or by city, which may cause some
confusion, when reported by those unfamiliar with the process.

* forced, prison, or indentured labor --any person employed to produce
XXXX products must be voluntarily employed, except that rehabilitative
programs which provide for employment may be assessed by XXXX on a case by
case basis;

* health and safety --employers must operate facilities in a healthy
and safe manner, including, but not limited to, providing fire prevention,
first aid, and hazardous waste disposal;

* abuse and discrimination --employers must treat employees with
dignity and respect and shall not subject employees to abuse, cruel or
unusual disciplinary practice, or discrimination;

* freedom of association --employees have the right to choose (or not)
to affiliate with legally sanctioned organizations without unlawful
interference; and

* monitoring by XXXX --XXXX has the right to conduct periodic
on-site visits of working and living conditions, audit the production
records and practices of the employers, and require employers to promptly
address compliance issues or face termination by XXXX. Following initial
audits to approve use of a factory, XXXX conducts unannounced follow-up

As indicated above, XXXX's Code of Conduct clearly sets forth the
standards under which vendors may manufacture XXXX products, with auditing
and monitoring rights for XXXX. All factories located in the Far East
manufacturing XXXX products are audited by XXXX and by independent firms
hired by XXXX

Over the years, XXXX has successfully worked with its manufacturers to
correct any unacceptable practices discovered during the course of our
audits. New factories must correct any audit findings before they are given
any XXXX orders, and existing vendors must correct any findings within a
specified time frame depending upon the severity of the issue. Although
serious violations or failures to make corrections are rarely experienced,
XXXX has in fact terminated vendors for failure to comply.

XXXX has also been a leader in the worldwide toy industry as a member of
the Toy Industry Association, Inc. ("TIA") and sits on committees and forums
to strengthen workplace standards and compliance. For example, XXXX was
at the forefront of developing industry-wide standards for fire prevention
and emergency preparedness through the International Council of Toy
Industries ("ICTI"). Also, XXXX was a principal drafter of the factory
audit checklists for the ICTI Code of Business Practices. More recently,
XXXX has again taken a leadership role in the current revision of the ICTI
factory checklist and guidance manual.

We'd like to bring one more thing to your attention. The organizations that
are sending you this information have chosen not to name the factories where
they allege these questionable activities are taking place. If their
concern for all workers at these factories matches our concern, then it is
their obligation to identify them to any manufacturer who does business with
these factories, so that we can insist they make the necessary changes. We
urge you to contact these organizations and have them identify the alleged
factories so we can investigate and determine whether they are factories
that we do business with and, if so, whether there are any issues that
require attention.

In closing let me say that XXXX is a leader in the area of global working
conditions and is proud of its efforts both on behalf of the Company and the
toy industry in general. Given XXXX's strong commitment to the Global
Business Ethics Principles, its extensive independent monitoring program,
and its industry activism, I hope you will agree that we, like you, do
indeed care about how our products are manufactured.



The alternative... (2, Insightful)

TheSync (5291) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871790) to work in a rice paddy, and make under $1 per day.

The workers have it better as slaves! (1)

BerntB (584621) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871793)

The slave workers have it better in the factories than their previous alternatives (farming, unemployment).

Later, there will be a lack of workers for the traditional job market and hence a push upwards in salary.

At least, that is Krugman's position (well known economist on the left side of US' politics). Google for Krugman and swetshops if you want to see discussion on the subject.

Cheap But Won't Be Durable (2, Insightful)

Qweezle (681365) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871795)

There's something to be said for buying a name-brand DVD player at a respectably high price...I mean a good model over or around $100.

While you could buy one of these cheaper DVD players, considering that it has fewer features anyway than the higher-end, and more expensive models, when it won't last long, why would you?

It reminds me of the Mac vs. PC cost debate, because Macs need less overall maintenance and therefore end up being the same cost or cheaper than competing PCs.....

So I say, go for a higher-end model from a name brand manufacturer like Sony, Philips, etc. and have something that you can enjoy for years(with much better support from the company and industry), instead of something that will work for a while and eventually break down after 6-12 months because of bad parts....that's not a nice thing to have happen.

Re:Expensive won't be useful (1)

sane? (179855) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871839)

But, DVD players are not following that model.

With DVD players the cheaper the player, the more likely to play DVD-R, DVD+RW, MP3s, MPGs - all region free.

Plus, if it breaks outside warranty, you replace it with another cheap player, probably Blu-Ray - all for less than the cost of one 'brand name' player.

And don't get me started on Sony's quality.

Face it, the use of the word brand should give you a clue - most of the money you are paying is going to finance expensive adverts and marketing agencies - not engineering.

Re:Cheap But Won't Be Durable (1)

DaCool42 (525559) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871859)

Yeah, those PC oil changes are a real pain.

Dunno bout the "no more mom and pop stores" thing (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7871797)

Maybe the average joe is fine getting their electronics at WalMart or Kmart or S-Mart or whatever... but some folks (like me) still want to go somewhere there are authorities.

I mean, walk into a Future Shop and ask the minimum wage sales clerk what the difference between two $100 DVD players are and he'll spend 5 minutes studying the boxes, shrug and say "Uh. This one's better." "why?" "uh... it costs more?" or at best just read the features off the box.

I'd rather go into a "mom and pop" or specialty store. Here in Toronto, we have places like Bay-Bloor radio (or in Hamilton, East Hamilton Radio). A little more expensive perhaps, but they really know their stuff - these guys read the manuals on their lunch breaks. And they'll ask you what brand and model your TV is and if you give them a figure, explain what model is the best bang for your buck... or if you'd be willing to spend the extra $50 you could get [brand X] and why its good. Oh, you only have [brand Q] stereo? Well perhaps not this, but this other model since your stereo can't make use of [feature F]

These days things move so fast... (1)

myowntrueself (607117) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871798)

These days things move so fast that by the time you discover that you've bought a cheap piece of crap and noticed that its already getting flakey, the next generation of hardware is on the shelves and its time to buy a whole nuther one anyway.

And if I were working in tech retail, that would be the moment that I would loudly go "*Ka-Ching!*" and make a downward yanking motion with my right fist.

"Sorry, I can't see you over there, I have huge great dollar signs in my eyes".


Re:These days things move so fast... (1)

WildBeast (189336) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871836)

or you can just wait and wait and wait til the next price dropt :)

What is the point of this article? (2, Interesting)

today (27810) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871800)

What a lightweight piece. It tells us to beware of these hidden costs, with no facts to back that warning up. Then concludes by saying if we did pay attention to these hidden costs, conditions in China would get worse. Huh?

If they could afford to pay the workers more, they'd probably move production up the chain to Singapore or Korea or Mexico or Canada or the US or Japan, depending on just how high those wages would be. China is probably not going to get those jobs unless the labor is as cheap as absolutely possible.

Also not mentioned is that poor people (not dirt poor) around the world are able to afford TVs and DVD players because of cheap labor. Paying $250 for a DVD player doesn't affect me and my middle class paycheck very much. It would have a huge impact on the working poor in richer countries and the middle class in other countries.

BTW, I was sure that the US Customs Service would certainly block any inbound shipments that hadn't paid their ransom to the DVD Forum. How do these "untaxed" units sneak through?

no svideo average person doesnt give a damn. (2, Interesting)

cyrax777 (633996) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871809)

The average consumer doesnt care they just want unit that plays dvds. and as far as the cheapies breaking in a couple years at there price pick it up throw it away and get another one. I love my Apex works great plays all region dvds and best of all if it breaks im I can get another one for sub 50 bucks.

basic economics lesson (1)

b17bmbr (608864) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871817)

technology will drive down labor costs. this goes back to david ricardo. if you buy the labor theory of value (ricardo and marx agreed here), fine. but that only works in labor intensive, agricultural economies. look at it this way: one, the number of people who can enjoy movies is significantly higher. two, the lower cost frees up capital for other areas. while they make low cost, low margin goods, we manufacture semiconductor chips and other high cost goods. three, with a greater distribution market for movies, there is more demand for those in the movie making business. this creates new job sectors and destroys old ones. market forces. nice? not really. smith, hume, and even ricardo argued trade was only to be bewtween equals. they would argue for free trade, but never in a situation where the standards of living were so remarkably dfferent, such as us and china. (on this i can kind of agree)

No, it's a wonderful job opportunity for them! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7871829)

Those third-world workers are making far more than most other people in their countries. And they love the opportunity! Otherwise they'd probably have to resort to living in the sewer and eating rats. But a stupid hippie Starbuck-infused leftie Seattle guilt-ridden columnist never mentions those points counter to their anti-corporation agenda.

Blah. (1)

Trejkaz (615352) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871834)

So what if they're cheap? If you want to bitch about what amounts to people choosing the cheaper product because it's cheaper, bitch about capitalism.

Of course there's a small amount of irony that it's being 'caused' by China.

Most low-cost DVD players are unlicenced. (5, Informative)

shakey_deal (602291) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871841)

Philips, which along with Sony and Pioneer has hundreds of patents covering all aspects of the DVD system, is administrating the granting of licences and the collection of royalties, which are then shared equally between the three manufacturers.

The Dutch electronics giant has set up a dedicated website -- -- which features a list of licensed manufacturers from its licensee database. Philips maintains the website is kept up-to-date with the latest licensing information.

A leading importer of DVD players, who asked not to be named, told ERT Weekly: "This is big news. We have found most low-cost DVD players do not hold the necessary licences.

A Philips spokesman said: "There are a number of manufacturers that don't have the necessary licences.

IIRC but cost of a licence is around $25.

Hidden costs of slashdot (4, Funny)

venicebeach (702856) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871845)

But there are hidden costs. Horrific working conditions on assembly lines in China...

And what makes slashdot so cheap are those barrels of trained elephants that make the homepages....

Good, fast, cheap. (1, Funny)

wheresdrew (735202) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871864)

Choose any two.

Intercept a Fry's clerk and insist on the item (4, Interesting)

robogun (466062) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871878)

From the article: First stop was the Fry's Electronics in Sunnyvale, Calif., shortly before 11 a.m., where I discovered early-bird shoppers already had snapped up the Mintek models at $26.99.

Fry's stocks the loss leaders throughout the day. It pays to ask a clerk if there are more in the back (using the tone of voice that you KNOW there are more). Last week they had 250gb WD drives on sale for $149 after rebate ($219 OTD). Of course the shelf was empty when I got there. I asked the clerk and hung out 20 minutes, until he brought out four more from the back (spying the screen, I saw they had 140 units on hand).

After burn-in (do NOT cut out the UPC for rebate until after burn in) I realized I had no way to back up a drive this size. So two days later I went back and got another, using the above process.

And this is newsworthy? (4, Insightful)

Grimster (127581) | more than 10 years ago | (#7871888)

So the guy gives a small sum up of how capitalism works and then some vague unsubstantiated arguments that "oh well it'd just get worse" if we didn't buy cheap shit and then that's that.

I don't buy a $30 dvd player, or $119 25 inch tv or a $299 computer expecting quality, I buy it because it's cheap. My 3 year old has a $39 AMW DVD player in his room, it plays dvd's on the 8 year old 27 inch tv I put in there (well 8 years ago I bought it used from a pawn shop, no clue how old it really is) and well, that's about it, if he slides a piece of cheese in there I'm not gonna get pissed about it and he doesn't need optical outputs or S Video or composite or progressive scan or none of that jazz, he wants to see Nemo in bright orange and Spongbob in yellow and he's happy as a clam. Down in the living room it's a Panasonic progressive scan with all the trimmings on a 57" Hitachi wide screem, neither of which are the cheapest (or most expensive) in their class.

My wife's car is a nice mini van with high safety ratings leather seats, blah blah blah. She does a lot of running around and my kid is in there a lot as well, safety is a huge issue and I want them safe in a newish car that isn't likely to break down. My car is a 1997 Geo Tracker beer can on wheels, I put about 3K miles on it per year, I don't NEED a good car, I need a pos I can run to Staples in when I need some blank DVD's. If it breaks down I park it on the side of the road and call my wife on my cell to come get me.

Do I or you need to be told that "cheap stuff tends to be cheap" and furthermore do I need to be told that "working conditions in China aren't good" and that "WalMart doesn't pay employees much"? Sheesh man use a little common sense, this is why #1 I only buy the cheap shit when I have a reason for buying it (as in letting a 3 year old watch DVD's in his room) #2 I am glad I don't live in China, and #3 I'm glad I don't work at WalMart.

Still the part about the name brands and the off brands going down the same assembly line surprised me, oh wait, no it didn't, how many rebadged Lite-On CD's and BTC's marked as Creative or other "big name" brand does one need to see to realize it's often the same cheap shit under the hood?
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