Aside

Encouraging Piracy Brick By Brick

Treat your customers like dirt, that'll work right?

Update 12th March 2014: All the commented out release dates mentioned below have now mysteriously reappeared. No explanation has been given and the dates don’t seem to have changed so what the hell was the point Warner Brother/Roadshow?

About a month I had a rant about the fact the LEGO Movie wasn’t being released in Australia for two months after it was released in the US and most of the rest of the world. Now a month out from that supposed release date (April 3rd) I went back to check the release dates page only to find the release dates for Australia and New Zealand have vanished.

As in completely vanished. Gone. Vamoosed. Not even listed. Feed into a mulcher. No longer visible. Not rescheduled, just utterly gone. A quick check of the source code for the page finds they have been entirely commented out:

Youink!

A further breeze through shows Australia and New Zealand aren’t the only ones to get this treatment. Release dates for Singapore, Cyprus and Greece have all been purged as well. There is no explanation as to why or even a vague indicator of if this means the movie will be delayed any further. The Australian distributor, Roadshow Films, doesn’t even list the movie on their website. Village Cinemas (part of Roadshow) still lists the release date as being the 3rd of April but who knows how accurate that is.

So yeah this is just a movie. In the grand scheme of things not much to get worked up about. But to my mind the purposeful delay in release (April 3rd lines up with school holidays) and the vanishing release dates from the official page are all part of a systemic disease in the media distributors mind of it being OK to screw over your audience because you can’t adapt to changing markets.

Australia in world wide terms is a tiny, tiny audience. We’ll never be to argue on terms of scale to get things the same day as the larger markets. Having said that informing viewers they may have to wait two months (or more!) to get the same content that everyone else has seen, in some cases many times over, you end up driving them into a mindset of it being OK to “steal” a copy from elsewhere.

This is especially relevant at this time as the Australian Attorney General has made it quite clear that he expects Australian ISPs to implement a “voluntary anti-piracy” system much like that which has been implemented in other countries (with questionable success). There are many powerful lobby groups in Australia working on the behalf of media distributors that cry loudly and persistently about those evil downloading Australians.

Much focus is given to how Australians are the biggest pirates in the world (probably true on a per capita basis) but the lobbyists insist on demanding hard to enforce penalties and further copyright restrictions as being the answer. Questions about  difficulty in legally acquiring media content in a timely or cost efficient manner is barely ever entered into or, like in most cases, ignored entirely.

For the most part if you offer media in a timely and at a reasonable cost people will pay for it. There will always be some that “pirate” the material and the chances of changing their mindsets are minimal in the extreme. These media distributors are effectively encouraging otherwise entirely law abiding customers into pirates by, quite frankly, being dicks. Sorry I’ve tried to think of a better terms but I just can’t.

I know Australia is a tiny market but please LEGO, please Warner Brothers Pictures and Roadshow Films, please don’t keep being dicks to us. We have money. We want to give it to you. But you are making it exceptionally hard by being dicks. The LEGO Movie will undoubtedly rake in the cash when it finally does release here but you would have made just as much, if not more, if you had just released in the same week (or within a few weeks) of the US release date.

The fact I could have essentially watched the entire movie through the various behind the scenes snippets that have been released combined with the fact the movie was actually made in Australia is just further evidence of being dicks. Just remember, every time you’re a dick to Australian audiences you are encouraging piracy brick by brick.

Gallery

Best Photos Of 2013

Happy Bee
This year has been, well a quiet one for me and my camera. I’ve taken thousands of photos but not a hell of a lot I’m happy to share. But still it’s that time of year where the very excellent Jim Goldstein runs his popular “Your Best Photos from 2013” blog project and I still have a few photos I want to show off.

First one above is of a stupidly happy bee completed covered in pollen from the many flowers available to be feasted on in the Melbourne Royal Botanic Garden.

Flash mesmerised spider
Jumping spider being temporarily blinded by a ring flash. This year is the first time I’ve used a ring flash and there’s still a lot for me to learn here.

Large Butterfly
I spent a long time chasing this butterfly around until it finally landed to give me a clear shot.

Spider hiding in a cacti flower
Spider hiding within the petals of a cactus flower.

Moth waiting it out
Small moth hanging out on some purple flowers.

Spider having lunch
And finally a jumping spider enjoying lunch. I was very pleased with this shot as it was a very blustery day and many months before I had the ring flash.

Finally in an effort to bring back some creativity and inject some new ideas into my photography I’ll be doing a 365 project for 2014. It may well drive me insane but at least it should be entertaining. No specific theme, just an excuse to keep myself in the game.

Don’t forget to keep an eye on Jim Goldstein’s blog for when he publishes the list of participating blogs as many excellent photographers send in some utterly amazing work.

Aside

LEGO And The Australia Tax: Redux

I'm here to kickass and chew gum... and I'm all outta gum

About 11 months ago I wrote a small rant on how LEGO gouges Australian’s on pricing of kits from their online store especially on exclusive kits were are not typically sold through retailers, especially in Australia. Well sad to say that while economic situations have shifted the gouging still exists but there are some bright spots.

The Australian Dollar

Sadly since the last article the Australian dollar has slid down against the US dollar and we no longer enjoy our near constant one to one parity rating. This is only reasonable recent however, a fact which becomes important later on. Here’s the AUD vs the USD over the last twelve months:

USD vs AUD for the last 12 months

After a bit of a dip the Australian dollar has flattened out at roughly the 90 cent mark, if we’re unlucky it may drop as low as 85 or even 80c but at present time we are going to assume a 1 Australian dollar equals 90 US cents parity rating for conversion comparisons.

The Shopping Trip

Like last time we were after an exclusive LEGO set, in this case the entirely kickass Lord Of The Rings Tower of Orthanc kit. One of the biggest freestanding kits they’ve had on offer and something we very much want for our collection.

As with last time this exclusive kit is, technically, not available anywhere else other than the online LEGO store. Authorised LEGO retailers in Australia don’t sell it so if you want to purchase it properly you need to go via the online store. This is where gouging is.

First off if you visit the online store from Australia it will, by default, redirect you to Australian pricing and you need to do some poking around in order to get it to divulge the US pricing instead. First lets look at the Australian pricing:

Tower of Orthanc AU pricingSo pricing is as follows:

  • Tower of Orthanc: $279.99 AUD
  • Express Shippping: $100 AUD – to take up to 6 business days

The mini mech set is a thrown in freebie and thus not part of the comparison.

Important note: Unlike last time we looked the standard shipping from the LEGO store for large exclusive kits now appears to be free (previously $45). Standard shipping is up to thirteen business days so if you are patient it is entirely possible to purchase the kit without paying the shipping premium. This is a nice change from LEGO which I guess partially mitigates the kit price difference.

This gives us two possible totals:

  • Kit + Express shipping: $379.99 AUD
  • Kit + Standard shipping: $279.99 AUD

The US Pricing

So now we ask the LEGO store to give us the pricing for the very same kit as if we were an American consumer:

Tower of Orthanc - US pricingTo keep fairness we’ve selected the most expensive US shipping method as well so:

  • Tower of Orthanc: $199.99 USD
  • Express Shipping: $29.95 USD

Like the Australian shipping the standard shipping within the US is also free which is fantastic as it does allow us to now directly compare only the kit pricing rather than forced cost of shipping as well.

So once again this gives us two possible totals:

  • Kit + Express Shipping: $229.94 USD
  • Kit + Standard Shipping: $199.99 USD

[important]Important note: It is unfair to directly compare the express shipping with the US and to Australia as they are very different distances and systems, as such we will only compare the kit pricing. It should also be noted that the US price does not include sales tax (which can vary depending on the US state it is being delivered to, but this is generally only going to be $15-$20 extra). Australian GST does not apply to the kit being delivered to Australia as it is well under the current $1000 value threshold.[/important]

So let us translate those US prices into their equivalent Australian dollar values using the previously decided on value of one Australian dollar equaling 90 US cents:

  • Kit + Express Shipping: $252.94 AUD
  • Kit + Standard Shipping: $219.99 AUD

As mentioned in the notes above the changes to the shipping mean this time around we can just focus on directly comparing the kit price. This gives us:

$279.99 AUD vs $219.99 AUD

A price difference of $60 AUD which in the great scheme of things is not a huge amount but is far more than can be accounted for in US state sales taxes or other differences in cost in selling the kit to an Australian. It seems LEGO is just intent on gouging us still because they can.

Wait – Don’t They Use The Danish Krone?

Last time we asked LEGO for justification about the large pricing difference we got this short and rather sharp reply:

The LEGO Group is a Danish company – not an US company – and we price our products annually based upon the Danish Kroner, not the US dollar.

 The implication being the Danish Krone sets the base price, so lets see how much the same kit via the same store would cost us as a Dane:

Tower of Orthanc - Danish Krone

 

OK so 1699 kr – Which, at exchange rates of time of writing is roughly $304 US dollars or $335 Australian dollars, significantly more expensive than either equivalent from the very same store. But wait it also says the product pricing is done annually against the Krone, maybe the Australian dollar rose significantly against the Krone in the last 12 months? Let’s check:

DKK vs AUDOr… maybe not. If anything the Australian dollar has steadily declined against the Krone, not risen so I’m fairly sure that we can now say the statement provided by the LEGO representative about pricing based on the DKK vs the USD is complete and utter bunk.

The Final Kick In The Teeth

This time around I picked up on something that I missed during the last comparison which I’m rather surprised by. Some may view this as the ultimate first world problem whine (which I guess it is) but it is rather curious. The LEGO VIP points assigned to the purchase vary wildly based on the country the kit is being delivered to as well.

What are LEGO VIP points? Think of them as frequent flyer miles for LEGO. The more VIP points you obtain, the bigger the discount you can get in the future and the more likely you’ll be able to access special sets only available to VIP members with sufficient points.

In theory the number of points should be universal across the board for countries and is only tied to the status of kit or perhaps you would expect the more a kit cost you (equivalently) the more points you would get. Apparently not. From the three screenshots you can see the VIP points per country of order is:

  • USA: 199 VIP points
  • Australia: 186 VIP points
  • Denmark: 169 VIP points

Wow. So it seems that even if you are paying a significantly higher amount of money for the exact same kit you get less VIP points. Really LEGO? Even as you sit there and boast about how proud you are to be a Danish company, you stiff them even more on VIP points than you do Australians? That’s just cold.

Where Can I Buy LEGO in Australia?

In the last 11 months I have seen a lot of search queries hitting the previous articles with questions mostly relating to where they can buy LEGO in Australia or LEGO stores that ship to Australia. I’ll relay my experiences here of where I have purchased kits.

Important note: These are merely places I have dealt with and had good experiences, please make sure you research any purchase before hand. I will not be held responsible for any issues that may arise from purchases made using these locations.

For standard kits I mostly buy from Myer – while they toe the LEGO RRP pricing most of the time, they very often have sales of 20% or more on toys which include LEGO and I find this is a perfect time to buy a small bulk lot of kits. The same applies to many of the other major retailers in Australia but I find that Myer tends to have a better in store range.

For standard kits that are not the current hot sellers (e.g Myer and co normally only stock three or four current lines at any one time) I have a preference for JustBricks.com.au who are not the cheapest but have a good range and provided me with very good service.

For everything from a single specific LEGO part/minifig to whole kits including very rare and sometimes never been unboxed collectors edition there is BrickLink which you can think of as an exclusive for LEGO eBay system. Just like eBay you should fully research and compare prices, check the seller’s reputation etc before purchase but if you want anything LEGO related including custom non LEGO created parts, you’ll find it there.

For exclusive kits the most trustworthy source is still the LEGO store. For all my griping about the cost differentials it’s still the best place to get it from, especially since the standard shipping now appears to be free for the more expensive exclusive sets.

A Word On Drop Shipping

This is another option available to you in purchasing goods from the US to be delivered to Australia and is especially useful if the seller does not ship to Australia at all. Drop shipping or relay shipping is a system where they essentially provide a middleman to ship the goods through.

Essentially you set up an account, they provide you with a US shipping location you can ship to. You then purchase the item, have it delivered to the US location, they repackage it and send it on to you for a nominal fee. This was the method I used to get the Haunted House LEGO set delivered last time but it ended up costing me more than shipping it directly (standard shipping cost $45 at the time) because I misunderstood the fee structure that most drop shippers use.

Important note: It is very important that you understand this concept when doing drop shipping with LEGO as the reshipping prices may end up being a lot higher than the inflated pricing you are trying to avoid

The concept you need to understand when it comes to drop shipping fees is known as volumetric or dimensional weight. This can be somewhat tough to wrap your brain around but it is the standard used in most shipping.

Shipping costs mostly by weight but if an item is below a nominal weight they calculate the charge off the size of the package and what that package would weigh at their assumed weight per volume rate. This is of particular relevance to LEGO and especially exclusive kits which are usually in very large boxes but have relatively little weight to them.

This results in the box being charged at a much higher rate than you might expect. It is always best to mull over the use of drop shipping and retain it for use when you are certain the cost is worth it or it is definitely an item the retailer can’t or won’t ship to Australia.

My drop shipper of choice is BorderLinx who try very hard to make sure end users understand the concept of volumetric weight. As with anything please research before you use a drop shipper and be aware that cost calculations are reasonably accurate but are not set in stone until they go through the reshipping and it is usually worth building in a buffer to your costs estimates.