Staples and Self-Destructing DVDs

1213041221We’re not sure which executive at Staples, the Framingham-based office supplies retailer, signed on to this scheme, but he or she deserves to spend a week sorting paper clips. Starting this Sunday, Staples will begin carrying “No-Return” DVDs in its 1,500 stores nation-wide.

The DVDs — produced by Flexplay Entertainment, which was founded by MIT professor Erik Brynjolfsson — are rigged so that exposure to oxygen sets off a slow chemical reaction rendering them unusable 48 hours after removing it from the vacuum-sealed package.

Now, we’re not in the business of making predictions about the viability of obviously ill-fated schemes, but back in 2003, Flexplay’s time-limited DVDs popped up in grocery stores, 7-Elevens, and Papa John’s outfits, where they demonstrated a remarkable inability to attract any consumers—and that was before the Netflix boom. What is the appeal of driving anywhere to pay $4.99 for a DVD that will self-destruct? Well, Staples says these DVDs are fully recyclable. (At least as recyclable as any other DVD.) And Flexplay notes that the no-return feature “completely eliminates the energy usage and emissions association with a return trip to the video rental store.” So, turning a durable product into a disposable one is a boon to the environment? Couldn’t you just keep the DVD? Or mail it back, a la Netflix? In either case you’d leave a smaller carbon footprint.

Making matters worse, Flexplay’s DVDs are released a month after they hit all other stores. Flexplay is apparently going after the “out of market customer that isn’t that engaged.” Good luck with that marketing strategy.

The only time we could find where the launch of these DVDs made any sense was in Japan when they used them to release Mission Impossible III. Maybe Staples should borrow a line from the movie: “This DVD will self-destruct in 47 hours and 59 minutes, 47 hours and 58 minutes…”