Baby Einstein's Refund: Not so Smart?
Roughly 15 years ago, before there was such a thing as Baby Einstein, I had a business idea that emerged from a dinner conversation with a linguist. We got to talking about how hard it was for adults learning foreign languages to ever sound like native speakers.
One reason for this is, apparently, is that there are sounds that occur in some languages and not others. If you are raised hearing only English in your first year or two of life, your brain loses some of its ability to discern the sounds that don’t arise in spoken English. I have firsthand experience with this phenomenon. When I tried to learn Mandarin before adopting my first daughter from China, there were about seven Chinese sounds that were subtle mixes of an “S” sound and a “Z” sound. I absolutely couldn’t tell the difference between them, and I certainly couldn’t say them.
I finally told my tutor one day that we were going to have to completely avoid any word with those sounds. That meant ruling out perhaps 20 percent of all the words in the language. She thought I was crazy, but I stuck to my guns and refused to ever learn one of those words.
So my idea was to create an audio tape (this was before CD’s) of songs and nursery rhymes that included all of the sounds from the world’s six or seven most popular languages. An obsessive parent could play this tape over and over, imprinting the sounds into the baby’s brain just in case later in life he or she wanted to learn the language.
We went so far as to try to figure out what collection of nursery rhymes would cover the full range of sounds, and I think we lined up some people with melodious voices. We even pitched the idea to the Home Shopping Network (unsuccessfully). Ultimately, we decided that we couldn’t possibly make enough money to make it worthwhile, and we abandoned it.
Consequently, I’ve watched Baby Einstein’s rise to prominence with a mix of admiration and jealousy. From a marketing perspective, they were geniuses. Sure, there wasn’t much (any?) evidence it made babies smarter. But it gave parents (including me) something to do with their infants, and that is worth something.
Lately, Baby Einstein is in the news again for two reasons. The first is that the new book NurtureShock has put it under attack. The second is that the company is offering refunds of $15.99 to anyone who returns a Baby Einstein DVD, and that has led some groups to claim that this is an admission that the product doesn’t “work.”
The big winners from the Baby Einstein refund: the folks who peddle the used DVD’s on eBay. When I searched “Baby Einstein DVD’s” on eBay, I got back nearly 3,000 matches of products currently for sale. Many of these are new DVD’s, but I presume many are used as well.
My guess is that the market price of a used Baby Einstein DVD a few months ago was not high — maybe $4 or $5. Since the refund deal doesn’t require a receipt or proof of purchase (as far as I can tell), each of those DVD’s is now worth $15.99 minus the cost of packing and sending the DVD in to get a rebate. That’s a boon to sellers, and it’s unlucky for the buyers. Of course, if you buy the used DVD, enjoy it, and then send it back to the company, you can get the best of both worlds.
I’d be curious to know how many DVD’s will actually get returned. I suspect not that many. It is a fair amount of hassle to go through for $15.99. More importantly, there are moral costs involved. I’ve got some Baby Einstein products collecting dust in a closet somewhere, but I would never think about sending them back. I knew what I was buying, and I got what I paid for. It would feel wrong to try to get my money back now.
Plus, if everyone else turns in their DVD’s, mine will become collectors’ items.