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Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture [Audiobook, CD, Unabridged] [Audio CD]

Ellen Ruppel Shell , Lorna Raver
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

July 16 2009
From the shuttered factories of the rust belt to the look-alike strip malls of the sun belt—and almost everywhere in between—America has been transformed by its relentless fixation on low price. This pervasive yet little examined obsession is arguably the most powerful and devastating market force of our time—the engine of globalization, outsourcing, planned obsolescence, and economic instability in an increasingly unsettled world.

Low price is so alluring that we may have forgotten how thoroughly we once distrusted it. Ellen Ruppel Shell traces the birth of the bargain as we know it from the Industrial Revolution to the assembly line and beyond, homing in on a number of colorful characters, such as Gene Verkauf (his name is Yiddish for "to sell"), founder of E. J. Korvette, the discount chain that helped wean customers off traditional notions of value. The rise of the chain store in post-Depression America led to the extolling of convenience over quality, and big-box retailers completed the reeducation of the American consumer by making them prize low price in the way they once prized durability and craftsmanship.

The effects of this insidious perceptual shift are vast: a blighted landscape, escalating debt (both personal and national), stagnating incomes, fraying communities, and a host of other socioeconomic ills. That's a long list of charges, and it runs counter to orthodox economics, which argues that low price powers productivity by stimulating a brisk free market. But Shell marshals evidence from a wide range of fields—history, sociology, marketing, psychology, even economics itself—to upend the conventional wisdom. Cheap also unveils the fascinating and unsettling illogic that underpins our bargain-hunting reflex and explains how our deep-rooted need for bargains colors every aspect of our psyches and social lives. In this myth-shattering, closely reasoned, and exhaustively reported investigation, Shell exposes the astronomically high cost of cheap.

Product Details

Product Description


"Even when you disagree with Ruppel Shell, you'll find yourself learning a great deal and enjoying the experience." ---The Boston Globe

About the Author

Ellen Ruppel Shell is a correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly magazine, the author of The Hungry Gene: The Inside Story of the Obesity Industry, and a professor of journalism at Boston University, where she codirects the graduate program in science journalism.

Lorna Raver, an accomplished stage actress, has also guest-starred in many top television series as well as appearing on the big screen. She has been named a Best Voice of the Year by AudioFile magazine and has been nominated for multiple Audie Awards. Lorna has also received numerous AudioFile Earphones Awards for her narrations.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
By Alan
Format:Audio CD
Interesting book. It's doubtful that my avoiding Walmart will bring them down anytime soon. Wholefoods is the same. Their CEO was doing some pretty slippery stuff on Yahoo groups in reference to his purchase of another company's stock till he got caught. I didn't need a book to tell me that.

If you really want to save money and gas, buy things from eBay.

I found the book a bit disturbing because it brought reality into view. I am guilty as charged, a cheapskate.

Our country is quickly going down the tubes as we ship all of out money off to China for goods and the middle east for gasoline. It's as if everyone knows, but no one is doing anything concrete about it. Nobody wants to be the first to say "no more Chinese junk and no more gas guzzlers and no more mega-junk dealers of food and everything else."
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Amazon.com: 1.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
11 of 18 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I'm sorry. I just don't understand. Is it just me? Sept. 15 2009
By S. Davis - Published on Amazon.com
So after reading a review on Shell's book, I was excited to purchase a copy, possibly used, to promote reuse. I was a bit shocked, however, to find a "Preloaded Digital Audio Player" version of the book. I must admit that, while I haven't read the book (the reason why I was buying it), I feel I have a pretty firm grasp on the topics, concepts, and content contained on the pages I was interested in reading. Thus the reason for my aforementioned shock. I was simply amazed that THIS book, of all books, was available on an undoubtedly plastic electronic device most likely made by underpaid workers in China. On a device that is in no way renewable, costs $65, and will remain on this planet far longer than the recyclable paper pages of a traditional book. The production of such a device could, quite frankly, be an example in Shell's own book. To quote Shell, "A bricklayer or carpenter or teacher, a musician or salesperson, a writer of computer code -- any and all can be craftsmen. Craftsmanship cements a relationship between buyer and seller, worker and employer, and expects something of both. It is about caring about the work and its application. It is what distinguishes the work of humans from the work of machines, and it is everything that IKEA and other discounters are not." Mind you, as I write my review on a "discounter's" website, one can easily include a bookbinder, typesetter, and a worker at a printing press into that quotation. There is no craftsmanship in this product. And while book publishing may already be achieved mostly by machines, there is something to be said for holding a a tangible book in your hands and actually reading it. Maybe I don't understand the application or market for a product like this & maybe someone can explain it's worth to me a little better but, to me, this product stands for everything Shell's book attempts to expose. I guess I should be pleased it created ONE new job position: Narrator.
0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Cheap - Certainly can't be accused of being DEEP Oct. 18 2010
By William - Published on Amazon.com
Format:MP3 CD
I enjoyed much of Ellen Rupert Shell's Cheap book because it was somewhat entertaining. However, her "analysis" of what are obviously profoundly important issues affecting global markets and consumer consumption is superficial to the point of being comedic. Take, for example, the lambasting she gives Whole Foods (obviously on her Evil Empire list) for its horribly overpriced salad bar. She mentions it over and over again, as though her insight into their pricing structures was profound. Did the $7.99 a pound price at Whole Foods so greatly exceed the $6.99 a pound price at, say, Kroger? Or the $5.99 a pound price at some other cheap salad bar purveyor, is that the sin? No... she makes no comparison with other salad bar providers at any price point. Her "analysis" was to look deep into the salad bar choices at Whole Foods, and compare the price per pound charged to the cost of the cheapest ingredients offered: lettuce and (in her thinking) eggs. "Who would pay $7.99 a pound for lettuce?" she bellows.

Forget for the moment that her "analysis" applies to every salad bar ever sold by the pound (don't they ALL offer lettuce as an option?) or even the fact that what kind of lettuce she's referring to can make a huge difference in her supposed discrepancy (field greens cost me six bucks a pound!) She makes no observation of the value of the product you really purchase... the value of the bowl of salad you consume. You've picked all of your favorite items, from a zillion options. What would that same salad cost in ANY other restaurant, if you could even get it? Better yet, what would that same salad cost you to make at home, not to mention having the choice of all those ingredients? That is the value of the product Whole Foods, and all salad bar vendors, offer. That is the fact every salad bar customer readily understands, but that fact seems to escape Shell entirely.

I don't know if Shell is that shallow, or whether she just assumes her readers are. She clearly thinks American consumers are every bit that shallow and are responsible, due to our choices to buy cheap, for all manner of evil throughout the planet. But if her Whole Foods analysis is typical of the logic she applies to her many other economic illustrations, then they too must be just as flawed. In that case, this book has nothing to offer a serious reader expecting a serious treatment of a very serious problem, except... a little entertainment.
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