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The Shaving Racket -- How Are Gillette and Schick Getting Away with Ripoff Razors?

Digging into an industry accused of marking up its prices 4,000 percent.

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The official unemployment rate has held over 9.5 percent for over a year, and those are the baked numbers. Real unemployment numbers are higher. Consumers are having to pull back on the goods they used to gobble like pills. Five-blade razors with colored plastic grips, sold separately (and some argue exorbitantly) from replacement razors, suddenly seem like surrealism. But it's more like consumption stripped of marketing: You use a razor to shave things. It's not rocketry. You just unplugged from the matrix, which demands dumb hyperconsumption. "The final price is set by the retailer," P&G's spokesperson explained of its products and pricing. 

A recent report on the global grooming market pegged its possibility at  $33.3 billion by 2015, but that's dependent on "technological innovations, a willingness from consumers to start using permanent razors again and also an increase in the popularity of male specific magazines," the latter of which is hard to do in a  permanently smaller industry. So the smart bet is still on the multinationals, especially when it comes to swallowing the small fries. But in a greatly reoriented market, whose perception of the importance of high-tech razors with five blades is more diminished than before. 

But our ancestors shaved with  straight razors, a masculine ritual that survives to this day as a healthy market, and is arguably as effective as using disposable or permanent razors. Of course, straight razors resemble fearsome weaponry, which is probably why some jurisdictions ban their use, a curious legislative hiccup than certainly aids razors-and-blades heavyweights like P&G and Energizer. Schick's Quattro and P&G's Fusion ProGlide  are similarly masculine rituals that brand both your identity and your wallet. And you need those. Who knows? They might not grow back.

Scott Thill runs the online mag Morphizm.com. His writing has appeared on Salon, XLR8R, All Music Guide, Wired and others.