If I released a music player that stored two hundred songs, took up about as much space as a fat paperback book and used a proprietary format other than .mp3 or .aiif or .wav, how well do you think it would sell? Even if I only charged $15? Do you think it would compete with the iPod, or the iRiver, or the Zune, in any meaningful way?
How about if I sold it ten years ago and charged $150? How would I do then?
Humans are addicted to convenience. We not only love saving time and effort, but we quickly build a tolerance for labor-saving devices. Once we become accustomed to something being faster, easier or more accessible, going back to the old way becomes anathema. Ten years ago I could blow the market wide open with a portable music player that had 200 songs. But after eight years of mp3 players bringing us 1000+ songs in our pocket, that’s no longer acceptable.
(Econ nerds will recognize this as touching on time preference, one of my favorite subjects)
All the above is prologue.
The story: a week ago, I drove up to the ATM nearest my house and popped my card in for cash. After asking for $x and confirming, the machine told me it could not complete my transaction. It popped out a receipt (“YOU ARE NOT AN AUTHORIZED USER OF THIS CARD”) and refused to give my card back. Frustrated, I sped off.
I didn’t panic; I’m not that sort of guy. But I immediately began rescheduling my next day or two. Instead of taking the T to work, I would have to drive tomorrow so I could visit the bank. I’d need to wait until 8:30 for the bank to open and actually speak to a teller to withdraw cash. On top of all this, I’d need to speak with another human being to find out what had happened with my ATM card.
(Answer: a batch of cards had been compromised; they’d mailed the correction to an old address)
Another story: a year and a half ago, my car got impounded by the police for failure to renew my registration. The next morning, I tried to call the DMV to find out what I needed to do to renew and save my car. Unfortunately, my cell phone – the only phone in my house – started conking out, as it was wont to do. Even with a full charge, it would spontaneously turn itself off and on without warning. When on hold for 40 minutes with the DMV, this doesn’t help matters.
I probably had better options but, in a moment of impulse, I
drove took the bus to the nearest Cingular store to see if they could replace the obviously malfunctioning phone. They couldn’t*. So, bus back home, where I finally get my phone to start working – don’t know how – and get instructions from the RMV. I take the subway to City Hall, where I pay my excess tickets; to the RMV, where I renew my registration; and the bus to Brighton, where I free my car from the tow lot.
To recap: I lost one convenience – my ATM – and had to write a new plan for the next 24 hours. I lost two conveniences – my car and my cell phone – and wasted a few hours in fruitless wandering. What would happen if I lost three or more? Weeping? Looting? Gun in the mouth?
Something to think on for the day. How many conveniences could you lose – and you don’t get to pick which – before you lost your mind?
(There was an excellent clip of Louis C.K. on Conan that circuited the Internet a few weeks ago speaking to this same effect. Sadly, NBC’s taken it off YouTube and I can’t find it on Hulu)
* Of note, I’ve never found a Cingular store – or any cell phone store – to be of any use in anything but selling me more phones. They can’t help you with account issues. They can’t fix your phone’s technical problems. They can’t even replace defective merchandise. Hell, your average Best Buy employee may be a glorified middleman with the tech savvy of an irradiated rock, but if I bring him a computer he sold me that doesn’t work, he’ll give me a new one!