Monday, June 28, 2010

Good enough for me

kw: opinion, technology

Just about a year ago, in an article for Wired, Robert Capps discussed "the good enuf rvlutn", and why cheap was beating out superior on many fronts. This is nothing new; it has always been the case. Not only does the Flip outsell Sony camcorders that will record movies in HD, and the Kindle outsell some E-book readers with glitzier features:
  • Chevy outsells Cadillac, Ford outsells Mercury and Lincoln, and Camry outsells Lexus, in spite of the fact that each pair is produced by the same manufacturer.
  • Lower- and mid-level point-and-shoot digital cameras will always outsell more advanced models, and in fact many people with 5+Mpx cameras in their cell phones have "better" cameras sitting at home collecting dust.
  • Beer outsells wine.
In each case, the product that provides something a customer wants, and which passes a foggily defined "good as it needs to be" threshold, will succeed wildly, compared to "the best there is." It explains why the VW Bug (the old one) was the best-selling car to young Baby Boomers in the 1960s and early '70s: it got you from point A to point B and left you money in your wallet for something besides transportation.

It is said that MP3 files sound terrible compared to a CD. I guess I don't have a very good ear (in spite of the fact that I have been a professional musician): I can't tell the difference once the quality level reaches 128 whatever-it-is (Kbps?). So I have a ton of old (1930s and earlier) songs on MP3 to satisfy my Western Swing appetite, and a smaller amount of newer stuff in the Country/Family genre.

All this does not totally take account of the appeal of mid-level stuff, however. A significant factor is focus. I once belonged to a very active lapidary club. Most of the members were retirees, and their passion was spending frequent weekends in the Mojave Desert, collecting large amounts of "agates" (lotsa rocks get called that which are only agates in the loosest sense), and cutting-n-grinding cabochons or faceted stones to show off to each other, or at regional shows. Many of these folks had two expensive things: A motor home or camper truck, and a gem cutting workstation. At a time when I could barely afford a $2 lunch more than every other week, I spent $100 on a Diamond Demon (this is forty years ago). Many of them had spent $500 and more. But none of us had a really good camera, coffee maker, or pair of hiking boots. Oh, yeah; we did all have quite good rock hammers and chisels!

Most people don't really care to have the best possible example of everything. They want things that meet their needs and desires, affordably, and only splurge on a very few things. There will always be a market for products that support the focus of people with a dedicated passion, but the market for everyone else, for "good enough" products, will always be larger by far.

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