bestkungfu weblog

Opticians – a metaphor

Filed in: consumerism, marketing, vent, Web, Sat, Sep 24 2011 23:45 PT

Today, I needed an optician, and none would help me.

I have a prescription, but it’s for contact lenses, so it’s missing one measurement I need so that the lenses’ focal point will be set properly in a new pair of glasses I’m buying.

I need an optician to measure my pupillary distance. You know that thing they do where they hold up a little plastic ruler to each eye for about 5 seconds, and write a couple numbers down? That. The people I talked to wouldn’t do that for me, even for money. I would have paid $20 for that one skill that they have, that takes them 5 seconds. But they wouldn’t do it.

The reason they do this is as plain as the nose on my face (especially in its current condition, that is, unencumbered by glasses). Opticians make their money selling eyewear. Specifically, they take your eye doctor’s prescription and turn it into the eyewear you need. An optician is to an eye doctor what a pharmacist is to a physician. Except, of course, your pharmacist hasn’t figured out how to sell you a high-index UV-coated Prada pill case.

In this day and age, however, there are many new places popping up that offer comparable products for much less money. All that is needed are the numbers on the prescription, plus a couple more that the optician is qualified to provide, and your glasses come in the mail. This destroys the potential for opticians to profit on your frames, lenses, coatings and other upsell opportunities they may have. So it appears they have chosen instead not to offer services to people who don’t want to buy their other products, even when they would happily pay for an optician’s skills à la carte.

And that’s fine, really, especially if you’re a libertarian. I’d have some respect left for the opticians today who gave me the cold shoulder if they had told me money was the reason, but each was at pains to state otherwise. I was told that it was policy, that they couldn’t guarantee the work, even that it was harmful to their integrity as opticians to spend 5 seconds measuring my pupils.

Recently, it seems even information about my own eyes, information which I had commissioned and paid for, is being treated as proprietary. I have asked for a copy of my prescription from my own eye doctor, and been refused. This was unthinkable even a couple years ago. Imagine your physician telling you that you can’t find out what he’s telling the pharmacist to dispense to you. Once you have left the exam room, the experience is no longer about helping you see well: it is about ensuring the greatest amount of money stays in the office. They will cling to your data and the skills you lack to keep you coming back to them, rather than finding a more efficient solution.

Today, I needed an optician, and none would help me. Not because they couldn’t, but because doing it their way makes them more money. And now I’m generally distrustful of opticians, if not actively looking forward to their obsolescence. From this point forward, I will only get my vision checked by an eye doctor who will hand me a printed copy of all my information at the end of the visit.

Web professionals, you might want to bookmark this. It may become relevant to you at some point in the future.

Change in the air

Filed in: marketing, personal, Wed, Jul 27 2005 17:52 PT

As most of you have noticed over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been spending most of my time not blogging here. A lot of that is owing to my work on a number of other projects, including helping to start up the WaSP Accessibility Task Force and my own company.

We’ll be announcing the new company (and my partners, and our blog) over the next week. (Ooh, I’m such a tease!) In the meantime, here’s a list of what I’m talking about, and where:

I’m blogging for Accessify, and will begin posting to the WaSP Buzz blog shortly. In addition, the ATF will be starting its own blog in the next few weeks, and I’ll be writing more about accessibility on the company blog.
I write for the Corante Podcasting blog, and produce Corante’s podcast, as well as my own, Staccato. (By the way, don’t miss my interview with Lawrence Lessig.)
Web design and project management
My company’s blog, which we’ll announce shortly, will cover a range of Web-related topics.
Personal stuff
Here, duh. My personal life isn’t interesting enough to crosspost. But most of what’s left here will be stuff about me, my tech fetishes, general rabble-rousing, and stuff nobody else will let me publish.

So, that’s all the news that’s fit to syndicate. I’m mostly settled in at the new place, where the sounds of Chopin’s Heroic Polonaise roll in from Cornish College every evening around 5, and pho is cheap and plentiful. All I need now is about 200 more square feet to hold all my stuff.

And a new mobile phone, because my current one has sucky coverage down here.

And my own washer and dryer.

And a flash-based MP3 player, for my distance running.

And time to do a couple of site redesigns.

Come to think of it, it seems like a nice little caffeine addiction will suit me well over the next month or so, too.

Creative Commons Buzz

Filed in: consumerism, culture, marketing, rights, Tue, May 3 2005 08:30 PT

The Creative Commons/BzzAgent agreement has caused a storm among CC’s advocates. It started with Suw Charman, who objected to advocates being compensated for astroturfing what is a noble cause in and of itself. She goes so far as to call it a “betrayal” of genuine CC activists. The thread spiraled outward from there, and you can follow the Trackbacks, but BzzAgent’s CEO has asked Lessig for guidance, and Lessig has asked his readers for comment.

I’m not scared or disappointed by this experiment. CC has to have reach beyond Web geeks in order to be effective. Anyone who has read Wired over the last two years at least knows something about CC, but that’s only a half million people. Not a lot, in the grand scheme. I’ve talked myself blue in the face to just about everyone I know about CC, but one person I’m never going to reach is the non-techie conspicuous consumer. I know that they would probably understand and agree with the CC model if someone they identified with would explain it to them. That’s a conversation that CC could be having. But they need a broader set of advocates, and this gives them that.
The burden in this form of communication is borne by two actors: in this case, the BzzAgents and Creative Commons. Anyone who wants to be a BzzAgent and still have friends has to have a story that’s genuine. If their story isn’t honest and relevant, the audience will know something is up, and that impacts the agent’s personal reputation. Anyone can trade away their whuffie for a little cash, but they’ll learn it’s way easier to spend than it is to earn. When’s the last time you invited an Amway salesman to your house after they tried to pitch laundry detergent or financial independence to you?

It will also be up to CC to explain itself well to the non-technical. Let’s not mince words here: the stereotypical CC advocate (myself included) is some combination of a lawyer, a geek, an intellectual property activist, and a performer. We’re not going to reach everybody. We need constant pressure from all sorts of people in order to achieve the cultural breakthrough that we want. What is most important is that our new advocates are well-enough informed to convey the urgency of the situation. It will come out soft and irrelevant if, to paraphrase Mark Resch, they’re just listening to the free speech to get the free beer.

As for the people who actually engage in this form of persuasion, I have to think that a lot of them do it because they believe they’re beating the system. And maybe they have: at least they have marketers talking with them, and are getting some form of compensation for helping them. It’s not like HBO is giving out mugs for the water-cooler chat they create. If that’s what it takes to get more people to play ball, and someone is willing to sponsor the reward program to enable that, I’m finding it a little hard to be upset about it. But I guess there’s a fine line between influential and insidious.

Two or three bucks per song

Filed in: marketing, music, rights, Thu, Apr 21 2005 14:08 PT

Think Secret reports that Apple will offer iTunes Mobile in June. Okay, cool. It’s a phone and an iPod mashed up. Not a bad 1.0 for that offering. But that’s not what this post is about. It’s really about the so-called competition: Sprint, Verizon and Cingular are launching competing services, charging “between $2-$3 per song”.

To the operators building these services, I have one question.

Are you fucking nuts?

How stupid do you have to be to think this is an acceptable value proposition to the listener? Let’s do the math: a CD at Sam Goody costs $19. (It’s more like $12-15 at places that don’t try to screw you.) It contains a minimum of eight songs, and that disc is your property until the pits fall off of the CD. The iTunes Music Store is only a viable concern because at $10 per album, it offers a discount off the cost of a physical CD to counterbalance what is lost: physical ownership, portability and permanency.

Let’s apply these properties to the operators’ offering: for the privilege of downloading DRMed content, which is presumably only playable on your phone, and which will disappear once you change carriers, they want to charge you more than you’d pay for a DRM-free, higher-quality, utterly flexible CD. Never mind how frustrating I would imagine a pre-3G interface on tens or hundreds of thousands of tracks will be. Yes, I know that the cost of the DRM is high. But as the saying goes, your failed business model is not my problem.

The part that kills me about this is that the operators’ offering is going to be such a spectacular failure that they will walk away shaking their heads and saying that the market wasn’t ready for them. Then they’ll spend 5 years holding off on giving us higher bandwidth and more advanced services, because they won’t be able to figure out anything to sell over that connection besides ringtones. I have no confidence that they will eventually realize the strategic error in their thinking, and as a result engage in a market conversation. It seems that’s not what a mobile provider does.

The carriers would have been wise to adopt the Napster To Go model. Add $15 a month to your mobile bill (a great deal for operators who wish for $100 per subscriber per month), and have access to all the music in the Napster catalogue. Even better from Napster’s perspective, the devices have limited storage space relative to desktop machines, and limited bandwidth with which to suck down files. That beats the hell out of $3 for a single download. The way I see it, if I’m going to pay money for music that I’m not going to actually own, I want to not-own all of it.

Music lovers unite

Filed in: marketing, music, rights, Wed, Feb 23 2005 23:12 PT

A few days ago, I wrote a blog entry on podcasting, music and the law, which has served nobly as a big wet blanket over the smouldering hopes and dreams of many a late-night music podcaster. Consider this Part 2, where I decide to do something about it.

The feedback I have gotten from podcasters and bloggers alike upon reading of the intricacies of music licensing has been: “dude, that sucks.” My response has been: “yah, totally.” Clearly, more discussion is needed, if for no other reason than to stop talking like surfers to one another.

It is with that goal in mind that I have created the Music Lovers Union. I want to attract artists, podcasters, broadcasters, and others interested in, to use a very non-surfer term, disintermediating the transaction between listener and musician. I want to talk about Creative Commons music, and ways to facilitate commercial licensing of that music. I want to help build a viable model for artists to share their love of music with the world, without fear of heavy debt and/or indentured servitude.

I have started a wiki and a mailing list, because it makes my life easier to formulate these things collaboratively. Please sign up if you want to take part.

Once I have made my new server Plone-friendly, there will be a more traditional community site, with downloads and links and chats and contests where people who are infinitely more talented than me battle for the listeners’ affections. There’s more, but it’s going to have to start with that. I promise to talk more about it in the next Staccato, which I keep telling myself I’m going to record before the weekend, because if I don’t, it ain’t happening until after Boston.

(I already have a logo drawn up, but I’m a little too busy to give it the attention it deserves in Illustrator, so, like, suffer, or something. It’ll be worth it when I print up the t-shirts. )

Please buy my mixer tonight

Filed in: consumerism, marketing, music, personal, Mon, Jan 31 2005 17:46 PT

I put my Pioneer DJM-600 mixer up for auction on eBay to pay for a bunch of other stuff I’ve bought recently. My research indicates that these have been going for about $650 to $700, which is good.

Currently, it’s sitting on $466.99, which is bad. There are about five hours to go as I post this, so if you’re in the market for a gently used professional mixer, please bid. Updates as events warrant.

Update: The mixer sold for $615. I’m as happy as could reasonably be expected.

(And in case you’re wondering, no, this isn’t the mixer I use for Staccato. I’m working on that tonight, too, in between worried reloads of My eBay.)

Getting an mLife

Filed in: marketing, quotes, Tue, Dec 31 2002 01:00 PT

AT&T: the Death Star

“Viewed by 130 million people in the United States and some 800 million around the world, the Super Bowl is at once a uniquely American event and a global happening. It is the perfect venue to demonstrate the power, value and simplicity of an mLife from AT&T Wireless.”

AT&T Wireless Chief Marketing Officer G. Michael Sievert, on the wonders of buying the Super Bowl halftime show nobody watches

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