Traditional products fight to stay relevant in the gadget age
Posted by oldancestor on April 25, 2011
By Eric J Baker
NEW YORK – With Smartphones and iPads and other multi-purpose gadgets all the rage in electronics these days, shoppers are showing little love for the everyday, non-digital products that were once symbols of high status. No longer do children care about being the first on their block to own the latest tube of White Out. None of us carry around our corded house phones anymore, the 30-foot-long wire dragging behind us while we waste precious arm space on a big, plastic door stop.
It’s just not cool anymore.
So what are manufacturers of traditional products to do? Give up and let devices that work better, do more things, and cost the same price or less take over? No! They fight back.
In an effort to compete with popular eBook readers like Amazon’s Kindle, bricks and mortar retailer Barnes and Noble is now requiring its hard-copy, paper-bound books to take batteries as well.
“It’s much more energy efficient than the Kindle device,” says Tony And, one/third owner of the company. “You just stick a couple of AA batteries in the cut-out area, and they never wear out. If you don’t have AA, stick in whatever battery fits. It’s that versatile.”
Some shoppers have complained about the chunk taken out of each book to make room for the batteries.
And says no one reads the top right quadrant of a page anyway, according to focus-group testing. “That’s where writers put periods and commas and the boring parts of sentences,” he explains.
Another print medium, the newspaper, has suffered badly from a sales standpoint since the rise of the Internet, a popular online information-sharing service.
“Newspapers are too big when spread out,”says Internet entrepreneur Betty Google, mastermind behind the somewhat popular Web-based search engine, Yahoo. “It’s, like, 35 inches across. Would you buy a 35-inch monitor?”
In response to similar consumer complaints, the New York Daily News has recently been reconfigured to resemble a 20-inch computer monitor, and its articles now only show every tenth word. New ads for the paper boast that it’s “10 times faster than before!” in an effort to lure back former readers who have switched to broadband information sources.
Sadly, some products seem doomed to be wiped out by their digital counterparts. Old-fashioned, gas-powered search engines have seen sales drop precipitously, which is believed to be worse than a lot.
“Every once in a while an old guy who refuses to use the Internet wants one,” laments heavy-equipment seller Pinky Middleton of Little Rock, Arkansas. “But, realistically, these things are just big, greasy engines that pollute the air, make noise, and chug along doing nothing. Hell, I sell the damn things, but I’ve got an Internet at home.”
Recent economic doldrums have even hurt sales of items that normally can’t be replaced by phone apps, like houses and clothing.
One business segment particularly hard hit has been the clothes iron industry, with sales of the devices plunging despite modern science’s inability to genetically engineer unwrinkling polyester.
“It’s the shortage of iron that’s the problem,” says Sir Edmund Bollocks, an Oxford University professor and expert on heat-producing, flat-sided, metal appliances that aren’t used for cooking.
Indeed, since the United Nations banned the use of iron in products, clothes iron manufacturers have experimented with numerous materials to build a new kind of iron, with little success. The early plastic versions melted and the paper ones frequently caught fire, resulting in ruined clothes and hospitalized customers. More recent models made of leftover space shuttle tiles don’t get hot enough.
“Odd,” says Bollocks. “The device is called an ‘iron,’ yet we make them out of every substance but iron. It’s so… I’m sure there’s a word for it, but I just can’t think of it right now.”