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    Why I Dislike iTunes And XBox Marketplace

    December 1st, 2009

    It is no secret that virtual goods are a hard sell for me; I need to get something not easily duplicated for my money.  After my first post Fantasy7 made the argument that people buy a Facebook gift for the experience.  They buy it for the joy of giving and for the joy of receiving.  A similar argument was made for in-game items for games such as Word of Warcraft.  Again, I understand this.  Which is why I then wrote a second post to address these issues.

    Again Fantasy7 was back, pushing for virtual goods.  That music and games could be passed on.  That an e-book had just as much value as a book on the shelf you don’t read.  If you don’t intend to resell it they have the same value.  While, for me, this is an argument that is on rather thin ice I at least understand where Fantasy7 is coming from.  But I am not convinced and today I will make another case against virtual goods.

    I believe some of the views toward virtual goods are shortsighted.  In reality, one can never know how long they will want something.  This is why craigslist become a hit quickly and why rummage sales will never go out of style.  At some point in time you will have stuff that is either no longer of value to you either because it is junk or too worn/old for you.  At such a point one could just throw it away.  Or one could gift it.  Or recycle it.

    Lets take one example most people can get on board with, a car.  A car is not something that one generally just throws away.  Nor is it something that is generally just gifted – though I do recognize that children may get one as a gift.  I think everyone can get on board with the idea that trashing or gifting a car is not the most common thing to do with it.  Even though the goal is to get rid of the car, people still sell it because it retains some value in some way, even if it is just for parts.  The physical item has value and always will, if only as scrap metal.  It may have too small of a value for the owner to do anything but trash it, but there is still value, however small.

    Now to my point.  Digital goods only have value to the original seller.  If this is not the case, can someone please show me where I can sell my iTunes songs I don’t want?  Or where to unload my XBox Marketplace download of the original Halo?  Only iTunes and Xbox make money in these spaces.  Not the case with purchased games where I have a physical, non-easily reproducible copy of the game.  Yes it is a copy of some original source code, but there is the case, manual, artwork, etc. that are not easily copied.  If you buy an iTunes song or movie it does not take much to make a copy, copyright protected or not.

    My larger point is that any virtual good that you purchase  is a sunk cost.  End of story.  This is simply not the case with physical goods.  Forget the arguments about worth and experience and all that.  Even Fantasy7 can’t argue with the statement that a virtual game or song is a sunk cost (it may be different for online game merchandise, though as soon as the multi-player server goes offline, the player is left with nothing, no matter how much real money they spent).  It is simply a fact.  And this is why I will always prefer a physical good with any purchase I make.  I cannot predict the future, nor can any of you, so why not keep my options open.  The physical will always retain value.

    So what prompted this post?  I was going to throw away some old XBox games.  But, I checked online to see if they were worth something.  Anything I could get for them would be gravy since the plan was to junk them.  And believe it or not, Amazon is selling WWE Raw 2 for $89.94.  Others list it new at $29.99 and used at $7.76.

    It’s not much but it is a free lunch.  Assume that you have just the download from Xbox Live Marketplace.  Who’s paying for your lunch?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.



    eBay Continues Changes

    October 23rd, 2008

    eBay is once again changing the way it does business by adding more restrictions to its sellers.  Remember when eBay added in the features that allowed a buyer to rate a seller on several categories?  Well now eBay is using that as a basis to say if sellers can continue to sell.

    This excerpt from BizWeek illustrates it quite well:

    In a nutshell, eBay wants its sellers to keep a 4.3 or above (out of 5-star) composite average on several metrics on which customers leave feedback. The most controversial is the shipping and handling feedback. A 4 in this metric means “reasonable,” but if a seller starts getting mostly 4s, eventually that will pull her overall rating down below 4.3. If a buyer rates the shipping charges as “neutral” (3) or “unreasonable” (2)—even if that perception is mistaken—the seller’s ratings will plummet and her account can be suspended. Sellers do have 30 days to increase their rating while they’re suspended, but if they’re not selling, it’s obviously tough to get better feedback.

    It is clear that eBay really does not want to be in the auction business anymore.  These new rules make it very difficult for sellers, and exceptionally difficult for low volume sellers, to stay compliant.  All it takes is one or two disgruntled buyers and you are screwed.  I am glad that I got out while things were still not all that bad.

    These sort of changes make me wonder though.  A business always has to be evolving or they risk being left behind.  You have to find new opportunities or niches to fit in to have growth.  But what if you lose your core competency while doing so?  Are you so focused on growth that you would risk the thing that made you great?

    eBay was known as a place for auctions.  That was what they were good at.  As they move toward a model that is now focused on Fixed Prices not auctions, I think they are giving up more than they realize.  It is easy to blame the lower profits on the economy now, but I would think this would be a time for eBay to shine.  People are selling stuff they don’t need and also looking for stuff at a good price.  As eBay continues to make these changes I wonder if the current economic circumstance is clouding eBay’s view of the business model they are chasing after.  Then again, maybe eBay is positioning itself to take on Amazon.  This could get interesting.

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.