Shy of Consumerism

September 29th, 2006 by Hugh

One of the many unusual attributes of Exbiblio that struck me on my recent visit to Seattle, is that this company is truly averse to anything that smacks of consumerism. This is quite unusual for business that is about to offer up a product to the public.

While talking to Ed Mahlum and Martin King about marketing the Exbiblio oPen, I asked how they were gong to “position” it in the market. Martin winced. He doesn’t like the connotations of the word – nor any of the usual marketing spiel. The Exbiblio philosophy is that if the product turns out to be great, and if it can secure a place in people’s every day lives, then the sales will come right in the end.

I would agree that much of the language of business is lazy, and that the meaning is often unclear. Business lingo is mostly about making the speaker sound savvy. On further questioning, Ed and Martin say that there will be an initial target market (students), an initial price (around $99), and that it will be necessary to emphasize some of the potential uses of the oPen, of which there are many to choose from.

Exbiblio’s aversion to consumerism was brought home to me further when Adam and I visited JMK, the firm that has worked on the industrial design of the oPen. JMK’s Josh Kornfeld said of the design:

“This is an object for the people – He (Martin) is against consumerism. Normally discussions with clients revolve around the idea that if we make it in a particular way, the product will have a higher perceived value. We haven’t had any discussions with Martin along those lines.

“This design is about simplicity and use by everyone. It’s not about consumerism – and that’s why Martin shies away things like polished surfaces. That the idea of a shiny super-polished surface is to attract attention conceptually.”

My concern is that some people will believe that Exbiblio is a touch naive in its idealism, but I also believe that there will be a lot of people who will say “good luck to them”. In the end, Good Will is a priceless quality that no amount of smart marketing can buy.

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