Made to Break

Justin posts that Made to Break is on his reading list, and I’ve seen this book mentioned a few other places recently (although I can’t remember where). I found my way to an interview with the author, Giles Slade, by Carrie McLaren at Stay Free!

[Slade argues that] companies profit more when products have shorter lifespans – because they sell more products that way. This is no conspiracy theory but, rather, simple economics.

I don’t think that the economics are that simple. If a firm makes a product with a short lifespan, it runs multiple risks. First, customers may buy a competing product with a longer lifespan. Second, at the end of the short lifespan, customers may replace he product with one from a competitor. Third, the firm will gain a deserved reputation for low quality.

I’m not denying that there are cases of obsolescence planned by firms. For example, it might make sense for Apple, given that Apple can currently be confident that an iPod will be replaced with another iPod. But then it can be argued that “obsolescence” arises from rapid improvements in performance and value, and hence from how much better this year’s iPods are than last year’s.

It’s an interesting issue, and one I’ll follow. Unless it is rendered obsolete by newer and more interesting issues…

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