Internet Buyers-The New Castrati (676 words)
By Denny Hatch
The equivalent of rock stars in the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe were the castrati, former choir boys whose soprano voices were so pure and exquisite they were subjected to castration.
Said one writer, "[The castrati] were frequently described as having the 'voices of angels.' This was no doubt due to the combination of a child's fresh voice with the vocal power of a man, and the high register of a woman."
Being neutered did not make for connubial bliss, but the money was great and, socially, these eunuchs were lionized.
Recently, my friend Russell Perkins, one of the world's leading experts on the business of directories in print and online said to me, "The Internet is killing the directory business. People are saying, 'Why should I pay $500 for a directory when I can get the information free on the Internet.'"
My answer: "Yeah, bits and pieces are probably free on the Internet—if you want to spend 16 hours staring at a piece of glass looking for them. What's your time worth?"
The Internet has commoditized everything—books, appliances, automobiles, travel, clothes, collectibles, intellectual services, etc., have become entirely price-driven. A TV commercial selling an Internet comparison shopping service depicts a fat and happy consumer showing off a wonderful new gadget, only to have some superior smarty-pants describe how he got the same thing cheaper on the Internet. Some would call it deflating; I call it castrating—a total diminution of a person's sense of self-worth.
I'll pay well for anything that enables me to do my work quicker and easier, whether it's a new G4 Mac or a subscription to the online edition of The Wall Street Journal where I can access 10 to 20 million articles from thousands of publications from all around the world for just $2.95 each. And when I use Knight-Ridder (as in Phillynews.com), my cost is only $1.95 per article.
Compare this with spending hours surfing the Web for the ever elusive free information, or worse, schlepping to the Philadelphia library, paying for a parking space and then dealing with printed indexes, reels of microfiche and truly awful, unreadable photocopies.
By using the Internet and happily paying for information, I can do more work quickly. Since I charge by the project, this means I can do more projects, make more money and come in well within my clients' deadlines.
My message to Amazon's Jeff Bezos and other e-tailers: You can't make money buying books and merchandise at 40 percent or 50 percent off, for resale at 20 percent off. Don't get me wrong: Your service is terrific. I'm happy to pay full price, because you save me a ton of time, and I value my time. But it's folly (and misguided greed) to try to sell everything to everybody—and lose money doing it. Better you should get rid of your unprofitable customers and find more good buyers like me and love us to death.
Check this out from a New York Times front page story about Aetna shedding customers and jobs:
"Companies in other industries, including credit card companies, also are trying to discourage unprofitable customers by raising fees, while many other companies, including airlines and department stores woo the types of customers they find most attractive and give them extra service or better prices, or both."
Amazing! Suddenly, what direct marketers have known for a long time has become the great new frontier of American business. Alas, some e-tail wunderkind haven't been around long enough or haven't enough customer history to get it. So now, scalpel-wielding e-marketers who want to listen to the voices of typical Internet buyers, can certainly hear them. It's that huge chorus of male sopranos.
Denny Hatch, consultant and freelance copywriter, founder of Who's Mailing What! (now Inside Direct Mail) and former editor of Target Marketing, is the author of "Method Marketing" and "2,239 Tested Secrets for Direct Marketing Success." He can be reached at www.methodmarketing.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of this publication.