Theo Miller

@theomiller

Selling to Hipsters is Good Business

Even if trends don’t last forever, it’s hard to resist selling yesterday’s technology at today’s prices. Don’t believe me? A single-speed bike sells for $1,000 and vinyl records just saw their 12th year of consecutive growth.

The most egregious act of hipster marketing is this Indiegogo campaign for a $599 word processor. That’s right, a campaign for an old-school typing machine has raised over $425,000!

Word processors have been around for decades. Then everyone started using laptops, so they went the way of the fax machine. Now a Chromebook with full internet capabilities is less than $200.

The promo video for the unjustifiable word processor should appeal to any well-heeled hipster in clear-framed glasses, who pounds out odes to ascots in chic cafes. To be fair, the product looks sturdy and I’m sure the keyboard is very tactile. However, the pitch is that laptops are full of distractions. They’re not the first company to use this distraction-free computing angle either…

It’s embarrassing to admit this, but a Norwegian tablet seduced me. That’s right, I’ve been hurt before. I hadn’t kept up with the latest trends in stylus technology and it appeared cutting edge. I had never seen a distraction-free, e-ink tablet before. It was exotic. It was Scandinavian. How could I resist

Within moments of watching their video, I was convinced that I was a “paper person” in need of a “breakthrough” in technology. Honestly, it’s a life-changing video to watch, just a notch below the moon landing. It enchants viewers with svelt models working on dissertations, swooping 3D renderings of e-ink particles and invigorating piano chords.

Needless to say, my body quivered and I entered my credit card. Then it took DHL forever to deliver the thing. In the intervening weeks, I purchased an iPad Pro, assuming I would return one or the other.

When the Northern European tablet finally arrived, I was so disappointed. It was like a 1980s Gameboy without Super Mario Land. The upside is the company made it easy to return. In fact, it was easier to return than it was to purchase, which probably means I wasn’t their first dissatisfied customer. My friend bought the same e-ink tablet, but he’s still giving love a chance.

Guess how much these novelty tablets cost? $599! The exact same amount as the word-processor! Someone must have run analysis on the price sensitivity of people that would make such a regretful impulse buy.

When it comes to software, there are plenty of writing apps that evoke Zen Buddhism in hawking what’s become a commodity. Apple offers free alternatives (Pages, Notes, TextEdit and more) and there is a multitude of other free writing apps on the market. Still, app developers are able to exploit the mindfulness of Eastern religion to seduce hipsters on their way back from Bikram.

We’re all inundated with notifications and streams of useless (if not damaging) information all day. Is the answer to cut ourselves off from all the internet’s advantages because we’re too lazy to turn off the wifi when we’re done watching Carpool Karaoke? No, we need to embrace information overload as a byproduct of the information age.

Workout equipment has been sold like this for years. Don’t have the willpower for six-pack abs? Well… can you afford three installments of $69.99? This exploitative marketing strategy is almost as reprehensible as payday loans. It’s predatory and it taps into a perverse obsession with self-image.

We all have our preferences. My devotion to Apple makes me a sheep in the court of consumer opinion, but I don’t care. At least an Apple product does more than one thing. We used to laugh at single-function apps. Everyone mocked the Yo app when it entered the collective consciousness. We gawked when that startup raised $1.5 million for an app that just sent the word Yo.

If only the makers of the Yo app had chosen the word Namaste, the company could be worth a billion dollars today.

Our relationship with technology has intensified since the launch of the iPhone. Tech rehab is a thing now, a $25,000-a-stay thing. We can all agree there are reasonable concerns when it comes to addiction. That’s why it’s unfortunate that there’s no governing body like the FDA to regulate technology.

Dietary supplements have stringent regulatory guidelines because it’s unethical and dangerous to sell a product that has no proven medical benefit. While no one’s ingesting these overpriced word processors, it still feels wrong.

Hipsters can’t defend themselves. They’re too busy shaving the sides of their heads and browning their avocado toast to stop compulsively checking Instagram without the help of the federal government.

If a $599 word processor unlocks a hipster’s inner Hemingway, I’m all for it. But if they really have something to say, it’s hard to imagine a waste of money is all they’re missing.

This post originally appeared on Forbes on October 23rd, 2018.

Theo is the founder of Hit Start Media. His audio documentary podcast about his experiences as an early team member at Carta launches in November 2018. Preview and subscribe to his podcast Execute on iTunes ›

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