Thursday, April 05, 2007

Planned obsolesence, or better products?

This post on the rather paranoid "Stay Free" argues that products last less long now because companies can make more money that way.
The reasons behind this are many and complex, but Slade hones in on one: companies profit more when products have shorter lifespans - because they sell more products that way. This is no conspiracy theory but, rather, simple economics. Small wonder, then, that product lifespans are shrinking across the board. In 1997, a PC was expected to last 4 or 5 years; by 2003, only two years, and today the life expectancy is even less.
It's simple something, all right, but not economics.

From an economic standpoint, it is not more profitable for companies to make shoddier goods. This is because people are less likely to buy shoddy goods, and if they do buy them, they are less likely to pay as much for them because they know they will wear out sooner. As electronics have less moving parts, they become harder to repair, but also more reliable (moving parts break down first), which is why the local VCR repair shop has not been replaced by the local DVD repair shop. I certainly have paid for quality, and I suspect you have too.

At any rate, picking an example of the computer to highlight this non-phenomenon seems really crazy. People don't replace computers because they break down, they replace computers because new ones are *so much* better and cheaper than older models. This isn't planned obsolesence, this is things improving so fast it is silly not to upgrade. I would also add that the trend in computers has been going in the opposite direction -- there was a big difference between a 1994 machine and a 1998 machine, there was a smaller difference between a 1998 machine and a 2002 machine, and an even smaller difference from a 2002 machine and a 2006 machine. Computers have been "good enough" for a while now, and getting people to update to new hardware and operating systems is much tougher than in the past -- just ask Microsoft.

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