My Lamp is a Loss Leader

Bright idea.
Bright idea.

I just purchased one of those new-fangled eco-friendly corkscrew-shaped fluorescent bulbs for a new floor lamp in my office. Seeing as the bulb is apparently designed to last forever (and expend half the energy of conventional bulbs) it cost more ? in fact, more than the floor lamp, which was fabricated and flat-packed by enslaved Swedish elves. Given my mercurial taste in office furniture and the necessarily slipshod engineering of anything that can be assembled with a single Allen wrench, I assume that the eco-bulb will outlast the lamp.

This annoys me.

Up until now, the following analogy described my understanding of the lamp/bulb relationship: Floor lamps are to fishbowls as light bulbs are to goldfish. Eventually, the goldfish is going to float to the top of the bowl, signifying its readiness to be flushed to the great beyond. Seldom, if ever, has a fish bowl reached its expiration before the fish and if it did, I venture to say it would take the fish with it. In the cosmology of my office, however, the new floor lamp is the fish and the undead eco-bulb is the bowl.

I?m surprised that the Swedes haven?t embraced this emerging paradigm and partnered with an eco-bulb company in some loss-leader marketing love, though I suppose the turn-over in lamps, even crappy exploited-elf lamps, is too glacial to profit within a single lifetime. Still the notion brings to mind King Camp Gillette, the man who first dreamt up the ?give away the razor, sell the blades? concept, which persists as a model for more businesses than many realize.

Richard Martin elaborates in ?The Razor’s Edge ? Brief Article? published earlier this century in the Industry Standard:

Born in 1855, King Camp Gillette was a 40-year-old salesman for Crown Cork & Seal, the author of an anti-capitalist tract called The Human Drift and a failed inventor when he had the epiphany that would rewrite economy textbooks worldwide?The stubble-chinned utopian had just dreamed up the world’s first disposable razor blade. It took him five years to find someone who could provide a machine that would automatically hone thin sheets of steel to the required sharpness, and at first the blades sold for less than they cost to make. Undaunted, Gillette forged ahead and eventually had a second epiphany: He would give away a razor and sell the blades. By 1910 Gillette dominated the razor business, and its founder was a millionaire.

As Martin later points out, cell phones are subsidized by their call plans and Red Hat?s Linux is underwritten by its customer service plans, etc.. One could even argue that the media loss-leads with its content, which it endeavors (with increasingly smaller results) to monetize through advertising. Even local Sonoma wine shindigs loss-lead with wine glasses, which are given away so that they may be filled with wine paid for by the price of admission.

Perhaps someday, the Swedes will see it in their hearts to just give me a floor lamp with the purchase of an eco-bulb. With the money I save, I can buy myself some wine for the free wine glass on my desk (or a new goldfish).

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