One of the things that can be annoying about the blogosphere (and people in general) is harping and complaining without offering reasonable suggestions for solutions to various problems. In my last post about my trials with my neighbors’ Dell machine, I complained but offered no way to reconcile the situation. Jeremy and I had a discussion a little while ago about all of this and during the discussion, I had what I think is a perfectly reasonable idea that I think could solve this problem in an honorable way for everyone involved. First, here are my base assumptions about the business of all this extra software on new PCs:
- Computer manufacturers (of which Dell is just one) are subsidizing the sale of cheap computers through distribution deals with the companies whose software and services appear on their desktops. I assume that these computers would be more expensive without these various offers. This suggests that there is a defined per-PC dollar amount that can be attributed to the inclusion of these services. Let’s say for the sake of argument that this amount is $200. It could be any amount — but it’s something.
- Consumers are accustomed to the trades inherent in traditional advertising models, i.e. free services in exchange for advertising messages. We view advertising on Yahoo and Google in exchange for search results. We accept commercials on television to a large degree (Tivos notwithstanding). These models are changing constantly in our cluetrain world, but in general, they are alive and well.
OK, with those assumptions in place, here’s my simple proposal: at the point-of-sale (online or in a retail environment), computer manufacturers should offer consumers the option to take advantage of the trialware subsidy or not. To be more specific, Dell should position the trialware as marketing (which is what they are) and give you a price break ($200 in my assumption) if you agree to accept a machine with all the trialware on it, or they can give you the machine clean of the marketing offers if you don’t accept the price break and decide to pay more. My neighbors’ $850 Dell would have been $1050 without all the trialware using those numbers. I bet they would have taken the price break — but at least they would have understood what they were doing and some of the implications. Yes, it’s probably a little counterintuitive at first (“pay more to get less?”), but I think people would figure it out pretty quickly. And yes, it’s not the most appealing solution for dig-in-your-heels idealists who want to rid the world of all marketing programs, but it certainly seems reasonable to me.
What’s wrong with this proposal? Tell me in the comments.
(One note: the reason I put “crapware” in quotes in the title is that not all of the software that comes with a new computer is actually “crap.” Before I arrived, my neighbors — who had no Internet access — had used the Earthlink offer to sign up with them and had successfully connected to the Internet. You can do a lot worse than Earthlink, and when I thought about it, how would an average person bootstrap themselves onto the net without such an offer anyway? So it’s not all bad from a functional standpoint — it’s just the delivery method that sucks.)