NPF: FLOPPY

Posted in No Politics Friday on October 14th, 2011 by Ed

Given the extreme level of cockiness commonly found among the one-percenters and people in the business world more generally, I find the occasional thorough, public humiliation to be cathartic. I get a hearty laugh out of watching the self-styled masters of the universe fail miserably. It goes without saying, then, that I (and presumably many other customers) enjoyed a few gut-laughs when Netflix announced, tail tucked between its legs, that it would not in fact be reaming its customers launching "Qwikster" after all. This is impressive; there have been many product failures and commercial flops over the years, but very few so egregiously bad that they flopped before they even existed.

While Netflix probably is not important enough for this to qualify as the Edsel of our generation, there's never a bad reason to look back and chuckle at the Edsel again. Contrary to popular belief, the Edsel was not a bad car, or at least no worse than any other Ford vehicle of its era. Its failure is often blamed on the inability to carve out a market niche, since Edsels were priced almost identical to Ford and Mercury models. More integral to its failure, in my opinion, was the giant chrome vagina it called a grille.


The 1959 Edsel Cooter

While highly publicized flops like the Edsel or New Coke are part of our lexicon, there are far more amusing examples to be plucked from history. Anyone remember Pepsi A.M., the soda with 50% more caffeine targeted at "the breakfast cola drinker" market? It was released in 1989 and killed almost immediately when they realized that people who slam Pepsi for breakfast aren't that particular and do not require a special beverage.


This existed.

Technologies like Betamax, Sony HiFD, or HD DVD are often the butt of jokes, but their only real sin was losing a format war. Not much shame in that. Isn't it much more fun to mock DIVX (not to be confused with the video codec of the same name), the lead balloon that dragged Circuit City into bankruptcy? The idea was that instead of renting movies, people would pay $3-5 for a disc that could only be viewed within 48 hours of whenever it was first played. To watch the movie again after that, the buyer would need to pay a "continuation fee." The only surprising thing about this monstrous affront to common sense was that Circuit City managed to sell 100,000 DIVX players (incompatible with regular DVDs) before pulling the plug.

Dot-com failures were pretty epic, and we tend to remember Pets.com for some reason. I find the saga of WebVan more amusing, wherein the company principals spent over one billion dollars building warehouses (to meet demand!) before any sales or customers existed. The home grocery delivery scheme has later been copied with limited success (Is PeaPod still around?) but WebVan, shockingly, did not make it. I cannot fathom the amount of cocaine these guys must have been doing to make the billion dollars in overhead spending seem like a good idea before the company had earned its first dollar in revenue.

In honor of Steve Jobs, we should also mention the Apple Newton and, in the spirit of fairness and balance, Microsoft WebTV. Hell, there are just too many gigantic failures to name them all. Coors Rocky Mountain Spring Water (!!!). The Bricklin SV-1, the car so bad it brought down a government. Montreal-Mirabel Airport – so enormous that it's visible from space, yet vacant from almost the moment it opened. The XFL. You're not alone, Qwikster.

I've done what I can here. Now it's your turn to take the ball and run with it.