A month or so ago I was interviewed about the future of luxury. Not exactly my regular topic of expertise, but I wrote a piece about it for David Report in 2007 and it still ranks high on Google. It seems not much future has happened there for a while.
Either way, I came to think about it when I read this article in The Economist about counterfeits. It refers to studies around purchasing counterfeited luxury goods and the attitudes that Chinese consumers have towards it. This paragraph stood out:
If a customer falls for a fake, they obviously lose out. That is a clear example of malconsumption. But many buyers are not duped by their purchase; they want their purchase to fool everyone else. No doubt they often succeed, passing off a counterfeit good as the real thing. But in China, fakes are so widespread, the opposite danger also looms: genuine articles may be mistaken for fakes.
When fake products become the standard it seems to devalue the original product. There is no point in purchasing the original if no one, apart from you, knows that it is any different from the other fakes. This in turn poses the question what actually defines luxury and what driving forces that are behind it. What attributes does a product have to have in order to be perceived as more valuable than others?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this when it comes to digital products and software. Seeing as they are easily copied, the line of reasoning above would suggest that their value would decrease. Would that then mean that a luxurious digital product is something that cannot be copied? Even if it were the case it would seem difficult to ensure that the copying couldn’t take place. A few creative industries have tried this approach fairly unsuccessfully. But if it was technically possible – would that per se create a luxurious digital product? Sounds unlikely.
Another take on it could be that digital manifestations of your own accomplishments could be considered luxurious, or at least admirable – assuming that you buy into the manifesting system being correct. You need to trust Nike+ in order to be impressed by someone’s run on Facebook.
The perceived value (in terms of willingness to pay) of digital products by consumers tends to be low. But considering the lack of effort that seems to have been put into changing this matter by people creating the products (and I’m including myself in that category), perhaps this is not especially surprising. Surely it cannot be that software is one of the few realms where the notion of luxury, in whatever shape or form, is not applicable?
So here’s to finding the intangible qualities that could differentiate the experience and perception of a digital product. If you have any thoughts, I’d be more than grateful to hear them. I’ll be making my own list too.