Don't say a word

Don't say a word

Under strictest confidence, Matthew JC. Powell invites you to join a lucrative enterprise . . .

This column is a call for expressions of interest from potential channel partners. I figured this would be a good place to put it because the readers of this column are, as a general sort of rule, channel types. I've come over all entrepreneurial of late, and stumbled onto a business model that I'm sure will make me a mint, and I'm inviting loyal ARN reader types to come onboard.

The idea is simple: I'm going to sell mockingbirds online. Mockingbirds are inexpensive, reasonably easily accessible and highly portable. As long as I don't attempt to export them I shouldn't have a problem. I don't have a confirmed line of supply just yet, but trust me that it will happen. What's more, mockingbirds are essentially useless, and can therefore be sold without having to make any promise as to their saleability.

And that's why it's such a perfect online venture. I've been an online customer for years now, and I've bought literally tons of stuff (I weighed it all myself) via the Internet. For the most part I have been quite happy with the stuff I've bought online, as it's usually been of a quality that I would expect of stuff I buy from a real store. The great advantage with buying online, though, is that I don't have to leave my home or office to do it.

For example, I had an idle thought a few weeks ago that I'd like to know the lyrics to Duel of the Fates from the soundtrack to The Phantom Menace. This thought occurred to me at some ungodly hour in the wee smalls of the morning, but sufficiently precluded any further winks accumulating to the thirty-odd I'd had that I plopped myself down in front of the computer and went in search.

Within 15 minutes I'd found someone who would give me the sheet music in exchange for mere money, and had organised this fair exchange. Only days later, the music duly arrived. Wouldn't you know it, the lyrics are in Sanskrit, so now I need a phrase book.

But I digress. The beauty of this is that I never once had to walk into a music store. I didn't even have to wait until morning. I bought an almost completely useless thing in the middle of the night purely because I could.

Another example: those shirts I was complaining about a few weeks ago (for which the very friendly and well-meaning folks at customs gouged extra money from me) weren't even correct. Several shirts I'd ordered weren't there, replaced by ones I hadn't ordered. I wasn't happy, but did I complain to the vendor? No. Did I threaten never to darken their virtual doorstep again? No. I have since placed another order with the same people.

Which brings me back to the mockingbirds. No one actually wants a mockingbird. If they did, you'd hear much more about mockingbird dealers in the news. It's a market ready for the making. All we have to do is set up an online mockingbird dealership and we'd have it sewn up. People who get up in the middle of the night wondering what a mockingbird actually is or does would be directed by their search engines straight to our Web site, where we would convince them that true joy could be obtained through the ownership of one of these mocking wonders. We wouldn't be able to charge much, of course - something as inherently useless as a mockingbird doesn't command much value, so we must be careful to price them wisely.

But that's the beauty of it. The mockingbirds we sell would necessarily be cheap and useless. They would do nothing. Quality control would be a non-issue, thus saving us long-term dollars. No one would bother to complain about their non-functional mockingbird. Anyone who does could simply be told it's pining, and that would be that. No one wants to get into lengthy e-mail arguments over these things.

But if we played it right, they would come back. The sheer convenience of buying in the middle of the night would draw them back, and the fact that we sold them a useless object would stick in their heads, winning us valuable mindshare. They will be so annoyed at themselves that they will have to come back and buy something more useful, and therefore valuable, and therefore profitable. It is important that none of the mockingbirds actually do anything, or the whole plan falls down.

If the mockingbirds don't sing, they'll come back to buy diamond rings. Basic rule of business, and one that works especially well on the Web. Drop me a line if you're interested.

Matthew JC. Powell is the editor of ARN's sister publication PC Buyer. E-mail him at matthew_powell@

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