Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Neighborhood Cadillac

Once upon a time, in a major city once more powerful and not so far away, there was a phenomenon among less wealthy citizens:  the neighborhood Cadillac.  Families would pool their money to buy one car, one VERY NICE car, and work out a shared arrangement for custody.  Driving to church, to social functions, around the neighborhood...all could be done in a fine set of wheels, despite an annual income that suggested a midrange used car might be a bit of a stretch.

Zipcar, eat their cooperative exhaust.

Today, "car sharing" is a business, and the emphasis is on eco-friendliness as much as economic feasibility.  The neighborhood Caddy was more about reconciling economic reality with the desire for upscale goods.  The ZipCar blends eco-consciousness with budget concerns, often with a healthy dollop of the challenges of warehousing a car in a dense urban environment.  Either model appeals.  Only buying a piece of the cake, rather than the whole, appeals to my share the planet / don't hog / but go ahead and appreciate the finer things in life self.

I like this model for things beyond consumer goods, too. The first two can be found in museums and libraries that allow greater distribution of the experience for less cost to the "user."  Full ownership is available...for a price.

Music is tricky, of course.  What would you "buy"?  There aren't too many Habsburgs around these days, employing their own full time musicians and composers.  In terms of live music, we consume per performance.  And while a performance is "shared" with every member of the audience, seating capacity limits how many "users" or recipients can enjoy a given performance.  Recordings were an innovation in access.  "Owners" of a given performance can just keep pressing and selling those recordings until the cows come home. (Yes, people from a certain generation took advantage of cassette recorders to make mix tapes for friends or swaps of full album tapes.  Most people I knew ended up going out and buying their favorites, because they wanted their own for their collection.  Swapping tapes did not curtail any retail urges...though, when we were young and poor, it helped both develop and whet our tastes.)

Perhaps you see where my rambling ruminations are headed.

In perfume, there are practices known as decanting, and splitting.  The former run as a business, the latter, as a co-op effort.  Call them, if you will, the K-tel car share and the Cadillac.  The former buys product, repacks it in smaller amounts, and sells it to willing consumers.  One shot at the jukebox, or a few, depending on how many coins you put in.  (Oh, rats, I'm muddying the metaphorical waters here.  Which I'm going to call my Muddy Waters move for the moment--I can do that, I veered into music, see?--and proceed.)  In cars, this single investor model is the ZipCar; they take on the risk, you pay for a certain amount of use.  Somebody else invests in the car in the first place, handles distributing the shares of the product, and insures the vehicle.

Splitting with friends is buying a neighborhood Cadillac.  You can't afford a full bottle; you're not ready for the commitment; you want the option to drive a Caddy sometimes, but increase your opportunity to drive other models as well.  You agree to work with a group of friends to figure out who "hosts," and does the work of distributing the shares.  Unlike the decant model, where the purveyor offers a shopping list that you can go to at any time, the split is a one-time dealie.  Which will only happen if you can get critical mass for a purchase, and which, once fully spoken for, is no longer going to be available.

There is unrest about decanters, mostly from The Big Companies.  This didn't happen in auto world; Ford/ Cadillac/ et al never chased after the neighborhood car arrangements; as far as they were concerned, if the purchase was legitimate, the purchase was a deal.  Of course, they didn't worry that once you drove off the lot, you'd alter the vehicle somehow and then drive around in non-genuine product, impugning the quality of the product.  (They WOULD, however, chase after you if you didn't pay for your purchase; hence, the glamorous world of the Repo Man.)*

So, are the corporate suits going to come after people who buy a perfume with pooled money and divvy up the goods?  If so, this could mean trouble the next time a bunch of teachers gather to unwind and all toss some money on the table to buy, and share, a pizza.

I understand protecting product.  You are talking to a person who made her child de-install music sharing software that didn't use appropriate licensing.  I am a proponent of intellectual property rights, a person who puts believes artists should be paid for their product.

It just seems to me that, as long as nobody is messing with the art, and the original owner is getting their self-determined price for their product, there's nothing wrong with a purchaser/new owner deciding to share custody.

You can co-own real estate and call it a time share.  You can purchase a piece of owning a company and call it a corporate stock.  Heck, you can even break up your Aunt Claire's intact set of LuRay dinnerware and sell each piece to the highest bidder.

I plan on purchasing a portion of a Cadillac bottle of perfume.  I'm safe, right?

*This altering of product is not to be confused with selling a bunch of Escalades to Houston dealers for one price, to dealers in Dubai for another price, and then the Dubai vehicles ending up cheap in Baton Rouge.  Mind you, your Baton Rouge vehicle won't come with the manufacturer's warranty, but if your game...they'll sell.  That's grey market, and that's not what the corporations are accusing the decanters of doing.

See more on grey market in the perfume industry in the Feb 2008 Perfumeshrine article "Dirty Secrets of the Grey Market and Fakes," or more reflections on the grey market in this Dec 2009 article from Intellectual Property Watch which takes a look at various laws, trademarks, and the concept of "material difference."

Images from the very cool Shorpy site, which plays with images from Library of Congress, which means you can go to LoC or Shorpy all on your own and enjoy poking around, but should not share or redistribute these images as if *I* offered.  I have no rights to give you permission to redistribute them whatsoever or pretend that I do.  I love the wording of the LoC Rights section.  Straightforward.  Clear.  


Olfacta said...

I worked in the music business during the era of "home taping." Boy did those guys have their panties in a wad over that! Until the CD appeared, and everyone had to buy their vintage records all over again. Everybody was happy...until the consumers and counterfeiters figured out that CD's could be easily duplicated in huge numbers...anyway, here's the thing: the music wasn't that good. It wasn't "home taping" at all. It was lousy sales. "Home taping" was a red herring, just as going after decanters would be. Sales are bad because 1.) the economy is bad and 2.) the mainstream product is bad.

La Bonne Vivante said...

Olfacta, you are exactly right. This is the problem with marketing reasoning in general; it tries to be 'objective,' looking at all the variables available (bad economy, bottle sharing, the democratic boom in perfume review and appreciation on the web) and they take those to be the reasons their sales suck. They overlook the major reason, which can't be evaluated objectively--the quality of their products and the likelihood that their buyers will fall in love with them.

ScentScelf, I love your perspective, as always! Here's to shared goods, be they cars, music (within reason) and 'fume!

ScentScelf said...

Olfacta, I remember those wads. Two pals of mine went into the biz not long a rep for a Big House, the other in management for a Big Artist...and I remember hearing the continuing rumblings, how CDs were going to solve, blah blah. I remember saying to them, Hey, when's the big price drop going to happen? (Remember, CDs were introduced to the market at a high price point, to offset introductory production costs, but would end up costing less than vinyl? Do they yet? Hello, generation later??) And yeah, it was lousy sales. Conflict? Sony sure didn't mind selling that Walkman to death. But, hmmm, what went inside that Walkman?

Anyway, I just fed the red herring, so to speak, so moving on. I agree, if you bring the goods, so to speak, people will bring the cash. If they've got cash to spend.

(Not even going to get into debt culture here. That's another can of worms. And worms just might...feed a fish.)

ScentScelf said...


Salut! Prost! Skoal! Slainte! A toast to sharing. :)

I am, incidentally, always amused by how things get "scientific" to the point of eliminating the art. That's when corrective courses, like the creation of a Faith Popcorn, get tacked on to the studies and numbers.

Kind of like I tacked that on to your comment. ;)

Musette said...

If you purchase a product it is YOURS, in my opinion. If you want to buy a pair of panties, cut them in half and give half to your sister, have at it! Same with perfume. It's nobody's business what you do with it once you purchse the bottle. Again, my opinion.

Not happy with the idea of decants/splits? Make 10 ml bottles at a reasonable price and shut the hockey sticks up about it, already. I'm not about to spring for a 100 ml bottle of something I don't love (well, okay. I did - once. But that Was NOT My Fault! LOL!)

xoxo >-) (alien)

ps. they can try to do something about this but all that will happen, imo, is that it will go underground and they will lose even more potential customers. Morons.

ScentScelf said...

I hear you on the individual purchase and private transaction, Musette...panties, or whatever. :)

Ah, those smaller sizes. Have they heard the drums beating yet? Sephora seems to have caught on...there is the "travel" shelf of fragrances in small sizes, plus that trial program where you buy a box of minis and get a coupon worth the price it costs you to apply toward the purchase of any of the scents in the box. Boy, if you could make your own THAT would be appealing...of course, more appealing under the old selection at Sephora. Current one is \ahem/ watered down.

Musette said...

Yeah, if perfume companies actually LISTENED to their customers they might learn something. I read this really bizarre article re MF (Macy's) downtown, wherein they were actually going to LARGER bottles of mainstream dreck because their target demo likes a 'bargain'. Huh. Maybe they know something I don't (and it's entirely possible this is based on valid market research)

But can you imagine how many bottles of Les Ex would fly off the shelves if they could start off with 10 or 20ml sizes? And I would've bought Brillante TWICE! LOL!

xoxo A(lien)

ChickenFreak said...

I was alarmed by a discussion about decanting on Basenotes, where people seemed to be assuming that if you bought a commodity to resell in a store, you needed a _license_ from the original manufacturer to do so.

Noooooo! At least I'm pretty sure the legal answer is "no."

I suspect that software and audio and video licensing has gotten so deep in our culture that some people now think that _every_ seller of every product is entitled to control its use - and that "some people" includes people who sell products like perfume. :) But I'm pretty sure that away from the copyright police, that's mostly not true.

ScentScelf said...


No, nothing illegal about sharing your goods.

Interestingly, it is issues related to copyright that the owners are starting to use to rattle the cage. They argue that their image is being affected...whether because presentation/exclusivity is not as they would offer, or because the product itself is not what the label would suggest (and therefore misleading consumers about what they "get" when they buy, say, Chanel).

Of course, there HAVE been issues with shady sellers online (esp. and notoriously at online auction) who change the juice inside the bottle. And, yes, if I can get 10 ml to spritz from a seller in Wichita without ever stepping into one of two boutiques in the country that offer that scent, then the "exclusive" factor is somewhat diminished, 'cause I'm going to smell like the person who bought a plane ticket to get it.

But when you think of it in simple resale terms...I can go into my local Goodwill store in search of product, and buy a designer label creation, and that transaction is perfectly okay.

There are questions of what and how you can license. And there is also the question of how to reasonably make sure the product offered is indeed what it purports to be.

But I am a bit perplexed about the efforts to chase down a small subset of people who are willing to do the work of "sharing." It will be interesting to track if corporate feathers get more ruffled over folks who do it for profit than those who do it just because.

...and there's a lot of yammering you might not have expected!! :) Which buries the other important thing I'd like to say...howdy! Nice to see you here.