for 22 October 1996. Updated every TUESDAY.

[Beta Boutique]
BIG IDEA shareware.com meets The Sharper Image...
in your mailbox and on the web!
25 WORDS <= Exploiting the enthusiasm of the early
adopter crowd with a mail-order warehouse
specializing in prerelease
quasi-functional hardware and software.
HARD SELL In the online world, vaporware and beta
software are two peas in a pod. In an
industry where information is product, an
announcement of software, however
infeasible or even impossible, can launch
a vast wave of mortal terror as easily as
it can launch a new company. But however
tantalizing the story might appear on the
PR Newswire, it's only an opening blow
and is invariably shortly followed by a
more executable, if equally hollow,
wallop: the pre-release beta. At this
stage of online development, the routine
is familiar, dependable , and mostly
unremarkable. For the fleet-footed
entrepreneur, the exciting element of
this transaction is not the defect of the
product but the by-product of the process -
an anxious elite community of early
adopters, wealthy and conditioned to
accept abuse.
Beta Boutique expands and sharpens this
archetypal digital dynamic by adding
revenue to the equation while expanding
its scope beyond the online world. Both
the frenzy of anticipation and intensity
of traffic surrounding beta releases of
information appliances such as Pointcast,
Shockwave and Internet Explorer lead us
to believe that they represent the most
coveted products on the web. That they
are routinely given away "free for
evaluation" strikes us as the single
greatest blunder of online commerce. To
rectify this industry-sapping situation,
the Beta Boutique will operate akin to an
exclusive club. Above and beyond selling
product, BB will charge a significant fee
to the subscribers of our catalog/website
as well as the companies who wish to
raise much-needed capital for their
merchandise through our service.
Much like the pages of a typical Toys "R"
Us or MacWarehouse catalog, every
placement will command a fee,
appropriately expensive as the Beta
Boutique will cultivate a customer base
with peerless demographics. Valued users
may, from time to time, be given free
copies of software exclusive to the
service and asked for feedback, all for
the purpose of fostering community. But
the end goal of this strategy is not to
move software, but to extend the mind-set
of the users from the realm of software
to that of tangible goods. Once our pool
of customers condition themselves to
covet semifunctional computer peripherals
as well as general consumer goods, we
will have accomplished an enviable and
lucrative goal: the death of quality
control and usability testing.
OVERHEAD Aside from nominal costs of printing
catalogs, purchasing customer lists,
and maintaining the website, Beta
Boutique depends upon the cultivation of
exclusive strategic alliances with key
software and hardware manufacturers. Most
major vendors will wish to eventually
distribute their wares to the
net-at-large, so the duration of each
pre-release is necessarily short - which
should entice manufacturers eager to
distribute their goods but wary of
criticism of the functionality of their
product. A strategic hire from an outfit
like The Sharper Image combined with a
professional evangelizing core, perhaps
led by Guy Kawasaki himself, should
jump-start the first round of investment
and allow us to rush an alpha version of
the service to market.

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