If Little Clouds of Doom Follow You Around, There Might Be Money In It For You!

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Via Tyler Cowen, here’s an intriguing new paper that claims certain kinds of customers are—not to mince words—“harbingers of failure”:

We show that some customers, whom we call ‘Harbingers’ of failure, systematically purchase new products that flop. Their early adoption of a new product is a strong signal that a product will fail — the more they buy, the less likely the product will succeed. Firms can identify these customers either through past purchases of new products that failed, or through past purchases of existing products that few other customers purchase. We discuss how these insights can be readily incorporated into the new product development process. Our findings challenge the conventional wisdom that positive customer feedback is always a signal of future success.

There’s a chart, naturally, because Science™. For example, if repeated harbingers (dotted green line) account for half your sales, you’re pretty much screwed. Your shiny new product has less than a 10 percent chance of success. The reason I find this all intriguing is that I have lately begun to wonder if I myself belong to this group. I use Firefox and I think it’s great. Chrome sucks. I think Windows 8 is terrific on a tablet, far superior to either iOS or Android. And I read all my books on the Nook reader, which I like better than the Kindle reader.

Now, Firefox has had a pretty good run and may very well stay around for a while. But it’s not looking like a winner these days. Likewise, Windows tablets account for—what? Maybe 2 percent of the market, despite Microsoft’s massive marketing campaigns. And Nook, of course, is already officially dead, hanging on in limbo until it gives up the ghost for good.

So here’s the deal: I’m willing to rent out my services as a harbinger. Send me your new tech products while they’re still in testing, and then cross your fingers and hope that I don’t love them. If I do, it’s back to the drawing board.


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It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

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Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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