Blaming the customer

Lately I’ve been seeing some posts “blaming” millennials for this or that business tanking.  However, that’s not now it works.  Once upon a time companies made money making bustles.  Then fashions changed and look, nary a bustle manufacturer in sight.  Oh, there are a few out there, mainly folk supporting period re-enactors, but it’s a small niche rather than a common fashion.

Robert Heinlein’s first published story “Lifeline” explored this issue.  In the story a man invented a means of determining just how long a person would live.  The idea was that people were continuous in four-dimensional space time and he could send a signal along that line which would echo back from the point of their death which could be read and would tell exactly how far in the future that would be.

Insurance companies, particularly life insurance, immediately objected.  This machine made them obsolete.  Worse, a person could simply not buy life insurance until shortly before the machine said they would die then buy large policies which would then pay out with little in the way of premiums paid into it.  They’d have to shut down business or go bankrupt. (There is in fact, an analogy here with certain issues related to health insurance.)

In the story the insurance companies, and others, sued to have the invention suppressed.  However, the court was having none of it, to wit:

There has grown in the minds of certain groups in this country the idea that just because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with guaranteeing such a profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to public interest. This strange doctrine is supported by neither statute or common law. Neither corporations or individuals have the right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back.

The story is rather fanciful, as science fiction stories often are, and the technology is unlikely to ever actually be developed, but it describes issues that businesses, and individuals, must deal with every day in a changing world.

As one person, tired of millennials being blamed for businesses failing put it:


Look, some of what this person says may be short sighted and based on rather limited experience, but he’s got a point.

If you are not producing a product that people want at a price they are willing to pay, then that’s on you.  Doesn’t matter if you were successful last year, or last week.  Fashions change.  Technology changes.  Alternatives for whatever benefit people got from your product become available.  New competitors arise selling at a lower price.  Whatever.

And it doesn’t matter what you’re “selling”, whether it’s widgets of some kind, a particular skill you have, or “sweat of your brow” labor.  The fact that you were able to sell it before at a certain price is no guarantee that you will be able to sell it at that price today.

In the end, it’s on you.  It does no good to complain about the buyers not wanting your product, or not wanting to pay your prices.   It does no good to complain that someone out there is selling a cheaper version of your product.  It’s on you.

It’s on you to find a way to make your product more attractive.  It’s on you to make your product more competitive on price.  Or it’s on you to find a new product that people are willing to pay for.

So stop whining about people not buying your product and go look for something they will buy.

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