Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Are we post-stuff?

Over the last ten years the music business has discovered that while it can't get people to pay more than a couple of pounds for a CD, those same people will pay anything up to £50 to go and see that artist perform live. Maybe this isn't so much a consequence of the digital revolution as the harbinger of a more significant change which has been taking place over the same period of time. Put concisely, it means people would rather have experiences than stuff.

Look around. Premium sporting occasions, expensive rock festivals, blockbuster movies, premium-priced meals, lavish family occasions, adventurous holidays, beauty treatments, weekend retreats, the Hockney exhibition: people seem increasingly relaxed about spending money on things which don't last rather than, as they might have done in the past, on items that are supposed to give long term satisfaction or advertise the owner's status.

I've noticed this in my own offspring. There are a few key branded goods that they feel they must have - a Blackberry, a pair of Ugg boots for instance - but beyond that they are far more likely to get excited about a visit, a concert or a gathering of friends.

I'm wondering, are we post-stuff?


  1. I have had Bruce Springsteen latest CD for weeks as well as Spotify. Not listened to it yet I am jealous of daughter seeing hin at Isle of Wight in a few weeks.

  2. It's certainly an established fact that people value experiences over things and now "things" are all too often not even material objects, decreasing their perceived value even further.

  3. My grandparents, who lived through the great depression and WW2, were horders. I wonder if living through a sustained period of peace and prosperity has the opposite effect...

  4. Might be the case for entertainment items but compared to past generations we have loads of stuff at home already . I bet NS your grandparents hoarded stuff either necessities Or possibly as portable wealth were as now you can kit out a home relatively cheaply in comparative terms. The stuff we don't care about is added extra stuff not pits and pans and bed sheets

  5. As a company, Apple seems to spoil this theory.

    And while once I'd have said that's an exception that proves the rule, as the company continues to grow, I'm not so sure. We see it too with other phones and gadgets, with people pre-ordering to they get them on release date.

    And moving beyond consumer electronics, there are also the designer bags, limited edition clothing lines (e.g. the queues outside H&M for whichever star designer has produced a range), or even the "right" brand pots and pans or kitchen dustbins.

    So I'm not entirely sure.

    Indeed, the word "brand" has now entered common parlance where once upon a time it'd surely have been a specialist marketing term. Today Waitrose sent me an email detailing their pricing on "branded" goods. "Premium" brand lagers are generally understood by drinkers, and people shop at TK Maxx because it sells branded clobber.

  6. It sounds a healthier way to be.

  7. It seems to me that the public record or show of the experience has become ever more / very important; the iphone/camera to twitter, facebook maybe youtube-ing of what's being or has been seen, done and attended.

    Immediacy is the key.

    Showing off to the whole world in real time is now perfectly possible.
    Previously this option was only available to the Late, Great, Freddie Mercury when doing Live Aid.

    The social 'validation' of the event in real or near-past time depends on those three or four key pieces of technology. Is this why the only items people 'typically' get excited about are those that contribute to the craze of the public show?

    So, displaying 'status' is still the prime driver but it is, product-wise, expressed differently.

    (Apologies for the long winded comment)

  8. We value stuff less because we have so much of it already and because in general terms it's becoming cheaper. Our children value stuff less for similar reasons - when my teenage daughter started to learn the guitar she quickly got a good Les Paul copy that I would have killed for when I was 18 - but it cost half the price (in absolute terms, not just in inflation-adjusted real terms) of the piece of crap that I had to play till I was 21... withing three months it was discarded in the corner of the room, unloved.
    Could it be that experiences have taken the place of 'stuff', because they are more significant as status-enhancers? They are more expensive, known to be more expensive, and can be recorded and bounced around your peer group with a 'look where I am now' tag...

  9. I wonder if it's anything to do with the fact that people now have the means, not only to record their presence at events, but advertise it on Facebook, Twitter and such. In other word's it's not just the experience itself, but the whole long-lasting bubble it's in.

  10. Also, events now provide their own pecking order, which signals your status just as effectively as purchased stuff used to do.

    Once upon a time you just queued up for a concert ticket along with everybody else. Now, you need to be in the know to hear about an need to be registered with the right website to get the right alert...then you need access to the pre-sale...then, if you actually get a wristband (and what a display item THAT is!) it has to be the right colour/access to attract respect.

  11. Nice idea in principle. But let me just come round and take your Mac, your iPod, your coffee maker, your car(s), your smartphone, your fridge-freezer, your washer & dryer, your microwave, your dvd player, flat-screen TV...

    But that's not stuff, eh? That's the basics...

  12. >We value stuff less because we have so much of it already and because in general terms it's becoming cheaper.<

    Sometimes. On the telly today Mike Atherton said he bought a new bat for his 10-year-old. £100.