Today, I spoke to Kevin Maney, who is a journalist at Fortune, The Atlantic, Fast Company and other magazines. He just released his latest book called Trade-Off: Why Some Things Catch On, and Others Don’t. In this interview, Kevin explains how convenience and fidelity impact purchasing decisions, products that have succeeded and failed based on the trade-off, some cool research from his book, and a few thoughts about journalism.
Can you explain how convenience and fidelity impact purchasing decisions?
People are willing to trade fidelity for convenience and vice-versa, so you’re happy to buy U2 concert tickets (high fidelity) even though going is extremely inconvenient, or you’re happy to get songs on an iPod (high convenience) even though the fidelity is not even as good as on a CD.
All in all, we tend to get most excited about products or services at one end or the other — either high fidelity or high convenience. Stuff that lands in the middle — not quite enough of either — makes us feel more apathetic. That’s the problem music CDs have run into.
Can you give an example of a product that had success and one that failed because of this trade-off?
The iPhone has been a success because it landed as the single super high-fidelity cell phone. YouTube stormed the landscape because it came in as the super-convenient way to share video.
The Kindle today is not quite convenient and cost-effective enough to lure book fans away from paper books — which, really, most book readers still consider the best form of a book. Kindle is still stuck in that middle place, and while it’s been a hit among early adopters, it hasn’t caught on with the broad mass market.
What research did you do for your book that was most intriguing?
The book was a license to talk to a lot of smart business people about how they think about their companies and industries. I had sessions with Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen, Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis and a whole lot of other high-profile execs. It’s always amazing to talk about big ideas with people like that.
Do you think it’s natural that a long time journalist, like yourself, become a book author?
Absolutely. It’s a natural progression.
Do you think the major draw to becoming a journalist is to network with successful people?
I actually think if that’s why you’re getting into journalism, that’s a big mistake. You have to get into it because you love stories, you love finding out about the world. Some of the best journalists never network with successful people — they spend their time writing about troops in Iraq or oppressed people in Asia. For me, it ended up being a by-product of what I do — a helpful one, to be sure, but just a by-product.
Kevin Maney is an author and journalist who has interviewed many of the biggest names in business in a career spanning 25 years. His most recent book is Trade-Off: Why Some Things Catch On, and Others Don’t, published in the fall of 2009 by Broadway Books. He writes for Fortune, The Atlantic, Fast Company and other magazines. Maney was recruited by Conde Nast Portfolio magazine prior to its launch in 2007, and was a contributing editor there until its demise in April 2009. Maney was previously technology columnist and senior technology reporter at USA Today. Maney is the author of the critically-acclaimed The Maverick and His Machine: Thomas Watson Sr. and the Making of IBM, published in 2003 by John Wiley & Sons. Working with Chicago firm VSA Partners, Maney is currently an historical consultant and collaborator helping IBM plan for its 100-year anniversary in 2011. Maney also wrote the 1995 BusinessWeek bestseller Megamedia Shakeout. He is often on television and radio, and has appeared on PBS, NPR, CNBC, and other media outlets. He is a frequent keynote speaker and on-stage interviewer.