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Mercantile Insanity, a Longer Version

I have found it a little challenging to marshall all of the points I would like to make regarding the recent Xstreet Outrage in time to make a Journal Entry that remains relevant, but that is one of the challenges of Journalism really, that and coping with acute liver complaints and the strain of having to associate with other journalists.

Luckily, since I am a Vanity Published Journalist, I am able to simply present bulleted lists, and not have to worry about an editor rushing into my office, swatting me with a fedora and saying "Ordinal! This is a load of lazy tripe! I'm hiding the whisky bottle until you do me some better damn copy!"

The Linden measures, summarised:

  • Free items to cost L$99/month each to list.

  • Paid items to cost L$10/month each to list, and have a minimum commission of L$3 each. (The commission on items of items costing over L$60 will remain 5%.)

Obviously intended results:

  • A reduction of the number of items through people removing them rather than pay extra fees.

  • A disproportionate reduction in the listing of cheap and free items (particularly free ones - it costs almost ten times as much to list a free item as a paid one) and to encourage the listing of higher-priced items. The flat fee per listing and minimum commission are a proportionately lower percentage of profit the more expensive the item - in other words this is a regressive sales tax.

  • A raising of prices to cover new charges, and the corresponding rise in commission.

Results which may or may not have been consciously intended but which should have been obvious:

  • Less competition means that merchants who remain no longer have to compete with free and low-priced goods in terms of quality; there is no longer a baseline. I would not expect the general quality of items to go down due to this, but it will be less likely to go up.

  • A reduction in the diversity of goods, not only their number. If there is an incentive not to list something which you are not sure will sell, you are less likely to do so. This discourages merchants from taking risks. Even quite simple strategies such as selling five copies of a dress in different colours may be uneconomic if one has a large range of dresses. Ordering an item with options such as colour could of course be implemented in Xstreet, but is very unlikely to be, as that would involve some sort of software development.

  • The distribution of the message that Xstreet is for a certain sort of person to make money. It is not a general method of distribution for educators or philanthropists. I also say "a certain sort of person" because the economic engineering here encourages certain business models over others. There is no economy of scale and no attempt to allow for one; you should be making small numbers of high-priced items that all sell well, not even small numbers of high-priced specialist items (see above).

  • A corollary to that is the message that Linden Lab is not interested in you making things better for other residents by means of its services. In fact, Linden Lab would rather that you didn't, and will charge you more if you intend to. You are not conforming to the vision of seller and customer. The fact that this announcement comes at the same time as eliminating mentors I am sure is coincidental in terms of timing, but not, I believe, in terms of motivation.

Statements which are not convincing:

  • That free items on Xstreet are simply advertising. This is such a stupid assertion that I will simply sneer and move on.

  • That this is to "reduce clutter" and make it easier for customers to find quality items.

    Firstly, as an observation, it is quite telling that low-priced and free items are simply termed "clutter" - I assume that all the high-priced rubbish in Xstreet is somehow not cluttering the place up.

    Secondly, Xstreet really is not all that cluttered if you know what you are looking for; just search for "shoes" and yes, you will get rather a large number of results. My problem when using the site has always been (a) how to properly get to the subset of products that I am interested in - the search and metadata filtering is generally poor, and should be greatly improved - and (b) how to tell which of the - frequently rather expensive - products I find are any good. Price is absolutely no guarantee of quality or authenticity on Xstreet.

Things that I have done or will do:

  • Remove all of my items from Xstreet until such time as these policies are amended. Even if I had no moral objections to the broader effects of the changes themselves, I really do not see why I should pay more money for a worse service.

    Realistically a change or reversal is very unlikely to occur, and once I have deleted the listings (as opposed to simply taking back my Xstreet boxes) I am very unlikely to fight Xstreet's appalling excuse for a merchant UI in order to put them back, so in effect I will no longer be selling silly guns or providing Slurlbloggers, Twitterboxes, Snowball Systems or any of the other free items via Xstreet.

    (Edited to add: actually it seems I am able to simply make items Inactive, which I had not previously had cause to do, so in theory I could put things back quite easily should the situation change. Which I very much doubt it will.)

  • Make it clear in my inworld establishments why this is.

  • Not buy anything as a purchaser from Xstreet. This will not be a huge trial for me as I only rarely did anyway.

  • As the one useful thing about Xstreet for me was that it gave people the ability to send Copy/No-Transfer products of mine to others, I shall attempt to script a system which allows this, and once I have done so, I shall make it publicly available. Though not of course on Xstreet. I would also like to have some sort of mechanism to allow people to send items to themselves or others via the Web, which is often convenient for Educational Things.

    The production of such a system does of course rest on my continuing interest in selling items at all, which is not guaranteed and most certainly waxes and wanes; thus I make no promises on this score.

A few final points:

  • I am not particularly incensed by price rises and the motive of profit in themselves - by now I am used to such concepts - but I am somewhat miffed to see both crude attempts at socio-economic engineering and also the facile arguments being used to justify them, as if everything was All For Our Own Good. The "Free Items Are Just Advertising" part, particularly, feels like a child giving you an earnest ethical justification for why it has stolen a biscuit. If we are to have autocracy or even a strict commercial provider/customer relationship with the Laboratory, we should at least have them in an adult way.

  • I am also miffed at the suggestion that Residents Asked For This And Lindens Just Replied. The "consultation process" in this instance was simply laughable. Three poorly-advertised office hours sessions, each attended by a handful of people (the most miniscule fraction of the constituency imaginable), during which the proposals originated from Lindens in any case; then a blog post announcing it as fait accompli. Not exactly Athenian. I would actually have had more faith in a hand-picked focus group assembled to ponder a Linden suggestion, since at least that would imply an interest in what some residents had to say, rather than using them as an excuse.

    There is a broader point here regarding the growing trend towards Officeocracy, but I think that is best left to a future entry, given that this one is already of considerable length.

Mercantile insanity, short version

Dear Customers,

As of this moment, no products from Ordinal Enterprises will be available from Xstreet until further notice.

I am currently engaged in the Composition of a Longer Piece on the subject, but those interested in what might perhaps have brought about this move might wish to look at the following:

This journal entry has been brought to you free, gratis and for nothing, and did not incur a L$99 listing fee.



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