6 Things that Should Cost Less

This past summer, I shook my head in disbelief as I was forced to pay $4.39 for a single gallon of gasoline. I now can look down the road and see, much to my amazement, $1.81. In an age where prices seem to be dropping on more than just gas (I know, gas is a limited resource, etc etc) I started thinking about other things that are way overpriced given the amount of time they’ve been around and the relative advantage that they offer.

Textbooks

I don’t even bother buying school texts any more. Professors practically demand that  you buy two $120+ textbooks that will be referenced once or twice… maybe.

Now that we’re in a digital age, a lot more resources are being made available online, in pdf and mhtm formats. These are convenient and simple, but some lack the proper page notation and just don’t give the hightlightable, dogearable delight that comes with having a book.

So what exactly goes into the amazing cost of textbooks? $5 for paper? $5 for ink/toner? $2 for publishing costs? $10 for licensing rights? and $100 for ego?

Tuition

Going along with the academic theme here, tuition is crazy right now. Since I’ve been going to the college I currently attend, yearly tuition increases of $2,000+ are the norm- well above the rate of inflation. The first major price increase was blamed on Campus Security needing to purchase Segways. So 17,000 students x $2,000 each = a few Segways for the guys who could use a little walking exercise anyway? In addition, they’ve built a bazillion new buildings, added an all-out shopping center, yet still have Pentium 4’s in the Systems lab.

I don’t like paying $30,000 a year on a school that, frankly, doesn’t deserve it. The professors are crazily egotistical, snobbish, and out of touch with reality, and most of the students are lazy, unshowering, richy-rich snobs who use their parents money for everything.

Hah.. wow, sorry. Didn’t mean to rant.

The point is, expensive tuition is not the way to help students out in life and $100k debt is part of the problem with the terrible economy.

Magazines

This one is a bit different, as there are ways around with it, so I’ll include “online subscriptions”. I walked into Wegmans the other day and picked up a copy of a gaming magazine. $10.99?!?! Granted, that was the one with a *demo* DVD included, but the optical-media-less version was $6.99. Why would I pay seven bucks for 80 pages of useless reviews and things I can find out online?

The other end of this, as I mentioned, is online subscriptions- those you would purchase to say… read your local newspaper, play games on pogo.com, and all that other jazz. World of Warcraft (if you’re lame enough to p(l)ay it) and LOTRO (if you don’t purchase the lifetime pack) can be added to that mix as well. I’m a big fan of buying things once and that’s it.. no extra $$ to get extra content or for connection fees.

Software

Specifically Adobe. $400 for Dreamweaver? Really? Eclipse runs circles around Dreamweaver in most regards and, guess what! It’s free! Add on Photoshop, Fireworks, and the rest of the CS4 suite and you’re sunk. Open source software is a legitimate force for big manufacturers to contend with. Between piracy and OSS replacements, I don’t see how big companies like Adobe can afford to stay in business.

Partly due to the miserable launch that Vista had, Microsoft decided to cut prices drastically on the OEM versions of the software. Vista Home Premium goes for ~$90, Business for $130, and Ultimate for $170. I give Microsoft a pat on the back for doing this, as this allows me to build systems where slapping on a bootleg version or having them switch to Linux isn’t even a consideration.

Cell Phone Service

This is where this article really delves into the ridiculous. Why on earth does it cost $100 to be able to call someone with a cell phone now? I can justify (and am willing to pay) $200 for a phone with GPS, MP3, texting, camera, video, and calling capabilities. I can’t seem to justify paying that same $200 every other month to be able to use those services- and not even to an unlimited degree!

So where does all this cost go? For a while now, all the cell networks we could really ever want in the US have been built. All the traffic is sent along virtual circuits, is interconnected with other cell phones and land lines… Did you know that most towers are shared between cell companies?

Take, for instance, the Internet. You pay $X per month, which is the same as your neighbor on the same ISP. Let’s say you have a PC with a web cam, Skype, and play video games online, but your neighbor only does email. How much extra do you pay your ISP because of that? Nada.

Speaking of…

The Internet…

Broadband prices are ridiculous. I’m going to dissect this from two angles, so don’t get lost.

The first is the ISPs themselves. Once again, we’ve got all the network architecture in place- lines run to every home with a cable connection run to it, fiber backbones in place, Tier 1 providers already handling the major routing… Yet a decent broadband connection runs >$50 a month. Why?

More and more countries in Europe are adopting this idea of socialized Internet. (Quick disclaimer- I’m generally against the government providing services like this on several levels- increased taxes, the sudden ability to regulate, etc, and I still maintain that in this case. I’m merely using this as an example.) All across Europe, countries provide their citizens with free FIBER Internet connections. Fiber to the desktop has been described by American cablecos/telcos as unrealistic. Why? They have the money, manpower, and materials to do it, yet don’t… The answer is something that we all know and love, but don’t seem to recognize. It’s the same reason that cars in America get somewhere around 25mpg, yet their English counterparts are getting 50mpg:

Lowered expectations.

Sure, on both continents we started at the same baseline at the same time, but American companies seem to artifically hold back development and advances. Here, we think innovation is installing a ladder into the tailgate of a truck and running a broadband signal over a television or telephone cable. In Europe, innovation is making a forced induction diesel engine that gets 70 mpg/200 horsepower and giving away fiber optic Internet connections to everyone who has a legitimate residence.

Conclusion

While a lot of technologies and products are coming down in price (RAM, monitors, TVs, coffee makers, etc), there are a lot of things that people need more that are being kept at artificially high prices for no other reason than because people are willing to pay for them. While I respect how supply and demand works and give these companies all the credit in the world for having the foresight and will to own the market, care must be taken for controlling prices on services we have begun to consider necessary.

A lot has been said about the economy lately and taking advantage of people during a time when things are tight is only going to make things worse.

4 thoughts on “6 Things that Should Cost Less”

  1. I totally agree about tuition: for what I want to do, four years could cost like $200,000 (w/o financial aid). It’s not like I or my parents are full of money either, and the most unfortunate thing is that I am a white male so I can immediately write off about 50% of all scholarships. I hate to say something like, “It’s not fair.”, but it isn’t.

  2. Textbooks: Amen!
    Tuition: AMEN! …I pity you on that… I’m glad I ended up at a college with a FAR less tuition rate. 😀
    Magazines: True enough, which is why I rarely buy them
    Software: Eclipse FTW! Gimp is alright… if you have twice the amount of time to spend on it, you can get highly similar results
    Cell Phones: Wonder how much my friend George pays for his palm pilot then…? X_X …and LAN watch… and all his other spiffy gadgets….
    Internet: Ugh, have to pay that bill tomorrow…

    ZePuKa’s last blog post..From Potatoes to Religion

  3. Lots of good points and I don’t have nearly the time to go down the list now. You’re right on about most of this especially when it comes to tuition. Textbooks are artificially inflated in America just because we’re willing to pay the difference. Search for the international version of that book you need sometime and watch the price fall.

    As for internet and cell service there’s a combination of there being government created monopolies in certain areas and down right oligopoly style pricing that goes on. To break the mold, there’s a cell company in my area that gives unlimited any-time access for $40 a month. All the companies could do this, but none of the big ones do so none of them have incentive to do so (that or they’re all getting together and illegally setting prices).

    As for software I’ll have to agree and disagree. Enterprise type solutions for software are generally necessary and while I agree Eclipse rocks as a Dreamweaver killer; Gimp doesn’t do so well as compared to Photoshop. Good size businesses that require support and enterprise type solutions will almost always go to non-pirated, professional, payed software. That sucks for the average college student that wants to do photo editing, but hey that average college student should be able to get by just fine with Gimp.

    HT’s last blog post..End of an Era: Change is Here

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.