Why weird people didn’t get nice things

Bull head

In the pre-internet age, production and distribution of almost anything – regardless of which industry you were in – was difficult and expensive. Before the digital revolution, production and distribution required significant physical effort.

Making physical things in the physical world involves sourcing raw materials in the correct quantities and combining them, processing them and transforming them into new things. Selling physical things means physically moving them around the world – usually via trucks, ships or aeroplanes. That’s a lot of effort! Not only are per-unit costs relatively high in the physical world, the start-up costs are similarly high. Buying and developing infrastructure (such as tooling up a new factory or buying – or even renting – a fleet of trucks) for a new physical business is not something that’s very accessible to most people.

For example, making CDs involved physically preparing and imprinting the layers of plastic. Getting those CDs to people involved transporting them around the world and stocking them in shops. This was a difficult and expensive process, which is why only the few largest companies in the music industry could afford to do it.

In the physical world, starting up a new business is therefore a difficult and expensive proposition. The high barriers to entry result in fewer businesses establishing themselves. Reduced competition allows established businesses to develop dominant positions, therefore making it even more difficult for newcomers to start.

The physical effort and cost required also encourages these businesses to make a small variety of physical things for as many people as possible. High physical production costs means it’s cheaper and easier to produce a limited variety of things in large quantities than it is to produce more varieties of things in smaller quantities. Low competition reduces the need to diversify – ‘one size fits all’ is often good enough.

If you’ve ever walked through a supermarket feeling like you’ve landed on an alien planet, this is the reason why. Mass-produced physical things aren’t made for you specifically. They’re made for average people. Weird people didn’t get nice things.