Some Observations on Marketing, Intellectual Property Protection, and the "Optimal Price Point"

Recently I caved in to incessant badgering and the family went down to Epcot for the day. We live in the Orlando area so it's only about an hour's drive. It turned out to be a fantastic day, although I can tell you that 6 hours of walking in the late May Florida sun will give you two additional presents: 1) A sunburn, and 2) Tired Feet!

While we were there, the kid got his photo taken by a "cast" photographer and his lovely aide at one of the UK country exhibit stores, sponsored by Disney and Kodak. Now this is kinda unique, the photog hands you a color card with a web address and a unique ID on the back of the card. You sign up, log in and - bang! there are your photos. The site is written in ASP.NET, by the way. Now of course, you and I as developers will instantly right-click to attempt to download the little boogers, but they have disabled the context menu with some script. And, they want $12.95 each for a 5X7 print, which I thought was quite excessive, considering the fact that it took the photographer all of 20 seconds to set up and do the 2 shots in a contrived setting.

Not to be daunted, I opened up Tools and looked in the cache, right? Sure enough, no images - but a carefully constructed URL in the form:

Even if you clicked on the URL out of the cache, you would get a page with a stock image that says "Image not available". However, if you massage it a bit and paste it into the address bar of a new browser window:

--Now, there was nothing there that said "if you are successful in defeating our little scheme, you can't have the images", so I am not about to lose any sleep over it. I printed them out on (gasp!) Kodak photo paper for 10 cents, and everybody at home was happy. If the price they wanted was more reasonable, I probably would have succumbed to the "Florida tourist phenomenon" and purchased the print. But. they overpriced the product, IMHO - hence the result.

I guess the folks who wrote the ASP.NET app for them need to go back and revisit their code, eh?

The "bigger picture" lesson here might be, "What's the most effective way to protect intellectual property on the web?". Watermarks on images is one easy way. Previews of a lower than production quality is another. Funky proxy urls to the pictures will work against the average consumer, but as we can see, not for a developer or determined hacker possessing an above-room-temperature IQ. Certainly, license keys and other protection schemes are ineffective at best. But one of the biggest causes of all this activity is overpricing of the product. You see this all the time with developer products. You see a control suite with a price of $499 or even $699. Once the deliverable is complete, you could sell it for $25 and make a profit - the cost of delivery is extremely small. But software outfits don't spend enough time really looking at the marketplace and scientifically looking at the "Optimal price point" - the price at which the most money can be made from your efforts! Usually (not always) -- that optimal price point is a lot lower than the price they are asking for the product.

Abraham Lincoln (attributed) got it: "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time."