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Planned Obsolescence: 5 Products That Have It and What to Do About It

Isn’t it funny when you come across a product that your parents or grandparents are using that you’ve never seen before because it’s so old? Like a vacuum cleaner or television that should be in a museum or in a glass case somewhere and not in their closet or living room.

As someone who is on her third Apple iPod (and no, the other two haven’t crapped out on me yet), the idea of a product lasting for years to come without dying or becoming obsolete is news to me. I can only imagine what it’ll be like for our kids someday.

If you’ve ever been frustrated by the idea of a company coming out with the latest and greatest thing every six months, then you aren’t alone. The idea of planned obsolescence isn’t a new one, but has been around for generations. You’ve probably even come across this practice in your everyday life! Here are 5 products exemplary of planned obsolescence:

College Textbooks

Obviously Mary rented hers, otherwise she wouldn't be smiling

Even if your college days weren’t yesterday, chances are you still either have the bill to pay for your books or you distinctly remember paying the astronomical amount for them – used! In most subjects, the information doesn’t change dramatically from one year to the next, but don’t tell the publishers that or else they’d be out of a job. They switch chapters around, add or subtract diagrams, include CDs that can’t be used again once they’re registered, and so many other things.

  • What you can do about it: The days of being a slave to the college bookstore and their prices are long gone. Students have wised up and have gone to other means to get their required texts. Buying used books on Craigslist or Amazon is always an affordable option. One that I took full advantage while in school was renting textbooks. Chegg.com saved me my junior year of college when I had a $450 bill for four (USED) books. Instead of shelling out the money and only receiving a quarter of it back at the end of the term, I rented them for a quarter of the price and mailed them back when I was finished with them. Best of all, they plant a tree for every book rented. I’ve heard of students sharing textbooks but things never ended well, so I wouldn’t suggest that.

Light Bulbs

Did you know that in some museums, Thomas Edison’s early light bulbs are still glowing? After more than 100 years they’re still going strong, whereas today’s bulbs are being changed every 12 months. It seems that manufacturers had a light-bulb moment when they figured out changing the technology to make them die sooner could increase their profit margins.

  • What you can do about it: The cost of buying fluorescent or LED light bulbs is more expensive, but the amount of energy being saved down the line makes up for it. Or, if you’re anti-LED, then remember to turn your lights off when you’re not in the room to make them last longer.

Ink Cartridges

The last time you replaced your printer’s ink cartridges, did you notice a weird golden microchippy-looking thing? That “smart chip” alerts your printer when the ink inside is running low — not empty, just running low. You can thank that the next time you get a warning pop-up alerting you to immediately replace your ink cartridges. These chips also make it impossible to refill them yourself or use a third-party because they’re needed in order for the cartridge to function.

Do you really need a sheet printed out with 1's on it?

  • What you can do about it: Welcome to 2011, where capitalism is thriving. If you’re tired of spending $50 per name-brand cartridge, then do some research for a cheaper, generic brand. Also, try printing smarter by using grayscale settings and optimize your internet content from a website or email to avoid printing unnecessary headers, footers, and useless advertisements.

Video Games

It seems like every 4 years there’s another new game console that is the “it” one for the holiday season. Along with that system, now you need to buy games to play on it. With a few exceptions, a lot of video game systems are designed to prevent backwards compatibility. This increases sales for the latest technology and sells newer copies of classic, old games that we all remember from our childhood.

  • What you can do about it: Swap your video games with friends when you’re tired of playing them or want to play something new. Or, consider signing up with Gamefly where you can rent games for a flat rate every month and keep them for as long as you like (or until you’ve mastered it five times, whichever comes first).

MP3 Players

"Low battery?! I just charged it!!"

Unlike other consumer electronics, MP3 players are rarely able to be upgraded with more memory. That means the space you have is what you’ve got to work with. Once you fill it up, your only option is to buy another player with more memory available. Also, the lithium-ion batteries are sometimes impossible for the average Joe or Jane to replace on their own. When it no longer holds a charge, a trip to the service department is the only route to take. Then, once you get there, you’re given the option to replace the battery (expensive) or to buy a whole new unit (very expensive).

  • What you can do about it: Check out YouTube or other online videos to learn how to change the batteries yourself (or to see which of your friends can do it).

Planned obsolescence is one practice that I think we can all universally agree is annoying. However, there are some ways we can rebel against the madness!

Is there another product that you can think of that also has a planned lifespan? Do you do anything to combat it? Sound off below!



Amy Swanson

Amy is one of Quality Logo Products’ content developers and social media coordinators. She is a self-professed newspaper nerd and thoroughly enjoys reading business and financial news and having impromptu discussions about it. Oh yeah, she’s “one of those” people! A true Midwestern girl by nature, she loves riding her bike, photography, and the Chicago Cubs. You can also connect with Amy on

Comments

  1. JPorretto

    Gamefly FTW!

    This current generation of game consoles is actually projected to be the longest running…um… generation ever. Almost 7 years already, and still going strong!

    College Textbooks are the biggest rip-offs ever…. That’s why I never bought them hahahaha! Thank you for the PowerPoint slides all you professors out there!!!

    • Amy Swanson

      Wow, 7 years! Almost a decade without having to replace it – good to hear!

      I hated buying college textbooks, and with my college being on trimesters that meant every 10 weeks I was dolling out money for them. I waited as long as possible into the class before actually buying/renting the books. Yeahhhh, I don’t miss those days whatsoever.

  2. Mandy Kilinskis

    I’m 100% in agreement with you for all of these things except for the print cartridges. Even though the price hurts, the quality is unmatched. The generic are junk. I’ve never run into a generic print cartridge that does a good job. I’ll buy generic almost everything else, but I won’t buy a non-brand name ink cartridges.

    Planned obsolescence makes me sad, but I guess that I’ve just grown to accept it. I’m just glad I switched to compact florescent bulbs. Also didn’t they discontinue some of the incandescent bulbs?

    • Amy Swanson

      That’s interesting to hear about the ink cartridges. I’m just glad I don’t really need my printer too much anymore, when I was constantly writing papers for school or printing off resumes it got a lot of use. Now, I can’t even remember the last time I used it. More money in my pocket – yay!!

    • Chris

      I decided to just ditch the printer alltogether, as using a print shop turns out to be cheaper (and more environmentally friendly) in the long run anyway.

    • titus santelli

      I use Sophia Global replacements for my HP printer….Seem to work out well for me.

  3. Joseph Giorgi

    This is an awesome post, Amy!

    That’s so crazy that some of Thomas Edison’s early light bulbs are still glowing! In a perfect world, the rest of us would have access to such long-lasting technology. Unfortunately, “planned obsolescence” gets in the way of that.

    I remember first learning about the concept in college and immediately thinking to myself, “Wow, that makes so much friggin’ sense.” I’ve gotta admit: from a business standpoint, it’s a brilliant design strategy. Of course, it’s not always fun being on the consumer’s end of the deal, and your examples here are some of the many reasons why.

    If you really want to talk about companies that rely heavily on “planned obsolescence,” consider anything made by Apple or (to a lesser extent) Microsoft. I mean — the iPhone? There’s a new one every 6 months now!

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      Actually, it was like 16 months between the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S…

      So…

    • Amy Swanson

      I’m so glad you also thought about it from a business standpoint too, Joe! As a consumer I hate it, but I can see where they’re coming from (it’s a dark, murky place but nonetheless).

      It seems like some companies rely heavier on this strategy than others, doesn’t it? My parents had a Sony Trinatron TV that lasted 25 years before it crapped out, but in the course of 3 years we’ve had 4 vacuum cleaners. Craziness!

  4. Cybernetic SAM

    Wow! This was a great post! All of these were amazing suggestions and I am definitely going to commit them to memory. I am a huge fan, I guess you could say! ;)

  5. Kyle

    I wrote and rewrote a comment ranting about Call of Duty and its need to push uninspired sequels into the video game market every year, but really the only people to blame for that are the consumers… And that makes me a sad panda. (Cookie for whoever gets the reference)

    But I can deal with most of the items that you listed, except… COLLEGE TEXTBOOKS!!! At least I can choose to not buy the umpteenth Call of Duty sequel, but there’s no way around those textbooks and their outrageous price tags. Now THAT makes me an extremely sad panda. :(

    Great post, Amy. This is definitely a controversial topic that understandably peeves consumers off just a bit.

    • Amy Swanson

      I’ve heard about COD and all their sequel shenanigans that they use. Seems pretty ridiculous to me too, I’d understand your rant completely!

      I love talking to adults who graduated from college in the 1970’s/1980’s when tuition, room & board, and books were under $3,000 a year. When I explain how books alone could cost me that much a year, they’re always shocked. Seriously, Chegg.com is a wonderful thing.

      Thanks for reading, Kyle :)

  6. Amanda

    Great post Amy!! This is a big part of what keeps us from buying the latest and greatest products. I don’t want to buy things that are going to become outdated right away, or have unsolved glitches to them, but it’s hard because we want to stay up on the technology too. So we usually rely on the buy it while it’s new enough, but still has been tested approach, lol. Getting these smart phones was a HUGE jump for us, and we weren’t sure we were ready, but I don’t think we waited too long….

    • Amy Swanson

      Your approach is one that I’m sure a lot of people use too. I’d consider myself in that category too, I want to make sure that whatever it is that I’m buying isn’t going to suddenly die on me and I’m out the money.

      Hey, you’re ahead of a lot of us blog squaders here with your snazzy new smartphones ;)

      • Eric

        It’s not always such a bad thing, really. If you can be a little patience and wait it out, give any new technology six or so months, and BAM! Instant discount. Guess it depends on the type of person you are, but I’ve never been the type to get out the Coleman tent and go overnight camping in front of the Apple Store to score a new iPhone, et al. My folks both hit their upgrade period on their phones, and what they would’ve paid hundreds of bucks for six months ago now is only 20, 30 bucks when you upgrade. That said, my folks both now have a cooler phone than me. Luckily I get my upgrade in January…Shelley will be happy I won’t have to continually borrow her Droid to play another round of “Angry Birds.”

        Great article, Amy! Neat to read. Hard to believe that one light bulb’s still going. Then again, if they built things, now, half as sturdy as they did then…the average PC would probably last more than a couple years. :)

  7. david k waltz

    The craiglist and amazon and others options for college textbooks only is good until the edition changes, right? Sometimes you can get away with an older version, but if the prof really wants you to use the new one, they’ll work it in somehow – for example, the final exam is all on that one additional chapter in v4 from v3!

    Why are folks anti-LED? I am opposed to flourescent for reasons but am not aware of any LED issues.

    • Amy Swanson

      Thankfully, the professors I had were very understanding about using old editions and encouraged us to use them whenever possible. However, some of my friends weren’t as lucky and had professors that only used the page numbers and chapters from the newest edition. That always made studying for mid-terms umm… shall we say, “exciting” ;)

      I know some people who don’t like the “glow” that LED lights put out, and I do understand where they’re coming from. I hate the cars that have LED headlights in the lanes of oncoming traffic, especially when sitting in traffic. They’re almost too bright.

  8. Lois Ridley

    Great post Amy,
    I love the textbook tip the most. Really something I did not realize. As a educator I do not always require the latest text. Sometimes it is critical however=(
    This biggest idea that comes out of this post is the fact that we do have options and we can choose with our $$ not to support.

    Sadly, I too… at one point fall into the newest game version trap for several years until my child lost interest…it was an easy present each year. I resisted at first but then chased sales to get the best price. Looking back I realize we did encourage them to wait out the initial new product launch and wait until the prices came down. This was usually the following February when all the excitement depleted. Perhaps that is why they lost interest? I am thankful for your commentary! I plan to post a link to this article when I blog on this issue….thanks again.

    • amy

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting, Lois! :)

      Chegg.com and I become best friends during my last two years of college, looking back I wish I could’ve saved some of my textbooks to go back and refresh with. However, the money I saved then outweighs this desire by a long shot, haha!

      I really like your idea of waiting until the hype dies down before buying the ‘latest and greatest’. Especially with kids, you want to make sure their interest won’t deplete after playing with it a few times. Great idea, Lois!

      I’m so glad you found my “commentary” helpful, I’m so glad you found it :) Best of luck with your upcoming blog, feel free to shoot me a tweet when you finish it, I’d love to read it!

  9. Inga

    Hey Amy.

    What about Flat Screen TV’s and laptops and similar electronics ? Do they as well, most common brands such as; Sony, Philips, Samsung and so on, have planned obsolescence ?

    Regards,
    Ingibjörg (Iceland)

    • Caitlyn Clarke

      Yes, those all have planned obsolescence. Sadly :(

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