Kill your darlings. The eminent southern writer William Faulkner had that advice for writers. Wiping out your favorite turn of phrase, he believed,was a guaranteed recipe for stronger prose.
Needless to say, there has been plenty of darling-killing going on in the e-commerce world, as e-tailers that once blew raspberries in the face of centuries-old economic wisdom have been yanked off the big stage.
The bad news is that these deaths hurt. Jobs are lost. Stock certificates become worthless. Confidence flags.
There is a chance, however, that Faulkner’s advice will apply in the long run. Killing off some e-tail darlings might just make e-commerce stronger. But only if we don’t takethe lessons learned too far.
Exit, Stage Left
Webvan’s demise was of the spectacular variety, the kind of highway wreck that you can’t help but stare at on your way past. Other darlings are making less fiery exits, but they’re exiting all the same.
Buy.com, which thought it could use the Web to change the rules of retail, will soon end its life as a public company. Yes, it seems destined to continue in some form, but the ambition it exhibited has been completely extinguished.
Egghead, which gave up a sprawling brick-and-mortar existence to embrace the Internet and only the Internet, has been sold to an electronics company. Its days of independence have also ended. (Wonder what Egghead executives would give to have their stores back now?)
Indeed, all three companies, each in their own way, exemplified what was supposed to be great and different about the Web. In the end, what they all share now is the apparent inability to prove their theories.
They were the darlings. And without cause. They were the golden childrenwho had not earned our affection, yet were showered with it anyway. Heaps ofpraise in the press. Bundles of cash from investors.
All without any evidence that they deserved it or that they could makesomething of themselves.
Yes, Egghead and Buy.com live on. But Egghead is a shell of its formerself and Buy.com has “sell” written all over it.
The good news is that there are plenty of kids left in our family. We need notgive up hope altogether.
There are the ambitious ones, who tend to be a bit bullying but have the best chance of bringing home the gold. And there are the quieter ones, who prefer not to attempt global dominance but a more modest form of success.
Some have been adopted into our virtual familyfrom the brick-and-mortar world.
There’s plenty of reason to believe the future is still bright, so long aswe understand that it won’t be easy. So long as we finally understand that the most basic rules of business — like selling goods for more than you pay for them — can’t be ignored, not now and probably not ever.
Some of our darlings have flown the coop and after a brief flight, hit the ground with a splat. But we shouldn’t regret having dreams of watching them soar, high abovethe mundane world of business.
And we shouldn’t give up those dreams entirely either. A little sobriety, a little rationalism is a good thing.Too much of that — staying too grounded — is just as bad fore-commerce as flying too high.
Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.