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Book Review

In Search of Stupidity: Over 20 Years of High-Tech Marketing Disasters
by Merrill R. Chapman

ISBN: 1590591046
Publisher: Apress
Pages: 256

Where have they gone, all the successful high-tech companies dominating the early desktop market? Anyone remember market leading products like WordPerfect and dBASE? Merrill R. Chapman makes sure we don’t forget. In the process you’ll learn how to loose an 80% market share (Netscape by spending years to rewrite their entire codebase without being able to add customer value and respond to threats from IE) and how to alienate the complete developer community upon whom your company depends (Nightmare-CEO Ed Esber of Ashton-Tate through a series of incredibly stupid moves).

Don’t you face any serious competition in your market? Why not follow the trails of what MicroPro did to their successful word processor WordStar and release another product, in this case WordStar 2000, competing with their own product ensuring confused customers and a free opportunity for your competitors to grab your market share! The fact that Microsoft repeated exactly this mistake (Windows NT and Windows 95 marketed at the same time) proves that In Search of Stupidity has a gap to fill.

Chapman gives many of his stories a personal touch due to the fact that he has been involved in many famous meetings and even presented some of the soon-to-be-doomed products on tradeshows. He is clearly engaged in his writing and doesn’t hesitate to name the ones to blame.

The major part of the book covers the PC market and desktop applications now dwelling in nostalgia. The last chapter includes more recent ‘worst practices’ with a brilliant cover of the dotcom madness. Among others, it explains why you shouldn’t expect a business model based on selling pet food directly to customers, at a guaranteed loss of course, to build a sustainable and profitable company like did.

This book is rare in that besides providing important lessons it is just full of humor and is probably the funniest non-fiction book I’ve ever read; even better than Cube Farm! It’s reads like a collection of essays and anyone who spent some years in the industry will enjoy it and, if you’re in that position, help you avoid the mistakes now classified as high-tech marketing disasters.

Reviewed July 2006

©2005 Adam Petersen