About five years ago, I was involved in a project looking at software kiosks for retail stores. The idea was that a shopper could walk up to the kiosk, select from a bunch of software titles, and the machine would pop out a receipt. Meanwhile, a second machine in the back of the store would get to work burning a CD and related artwork (and, potentially, manuals). This way, the thinking went, any software store (or, really, any store) could hold millions of software titles. However, the more I looked into it, the less exciting the idea became. First, it was just a few years before that the music industry had tried the same sort of thing - putting such kiosks in retail shops. Those kiosk had proven to be a huge failure. They broke down constantly - as publicly pounded machines are known to do. The maintenance fees were ridiculous. They also tied up customers. Depending on how many of these (somewhat expensive) kiosks you had, only one customer could use them at a time - and the process of finding the software you want is time consuming. If they want to sit at a machine and buy some software, they'll do it online at home. So, it's a bit surprising to read this article in USA Today talking about just such a software kiosk at CompUSA and suggesting that it will change the way software is sold. If anything, conditions for these sorts of machines have gotten much worse since when I was looking at them. The software retail business is much less appealing. Fewer and fewer people buy boxed software products. Computers come with much of what you need and you can download most everything else. In the few instances where boxed software is needed, many people just order online to have it shipped. The fact is that there are only a very few boxed software products that sell - so the number of items that will actually sell from such a kiosk are fairly limited - and won't have very much margin. Furthermore, the trend is clear that an increasing number of software applications are moving online to be web-based applications, rather than local applications. I honestly had to double check the date on the USA Today article to make sure it wasn't from five or six years ago when lots of people were talking about this same idea. Why they suddenly believe that everyone is going to use such a device is beyond me.
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