Can you DRM coffee?

I saw an interesting article on The Verge that looked at the spectacular failure of the new line of Keurig’s coffee makers. The company attempted to control the usability of third party coffee in their instant coffee makers. I’m surprised they didn’t think this would be a bad or or that customers would stand for it.

Still, I do understand why they did it, their business model is basically the same as that of car manufacturers. Car makers sell the cars are surprisingly close to cost and then make all the money on spares and services. I’m not really surprised that this model proved unworkable for coffee pods when consumers already were used to using third party devices in their units.

Still I think the whole thing is interesting. Consumers would likely balk if the units were sold at a price that made them worth making without the exclusive coffee pods but they gripe at this arrangement too. The result will just be the death of such units in the long run.

You know Keurig’s machines. The company’s squat black coffee brewers have become fixtures in offices, hotels, and homes around the country, as have garbage cans heaped with the spent plastic pods they use. Purely on the strength of those machines — or more accurately, the relatively expensive pods they use — Keurig transformed its parent company, Green Mountain Coffee, from a small regional brewer to a major corporation doing over $4 billion in sales each year.

Late last year, Keurig announced a new machine, the 2.0, calling it the “future of brewing” and touting its ability to make both small cups and large carafes. But another, less-publicized feature has been getting most of the attention: the brewer’s advanced scanning system that locks out any coffee pods not bearing a special mark. It’s essentially a digital rights management system, but for coffee, and it’s proving to be the brewer’s downfall.

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  • Foxfier

    Consumers would likely balk if the units were sold at a price that made them worth making without the exclusive coffee pods but they gripe at this arrangement too. The result will just be the death of such units in the long run.

    I wouldn’t be so sure– I got a knock-off type unit for my mom, which can brew a single cup with normal coffee, or use a K-cup type, or use one of those round little pods like for Sensio. It was something like thirty bucks on sale last year, and checking Amazon I see there are some for twenty bucks with free shipping.

    People will buy a hundred dollar machine for plain old coffee, but it has to be worth it inherently– not because of a name brand or having some “sell the ink” theory of printers applied to it.
    (My parents are not well off, but they will only buy Bunn coffee pots because when they want coffee, they want it fresh and ASAP. Their Bunn makes a whole pot in the time it takes a k-cup machine to make a cup. She wanted the single-cup brewer for different types of coffee that nobody else will drink.)

    • Foxfier

      Hm, I failed the formatting, somehow. Meh.