Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about the future of technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment:
"Hey there. Is this place new? I've been to this mall many times and never saw it before."
"Yes, sir. Welcome to The Hewlepsmark Inkjet Printer Cartridge Experience."
"No kidding. A whole location devoted to just to printer cartridges?"
"Not just any printer cartridges. Only Hewlepsmark inkjet printers. You see, after some failed early experiences with tech manufacturer-direct stores from Gateway and Microsoft, the past few years have seen Apple, Sony, Nokia, Palm, Nintendo, and now Pioneer move forward with their own retail stores. Even Dell and Samsung are using their own retail space to showcase their products. Soon we're bound to see Coby Corner, Craighead, and jWINdow Shopping. It's all the rage.
"So, we thought, as one of the world's premiere printing companies, why not develop an environment where we can really reinforce the brand identity and provide a showcase for our great variety of inkjet colors, the best printer cartridge shopping experience possible. We also have weekly seminars, like the one next Wednesday about the link between third-party refill kits and gingivitis."
"Really? I had no idea. Well, I guess this store isn't a bad idea. I sometimes can't find some of the specialty papers I use for my graphics arts projects."
"Oooh, I'm sorry, We don't have any papers here. Just printer cartridges."
"I see. It's kind of like that old sketch about the store that sells only Scotch tape."
"Actually, the 3M store is just down the hall, over by the food court. You can't miss it as it's below a 30-foot cube made entirely of Post-It Notes."
"Right. Well, it just so happens that I own one of your printers and its driver software has prevented me from opening any programs that can print until I get a new printer cartridge. It put up one of those little bubble alerts saying something about wanting to make sure I don't get caught unable to share my output."
"Ah, yes, that's our new 'proactive print protection' feature. Pretty effective, don't you think?"
"Well, it's better than when my Phanatoshnysung Hi-Blue DVD player disabled my plasma TV when I tried to mod-chip it. It even used its on-disc printing technology to deliver a summons!"
"Ooooh, sorry to hear that, sir. Well, you said you're in the market, then, for one of our cartridges? We have every one of our 16.7 million colors on display right over here.
"That's great. I'd like a cyan, please, and I could use a new black ink cartridge as well. How much will that be?"
"Oh, I'm sorry, sir. We don't actually sell any printer cartridges here."
"What? But I thought this was a store?
"Actually, sir, this is the printer cartridge experience. We wouldn't want to compete with our valued retail partners, so I can either print you out a list of local retailers that have your colors in stock or I can place an online order for you. Your printer cartridges would arrive in three to five business days."
"Ugh, this is ridiculous. I just need to mail a letter. I'll write it out."
"Good luck with that. This location was the only Mont Blanc store in the mall."
Ross Rubin is director of industry analysis for consumer technology at market research and analysis firm The NPD Group and a contributing editor for LAPTOP. Views expressed in Switched On are his own. Feedback is welcome at email@example.com.