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The Experience Economy: Work Is Theater & Every Business a Stage Hardcover – April 1, 1999

4.3 out of 5 stars 60 customer reviews

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Sometime during the last 30 years, the service economy emerged as the dominant engine of economic activity. At first, critics who were uncomfortable with the intangible nature of services bemoaned the decline of the goods-based economy, which, thanks to many factors, had increasingly become commoditized. Successful companies, such as Nordstrom, Starbucks, Saturn, and IBM, discovered that the best way to differentiate one product from another--clothes, food, cars, computers--was to add service.

But, according to Joseph Pine and James Gilmore, the bar of economic offerings is being raised again. In The Experience Economy, the authors argue that the service economy is about to be superseded with something that critics will find even more ephemeral (and controversial) than services ever were: experiences. In part because of technology and the increasing expectations of consumers, services today are starting to look like commodities. The authors write that "Those businesses that relegate themselves to the diminishing world of goods and services will be rendered irrelevant. To avoid this fate, you must learn to stage a rich, compelling experience."

Many will find the idea of staging experiences as a requirement for business survival far-fetched. However, the authors make a compelling case, and consider successful companies that are already packaging their offerings as experiences, from Disney to AOL. Far-reaching and thought-provoking, The Experience Economy is for marketing professionals and anyone looking to gain a fresh perspective on what business landscape might look like in the years to come. Recommended. --Harry C. Edwards


"A wise, deep, and enlightening book." -- Toronto Globe and Mail, May 5, 1999

"Pine and Gilmore do make an intriguing case. In particular, they implicitly challenge two ideas that have recently hardened into conventional wisdom: that giving away your product is the path to profit, and that casually clad tech-heads who inhale pizza and who write code until dawn represent the future of work." -- Fast Company, April 1999

"The Experience Economy, with its own well-developed theme and enriching examples, may transform more than a few managers." -- Technology Review, May-June 1999

"This is a good look at how every business is morphing into show business...just creating a product and waiting for the world to come to your door is not going to cut it." -- Jesse Berst, ZDNet (for Wired), July 1999

"This is a seminal work, a book that presents new ideas--and uses old ideas in new ways--to change the reader's perceptions and expectations." -- National Productivity Review, Winter 1999

This book scared the hell out me. The pitch is that consumers are increasing in complexity. They want everything from simple commodities to manufactured goods to what the authors call experiences – immersive, richly textured commercial events. And fast-paced business types better follow or they'll be left in the dust.

The patron saint here is Walt Disney: Coffee shops should focus on the coffee experience, the authors suggest, while restaurants need to realize that the music and the ambiance – eatertainment, as the authors label it – are as important as the food.

The book is well written and I liked its fanatical conviction. The authors cheerfully acknowledge that even the most sacred experiences can be turned into a fast buck for faster companies. (They point out that many Americans now seek advice not from their priests and religious leaders, but from paid "spiritual coaches.") I'd love to think this is an elaborate spoof on the absurdity of late-state capitalism, but I'm afraid Pine and Gilmore are absolutely serious when they conclude that "The Consumer Is the Product." God help us all.

– Michael Parsons -- From The Industry Standard


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business School Press; 1st edition (April 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0875848192
  • ISBN-13: 978-0875848198
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #81,824 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 30, 2000
Format: Hardcover
First of all, I urge anyone thinking about buying this brilliant book also to consider (or to re-read) Schmitt's Experiential Marketing and Wolf's The Entertainment Economy. Although the three books differ significantly in terms of thrust and content, together they help us to understand a New Economy which is perhaps best exemplified by Las Vegas. According to Pine & Gilmore, "Virtually everything [italics] about Las Vegas is a designed experience, from the slot machines at the airport to the gambling casinos that line the Strip, from the themed hotels and restaurants to the singing, circus, and magic shows; and from the Forum Shops mall that recreates ancient Rome to the amusement parks, thrill rides, video arcades, and carnival-style games that attract the twentysomethings and give older parents a reason to bring their kids in tow."
Pine & Gilmore explain The Experience Economy; Wolf calls it The Entertainment Economy. Schmitt suggests that Experiential Marketing creates or sustains demand for this New Economy, however it is named. For all of these authors, "work" should be viewed as "theatre" and every business should be viewed as a "stage." If they are correct (and I believe they are), the quality of sensory experience is critically important. That is to say, it is no longer sufficient to offer high-quality goods or services for sale at competitive prices. Most (if not all) goods and services have become commodities. Competing on price alone seldom succeeds...especially against those which have superior purchasing power. Competing on quality alone succeeds only for those who offer what no one else has. The challenge is to achieve differentiation.
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Format: Hardcover
The book takes a very logical, reasoned approach towards the theoretical next steps of economic expansion. It reasons that margins drive profits and that by constantly searching for higher margin offerings, a company will naturally improve and increase its profitability.
The logic is understandable... Commodity goods have small margins, as they are undifferentiated from each other and relativly easy to reproduce. Manufactured goods take things one step further, providing higher margins due to some level of product differentiation and brand specificity. Above that are Services, where the products don't last long enough to be copied and are customized enough to prevent easy manipulation. The higher margins should lead to higher profitability and better staying power. Fair enough.
Where the book's logic becomes strained, however, is where it strethes out towards the next generation of higher margin offerings, "Experiences." While it is true that experience companies my be able to provide higher margins than can older economy companies, experience companies tend to suffer from a fatal flaw that has infected many of the companies praised in the book. That flaw is the utter lack of repeat business generated by most experience economy companies.
Take two of the companies mentioned in the book as companies to emulate -- Planet Hollywood, the restaurant chain, and Peapod, the online grocery store. Planet Hollywood is under bankruptcy protection, because people are simply unwilling to pay through the nose repeatedly for the same experience over and over again. Peapod ran out of cash and is limping along only after being bought out by a Dutch firm. Hardly two stellar companies to emulate when searching for ever expanding profits.
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Format: Hardcover
The Pine and Gilmore book about work and theater is a different, but not unique, way of looking at business. By concentrating on employees' ROLES instead of jobs and functions, this book encapsulates new thinking about:
-how a company presents itself to the customer -internal customer service
-the need for aggressive change management
-differentiation of products
-dynamic strategic planning [no more five year plans] -where actual economic value is found
A very quick and dirty overview of their concepts can be accomplished by looking at their definitions:
[cast=employees]must take on [roles = responsibilities] by each making choices to develop compelling [characterizations=representations] that form(s) a cohesive [ensemble = organization] to engage [guests = customers] in memorable ways
workplace = theater drama = strategy
script = processes
producer = shareholders, investors director = leader
Perhaps the most memorable section in the book that resonated with me was the statement that for every piece of work, one must describe his [or her] intention using the phrase "in order to"
what a powerful way to keep the focus! It brought to mind the story about the cathedral builders that I have seen in so many places....
And I was left with a solid suggestion on how to recognize the role of support departments -- those people who get left out when the sales incentives and bonuses are given out but without whom the entire organization will falter -- see the chapter on movie and stage credits!
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