The meek might inherit the earth, but geeks have inherited the Internet Age. All the cool stuff now belongs to those who are savvy about technology and can manipulate the Web to their advantage. It’s no wonder that geeks now have their own consumer category — geek chic — with merchants gearing products toward them and advertisers courting them.
But not every geek (or regular person with an interest in cool tech gadgets) is a high-net-worth early adopter with plenty of disposable income to spend. Dr. Who fans tend to cross many demographics, and even geographical boundaries. Most geek products, however, charge a premium for their cleverness, and most have more utilitarian versions available that cost less. For example, why spend $40 on a Darth Vader USB hub when you can get a perfectly good one for $4 with free shipping? So what’s a geek to do to find reasonably priced trinkets? Luckily, they need look no further than their beloved connected device — be it laptop, tablet or Wi-Fi enabled watch.
Websites that cater to geek products have names that appeal, like GeekChicHQ.com, which sells furniture aimed at, you guessed it, geeks; ThinkGeek.com, which has been pitching oddball products since 1995, and Neatorama.com, which operates as a blog that sells products on the side. Geeks also seem to be fond of oddball T-shirts, which makes sites like CafePress.com and Threadless.com constantly churn out new designs with witty sayings about hardware. Geek items tend to fall into several major categories, the most unusual of which is …
There are entire virtual shelves of products based on bacon — but not necessarily to eat. Why bacon? “It really began slowly and has snowballed, as is the case with most online geek culture touchstones,” says Amy Vernon, the web’s Bacon Queen (and also vice president of strategy at the Web marketing firm Hasai Inc.). “Once someone candied the bacon, it was all over. Then it was just a matter of how people could one-up one another on bacon, which led to chocolate-covered bacon, bacon vodka, bacon salt, bacon-flavored popcorn, bacon perfume. I have bacon bandages, an oinking pig key chain and lots of other tchotchkes. I do, however, need to get my hands on a Bacon vs. Tofu set.”
The most prominent category is things that do cool things just for the sake of doing cool things. One of the first products that ThinkGeek developed on its own was a USB Snowbot. You plug it into a USB port and it flashes lights. It costs $12. “We had brought in a USB snowman that lit up, and we sold a lot of them, but we thought to ourselves, what would make the product better,” says Ty Liotta, ThinkGeek’s senior merchandiser. Now the company has a whole line of exclusives, which include things like (obviously) a plush bacon doll that says “I’m bacon” when squeezed ($20), a Star Wars-inspired Tauntaun sleeping bag ($99) and the iCade ($99), which is a housing for the iPad that turns it into an old-fashioned arcade game. There’s really no comparison shopping for these types of items, but Liotta says they try to stick to items that are $35 or below, so they aren’t out of reach for most people. If you’re paying more for a specialty item, consider if you’re really getting value for the coolness.
ThinkGeek and the other geek product suppliers also abound in products that have regular functions but some kind of design that appeals to geeks, whether by featuring a favorite geeky TV show, like the Star Trek Enterprise pizza cutter ($30), or a Dr. Who supersonic screwdriver ($39). You can, of course, get regular versions of these things for much less. But what fun would that be? The biggest price differential tends to come with branded versions of mundane things like flash drives. You can get those for about $5 per gigabyte, although you can get some as low as $2 for a 2GB drive. Go for something more flashy, like a Voltron flash drive and you’ll pay $32.
All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt
The premiere geek category is the funny T-shirt. Do geeks wear T-shirts more than other pockets of consumers? Hard to say. But there are a lot of them out there, every one more clever than the next one. ThinkGeek, for one, offers a $250 bounty for clever T-shirt ideas. Their most popular one to date is a guitar shirt that sounds eerily like the real thing. “The guitar shirt is a product that really crossed over from meekness to a mainstream product. It’s been on major TV shows like ‘The Today Show’ and ‘The View.’ It’s every air guitar player’s dream.” What do you pay for something like that? About $30. Much less than a regular guitar, but much more than your average T-shirt. The best thing to do at the top geek T-shirt sites is to wait for coupon codes to come around so you can get a blanket discount, then stock up on gag gifts and holiday stocking stuffers.