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Question of the Day: What Boomerangs in Value?

Our latest podcast, “Weird Recycling,” is about the unlikely reuse of cast-off items. A reader named Gavin Castleton just happened to write in with an appealing riddle in the same vein:

Has there ever been a good/product whose value was reduced to zero, but somehow rose again? If so, could you shed any light on the market dynamics or social catalysts that revived it?

To put my question in context: I’m researching the music industry’s rocky transition from goods to services (download/physical goods to streaming music subscription services). Journalists, industry folk, and consumers are all quite fond of declaring “Music will be free. It’s obvious and inevitable.” But I started to wonder if it really was all that inevitable. So I started looking for other examples of a product that lost its monetary value completely, but somehow returned from the dead.

Fascinating question. My mind immediately goes to a category of technologies that are driven toward obsolescence but maintain or recapture cachet with a small group of buyers — vinyl records, Kodachrome and Polaroid film, etc. But those aren’t very good examples.

How about thalidomide? For those who don’t know, it’s a sedative that was discontinued after it was found to cause birth defects, but then got a second life treating leprosy and other ailments.

How about Bobby Valentine‘s managerial services? Or Newt Gingrich‘s governing services? Or Steve Jobs‘s CEO services at Apple?

I haven’t done very well answering Gavin’s question, I’m afraid. But I am guessing that you all can come up with many more and much better examples for him?