Updated. MIT Media Lab director Nicholas Negroponte has insisted that his One Laptop Per Child program is a charity that will only sell its wares to governments of developing nations. So who convinced him it was okay to sell the device to consumers in the United States and Canada at twice the price? Why, Negroponte pal Jeff Bezos, who knows a little bit about selling and marketing. Not only did the Amazon.com founder convince the philanthropist to turn his charity into a business, he convinced him that the best way to market the cute laptops was to turn them into a status symbol for the wealthy elite — a symbol on the order of Lance Armstrong's iconic yellow Livestrong bracelets, which is where Bezos really got the idea.
What we are going to do is the following, and Jeff Bezos, bless his heart, he's got wonderful creativity for these sorts of jingles. He said you know Nick there's this expression, "Buy one and get two." Yeah, they see that. He said you've got to... have a jingle that says, "Buy two and get one." Bingo: 100 percent margin. So, we will release it in the United States and Europe on a buy two and get one basis where you pay whatever it is $300 for it, and what you're doing is you're buying one or more for a kid in Africa and when you walk around with this it will [be] like a yellow bracelet, it will be an expression, it will actually say that. [Sic.]
While this plan may actually finance the production of some devices for children in Africa, it also concedes that the One Laptop project cannot survive as a pure charity. And that the vaunted laptop its engineers have worked so hard to design will not, at first, serve to educate children. Instead, it will salve the fragile egos of wealthy geeks. That, too, is a subject on which Bezos might advise Negroponte.
[Update: Previously, the post stated that OLPCs would be sold in North America and Europe. It has been corrected to the United States and Canada only thanks to commenter Wayan.]