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'Buy 1, Give 1' laptop campaign boots up

The "XO" computer offered by the One Laptop Per Child program.

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: There was this idea that started making the rounds a year or two ago -- a $100 laptop designed for kids in poor countries. A group that had its roots at MIT was pushing the project.

Their plans hit a snag though, in part with actually delivering that $100 price tag. So today, the group -- known as One Laptop Per Child -- rebooted its business plan.

Marketplace's Steve Tripoli has the story.


STEVE TRIPOLI: The so-called XO Laptop is having trouble gaining traction largely because it's not a mainstream consumer product.

JOSH BERNOFF: They have a real, chicken-and-egg problem.

Josh Bernoff at Forrester Research says the plan was to offer only giant-size orders -- a quarter-million computers or more -- directly to national governments. But that was also a stumbling block.

BERNOFF: People won't sign up in these countries until the laptop is proven, and the laptop can't be proven until a bunch of them have been delivered to somebody.

It will take millions of sales to reach that $100 price point. And One Laptop Per Child also has to cut out the marketing and distribution costs that can make up half of a traditional laptop's price.

To that end, the group is offering this deal to American and Canadian consumers for two weeks in November: Buy two XO's for $399 total, and one of them will go to a kid overseas.

Walter Bender at One Laptop Per Child admits this wasn't Plan A. But he says it does meet some of the organization's other goals.

WALTER BENDER: We certainly want to get not just the American consumer, but children, teachers, parents -- anyone who can actually contribute to learning both here in the United States and around the world -- involved in this project.

Bender says three parties win with this approach: The project's sales are jump-started, developing countries get to road test the XO, and North American consumers get a talked-about computer by Christmas -- plus a chance to do some good. By the way, half the purchase price counts as a charitable donation as well. So that's a tax deduction.

I'm Steve Tripoli for Marketplace.

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