A few days after DigiScents’ announcement in October, Smith, Bellenson, and Williams are getting emails suggesting that the technology is bogus — and that Canter, an outspoken zealot in the multimedia community, has pulled some sort of prank. The jabs reveal the basic problem DigiScents faces between now and whenever the first paying consumer inhales on a working iSmell box — getting enough of these working, reliable, affordable boxes on the market, and soon, to prove that it is not vaporware.

Canter is, of course, well-versed in overhyped technologies. “Remember the early days [of multimedia] when a new technology comes out? Without an installed base, who cares? It’s called put up or shut up. For DigiScents, this is all about how many games, how many scent tracks, how many boxes, and figure out quick what the installed base is. That’s the definition of this marketing campaign. Get this shit out there!”

And there begins the makings of a complicated business model (see “Smell the Money,” p220). Smith, Bellenson, and Williams are all scrambling to sign up partners from every corner of the digital market — offshore hardware manufacturers to build the boxes; fragrance makers to enlist in a DigiScents-managed online registry of trademarked scents; broadband and Internet media partners to begin plugging iSmell player software into their audio and video platforms; interactive game makers to design scent tracks; and so on.

On the hardware front, Bellenson has signed a letter of intent with a Hong Kong manufacturer that he expects will satisfy demand for iSmell boxes by early spring (orders begin in December), and will provide Bellenson & Co. its primary revenue stream. Williams, meanwhile, has been edging toward a deal with a major computer manufacturer to begin bundling its PCs with iSmell boxes and the licensed player software.

Perhaps the surest sign that DigiScents can beef up its installed base quickly is a freshly inked deal with RealNetworks to plug in the DigiScents player software to its massively popular RealPlayer G2, the online audio/video application that boasts a user-download audience of more than 80 million. DigiScents worked on an interface that can translate scent code between G2 and the iSmell; RealNetworks was persuaded enough to include it as a new plug-in. “The main thing DigiScents gets from us,” says RealNetworks’ systems marketing director Peter Zaballos, “is reach and distribution and working with millions of customers.”

On the content-development side, San Diego-based Intervu, which provides online video delivery services to CNN, NBC, and Viacom, is discussing plans to hook up the scent player into scent-tracked video content for DigiScents’ Website. The possibilities move out from there. Explains chairman and CEO Harry Gruber: “Say Martha Stewart is cooking up some great Creole dish. You want to smell those Creole smells while she’s frying it up. We would deliver the video piece and hook it with the DigiScents piece.” Well, not yet.

Scent-tracking game software is probably the biggest focus for business development, since the gaming community is famous for being zealous early adopters of new technology. In some early demos, DigiScents already developed a custom perfume for Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft. “Once I saw the demo I was sold,” admits Rob Dyer, president of Eidos Interactive, Tomb Raider’s publisher, which has yet to ink a deal with DigiScents. “The next step is to enable games to be compliant with the technology. It’s the razor-blade business model, they just license it out for people to use. Most of [DigiScents’] revenue is derived from licensing the scent cartridge and boxes. If there’s a fear from the game side, it’s that for the first couple applications, people go crazy with smelling up everything. But basically, I see the gaming space all over this.” DigiScents’ Williams is also talking with Sega of America, Nintendo, Mindscape Entertainment, and Acclaim Entertainment about forming corporate partnerships.

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