Be Your Own Barcode

Priceline has built a brand by obliterating fixed prices, but some customers have gripes

Priceline, the company most renowned for reintroducing William Shatner to prime time, has come to represent both what is transformative and what is just plain annoying about the Web. Think of any overhyped Web term or concept: disintermediation. The auction economy. Virtual communities. Stupid TV spots. Priceline, based in Norwalk, Conn., is a poster child for these and other new- economy cliches, especially the one about how it doesn't need to make money today because it will make tons of it someday. Next year. Maybe.

The business model--allowing customers to name what they are willing to pay for plane tickets, hotel...

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