Queuing: The Importance of a String Around the Finger, or a Digital PostIt Note
As were were wrapping up our conversation, Gary made an interesting observation about Netflix, in the vein of a gripe. Try going to Netflix today, and looking up the Pixar movie `Ratatouille,' he suggested. You'll have the option of adding it to your Netflix queue, even though the movie won't be released until June 2007. What is the impact on theaters? As Gary sees it, you can decide that you want to watch a movie on DVD before it has even reached the theaters. Doesn't that naturally reduce the urgency you'll feel to try to get out and see a movie during its theatrical run? If you miss it, it'll eventually show up in your mailbox, in one of those cardinal-colored envelopes. Gary mentioned that he'd spoken to people who receive the Balboa's monthly printed calendar in the mail, which has excellent descriptions of the movies that'll be playing there, and use it to circle the movies that look interesting. Do they necessarily come to the Balboa? Not always. Many times, they just add those movies to their Netflix queue.
We're all familiar with the concept of queueing, whether we realize it or not. On Amazon, you can put products in your shopping cart, and then save them for later (or create a wish list, which enables other people to buy them for you). That's a kind of queue: stuff I'd like, but don't necessarily need right now. On YouTube, if you don't want to watch a long-ish video right now, you can save it to your favorites, and come back later. Another queue. If you've got a TiVo, and someone tells you that there's a Tony Bennett special coming up, or a new Comedy Central series that you might be interested in, you can easily instruct your TiVo to record it; TiVo then presents it to you on the "Now Playing" page, which is a kind of content queue.
At a moment when our choices are starting to seem infinite and a bit overwhelming, whether it involves buying a CD or book from Amazon or spending a couple minutes watching a particular YouTube video, queues help us organize the stuff we're interested in. Queues are like a string tied around the finger, or way of sticking a digital PostIt note on something we want to remember.
Companies like Netflix have an advantage over the independent cinema and even the chain multiplex, unfortunately, because they make it easy for us to eventually watch that movie we've put on our queue. (If you add `Ratatouille,' be assured that eventually, around December 2007, that DVD will show up in your mailbox.) Amazon has an advantage over my neighborhood bookstore, because I've got half a dozen books sitting in my Amazon shopping cart, waiting to eventually be bought.
What could non-Internet businesses do? Look for opportunities to help people create queues. (Often, this involves some level of software expertise.) What if I could go to an independent cinema's Web site after I'd seen their calendar, and mark the movies I wanted to be reminded about? I might get an e-mail the day they opened, along with some links to online reviews. What if a multiplex incentivized me with a free popcorn, or $1 off a ticket, if I pre-purchased a ticket today to a movie coming out on Christmas Day that I'd expressed interest in? (Already, I'm getting accustomed to printing out my own tickets at home.) Studios let you watch a trailer on their sites...couldn't they also ask you whether you wanted to add a movie's debut date to your Google or Outlook calendar?
It seems like making it easier for people to remember and return to things they want to see or buy is becoming a core competency for every business.