The problem with the recent move at Netflix to undergo a sort of corporate mitosis isn’t that it will cause whole microseconds of delay for the 57 people who aren’t sure whether they want to watch a physical DVD three days from now or watch something on streaming right now before they open their browser. It’s not that “Quikster” sounds like some junior high sexual slang term that utterly fails to inspire confidence with or without nifty red packaging. It’s not that Reed Hastings goes on for eight fucking paragraphs before getting to the goddamn point in his recent, deeply personal email to each and every one of his valued customers.
The problem is that Reed Hastings gave a shit when people bitched about prices.
Allow me to attempt to communicate this concept to you in a way you might possibly understand: with stick figures.
A BRIEF LESSON IN VOLUNTARY TRADE
By S. Misanthrope
Multiply these cartoons by about a billion and you get a model for the interaction between Netflix and its customers. When Netflix asks you for more X for their thing, you give them X or you walk away. If you think X is unreasonable, you vote with your feet. You don’t write angry emails or bitch on forums. You don’t get to be offended and hurt as if some injustice has been done to you. All you get to do is stop buying the product. Capitalism, people: this is how it works.
Of course our culture of entitlement doesn’t get this. I don’t believe there’s ever been a time in American history when people didn’t somehow feel they had a right to keep paying the same rates into perpetuity, whether for tri-cornered hat repair or DVD rental services. For this reason, it is of utmost importance that every businessman in America take the following deeply, deeply to heart:
When a price increase results in public outrage, the correct response is: “Ok, you sell it for cheaper.”
In fact the correct response to 99% of what the public says about your business is a resounding “I don’t give a fuck.” Responding to what people say is pretty much the biggest waste of time possible for a person with a goddamn business to run. What matters is what people do. People *said* they didn’t want iPhones; they said they wouldn’t pay $4 for a cup of coffee; they probably said they wouldn’t use electricity, for fuck’s sake (not for three pennies a week, no siree! I could buy ten whores with that money!); but they did and they do and it's business that makes that possible.
A good businessman has a good product, knows what it’s worth, and knows the rabble will fall in line when the time comes. How does he know this? Well, if I knew the answer, I’d be a lot richer, that’s for sure. But in retrospect it’s never hard to see. Let me ask you, you people who feel so wronged by having to pay what something’s worth: can you take a minute or two to think about how much value Netflix has added to your life? Just your life, never mind the entire population of Netflix users. For me personally, I’ve seen about 10,000* more movies and television shows than I otherwise would have.
So many aspects of life are radically different thanks to Netflix. Before Netflix (or B.N.) you could 1. catch a flick in theatres ($24 for two), 2. buy it on DVD ($24), 3. rent it on DVD ($4-$6 + membership), or 4. try to catch it on T.V. ($100/month for cable). All of these options cost so much more than Netflix (yes, even Netflix post-horrific rate hike), it’s really hard to believe anyone ever saw *any* movies B.N. Aside from the raw cost, consider the incredible amount of time saved from having DVDs delivered in the U.S. mail. Then on top of that, Netflix added a radically new service that saved even more time: streaming. You no longer have to wait *at all* to watch (thousands? tens of thousands? BAGILLIONS?) of movies, shows, and strange foreign short films. For a time, they even gave us all that effectively *for free*.
So eventually it becomes clear that the streaming product is its own beast and needs its own pricing, so the service is divided and rates go up. All perfectly reasonable, which of course means the public will be against it. Hastings and the folks at Netflix should know this, yet the backlash catches them entirely by surprise. This is where I say he fucked up.
What exactly did he think was going to happen? When in the history of ever has the public response to a price increase been “Oh yeah, that’s totally reasonable.” It’s literally the public’s job to oppose price increases. Again: capitalism. Producers try to get us to pay as much as they can and consumers whine and drag their feet.
So bad on you, Hastings, for giving a fuck what we think. Bad on you for sending an apology letter to your users for charging still much less than what your product is truly worth. Bad on you for trying to trick us into feeling like prices weren’t raised by creating a new company, and bad on you for being stupid, ineffective, and, most significantly, weak.
I realize it’s hard to feel like every random person on the street hates you. I know it’s so much worse for a web-based company since every asshole on the planet has a direct line to your inbox and absolutely nothing better to do with their time than troll you to death. But that’s all the more reason to grow a pair. That’s why you need the courage to say “Fuck you, Customer. Fuck you in the face.”
*I first came up with 10,000 as hyperbole, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it’s a completely reasonable lifetime figure.