June 26, 2006

Netflix Takes Libraries To School: An editorial

Netflix! You got your (corporate) chocolate in my (non-profit) peanut butter!

Oh Netflix, why canít you just be a library? Oh, waitÖyou ARE a library! Sure, youíre wrapped up in a company and a series of web services and efficient delivery, but your product really IS a library.

Or is your most important product acutally your series of web services and efficient, market expectation meeting delivery? Hmmm...
We (libraries) have the same deliverable, physical (or e-content) products Netflix has. Scratch that. We have much, much, much more than Netflix! Our libraries collections blow Netflix away. Far, far away. So whatís the problem?

The problem for libraries is infrastructure. We donít have the Netflix infrastructure. Weíve got WorldCat and Open WorldCat, which hold promise, but where is the infrastructure (including appropriate pricing)? Libraries just donít have the series of web services and efficient, market expectation meeting delivery that it takes (and will increasingly take) to succeed and thrive in a world of increasingly important information delivery and content provision.

As non-profits, couldnít we just charge cost for an expanded level of service for patrons that selected to buy in. I know that idea upsets a fair hunk of library folks, but remember, it is an increasingly Ēcontent, not containersĒ world now. Love it or hate it, it's where we are now and it has to be effectively dealty with. People (aka patrons aka consumers aka customers) donít give a hoot if they get what they want from the local library, from Amazon or from iTunes. A huge percentage of folks donít even give a hoot if they have to PAY upfront for a service that might be free (but more slowly delivered and/or less easy to access) at their local library. Heck, I use Netflix (love it) and I have a Public Library less than a mile from my house. For goodness sake, if I'm doing this personally and I am so bold (or presumptuous?) as to write the "Libraryman" blog, something in the system isn't connecting effectively.

So letís figure out a way to get together and offer our "better libraries" to people the way we really need to. If we are truly all about providing information, content and services and not overly concerned about rocking the boat, thatís what we need to do. It's what we'll have to do if we want to stay vital to our user base.

Two more thoughts on Netflix:
Why, oh why isnít it common for libraries to let patrons have on-line accounts with sortable hold lists like Netflix? This is a no-brainer. Vendors? Quick! Somebody come up with an open source third party plug-in!

Finally, from the Netflix Fan blog comes an interesting list of the authorís favorite things about the service. Libraries could learn a lot from seriously thinking about this list. (no wise cracks about his porn comments, please).
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
My Favorite things about Netflix
Easy to use Website,
Easy to use service, and
DVDs are an easy to use medium
No commercials (unless you think banner ads are commercials)
No storage limitations
Easy to change your address, so your movies can follow you anywhere
No equipment to buy or lease (yet)
No contract
No installation (yet)
No cancellation penalty
Cancel anytime
Constant stream of movies coming and going
I get nothing but what I want
Less risk of getting a crap film
No schedules
No due dates
No wasted trips to video store for out-of-stock titles
No traveling to and from the video store
No forgetting what to rent
Biggest selection possible
No late fees
Learning about new films I didn't know existed
Keeps me within my budget
Free shipping and handling
Rapid turnaround
Clever envelope design
Clever distribution system
Widely loved by a great online community of fellow members
No porn
RSS feeds
Member reviews
Great recommendations system
It's not Blockbuster, Wal-Mart, or Amazon
Easy to buy cheap DVDs
Easy to share movies, ratings, and recommendations with Netflix Friends
Gift subscriptions
Zillions of previews
Do you have a favorite thing about Netflix which I failed to mention?

Posted by libraryman at June 26, 2006 12:45 PM

In what way do library collections "blow Netflix away"? Netflix has 60,000 unique titles and ships millions of DVDs per day. It would be impossible for a library to match that.
I do not think that libraries need to charge for an expanded level of service, just increase the amount of content available digitally. If your content were digitized, your overhead would decrease.

Thanks for the linkage. :)


Posted by: Becky at June 27, 2006 10:59 AM

My 2 cents (offered at no cost to you):

Yes, we can learn from Netflix et al and adapt some of their service models in our public libraries.

No, charging for *expanded levels* of service is not something public libraries as tax-supported institutions should do. To use an extreme example, would you offer more/better/faster police and fire protection to those who are able and willing to pay a fee? In general, if I want more/better/faster I have to pay a private business for that.

Posted by: Renee Lowery at June 27, 2006 11:17 AM

Interesting stuff. I'm working on another post that deals with what you brought up. I think you'll be really, really surprised at the numbers!

Posted by: Michael Porter at June 27, 2006 11:38 AM

netflix has dvds I can't even get through ILL;
dvds (and books for that matter) via the mail from the public library is worth considering

Posted by: Greg Tramel at June 27, 2006 01:35 PM

I posted to the ILL-L listserv a while back asking if anyone had ever considered getting a Netflix subscription for their library for purposes of borrowing hard-to-ILL items, e.g. that just-released-on-DVD documentary that an instructor would like to show in class. No one seemed too interested in the idea. It could also be handy for collection development purposes - borrow the disc and evaluate it before you buy.

Posted by: Kate Sherrill at June 28, 2006 02:28 PM

For what it's worth, there is at least one library doing what Kate has suggested: http://www.niagara.edu/library/illdvds.html

And not only are they using for hard-to-ILL stuff, they are using it as their default ILL library for DVDs.

*** Wow! I missed this! Thank you so much for the excellent linkage, Greg! -MP ***

Posted by: Greg at July 1, 2006 07:23 AM

You had some wonderful reasons why to love Netflix and I agree with all of them. The one thing that I hate is their policy of not sending you the DVDs on time if you send the DVDS back too often during the month. The wait for the DVDS is excruciating. I often have waits of 7 days and it gets pretty maddening. I know they would lose money if you got too many during the month, but why penalize someone for that? Video stores love it if you bring back the movies on time.

Posted by: SCOTT COHEN at July 10, 2006 03:33 PM