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12 February 2006

Netflix and Vocal Minority, an Open Letter to Reed Hastings

I love Netflix! Totally. I signed up in February of '02 and have been gleefully renting ever since. Here's the problem. I began to notice something strange. When I first opened my account the speed with which my movies were delivered thrilled me beyond description. I told literally, everyone I knew, some people I only sorta knew and a few I didn't know at all to sign up for this amazing time-saving and fun service.

And then...I don't know something started to happen. I really noticed it in late '04 when it started taking longer for movies returned to be reflected on my account. And then, even more strangely, instead of immediately shipping my next selection, it would show in my account as "shipping", not just for a few hours as it had in the past, but for a day. I called Netflix a couple of times and got some sort of tap dance about distribution centers or some such. But I suspected Netflix found my high rental activity a liability and was 'slowing my roll'. I was pretty annoyed, but even so I figured (and still do) the big N is the best game in town, I would like to see my account function with the speed with which it once did, but I could live with it.

Then the news broke and my suspicions were confirmed by the company itself. The practice Well...at last. No I'm not crazy and that really would have been the end of that for me, had I not read a quote from a Netflix spokesperson attempting to calm customers fears by letting them know that this phenomena is being experienced by a 'vocal minority', I would have been fine. But instead I'm ticked. And I told them so...read on:

To: Reed Hastings, CEO
From: One of the 'Vocal Minority'
Re: 'Throttling'
An Open Letter

Here's the thing...I'm one of those customers who has been a target of throttling. I have health problems and work from home, so I'm home a lot and I'm a complete movie addict. Like most of my addicted brethren, I'm pissed at you guys for delivering poorer quality service nowadays than when I first signed up. My righteous indignation condition flared out of control when I discovered said service lapse was entirely intentional. Really...you guys, for shame!

The other thing is this. My friends and I...the Netflix Movie Addicts...The Brethren. We are remarkably benign; not interested in filing lawsuits, (gasp!) canceling our accounts, or even telling others that Netflix sucks.

Given the givens the quote from Steve Swasey dismissing the problem as something that affects only a "vocal minority"; comes off a bit whiny and more than a bit back-stabby. I did not notice Netflix complaining when this vocal minority was busily talking everyone they knew into getting a Netflix account.

Don't get me wrong, you guys are successful because at the perfect time, you had great idea and executed it elegantly. But it was an idea that appealed to a particularly 'vocal' segment of the population, my brethren…the rabid movie fan. And I daresay we helped a little.

We have been your most loyal customers and your most effective marketing campaign. For every one of us 'heavy' users you can count at least 3 to 10 new subscribers for whom we are directly responsible and the ripple effect is likely in the hundreds, because we have been preaching the Netflix word to all who would listen. We are Patients Zero for the Netflix virus that has infected America. We don't ask for special recognition or special deals. We don't need glory, Netflix merchandise or superhero capes; but we durned well want the service for which we first signed up.

We're mad...we're tired of artificial waiting times...and as you have so eloquently pointed out--vocal.

So shut us up! And make a little more money at the same time. Offer a heavy hitters club. Tack on an extra, I don't know, whatever your marketing guys figure out each month to join. Club members get special perks that movie nerds love, arcane movie facts, podcast interviews with lesser known filmmakers who have cult followings. Allow club members to interact with each other, perhaps by creating a blog.

But first, do the right thing; offer that service for free for a year to those accounts which have been throttled. In particular for those accounts whose existence pre-dated the practice (like mine) Call it beta testing or whatever the heck you want. Market it right and you'll get a lot of new subscribers to sign on for the extra service simply because it's there. I and my brethren will sign up because we want truly unlimited service and a club with a cool name.

Live long and prosper,
Maya Jewell
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