The Eclectic

Time moves in one direction, memory in another. – William Gibson

Hacking NetFlix : The Crooked Timber Blog Discusses Netflix

Posted by David Leslie on August 5, 2004

I must admitt that this hit me between the eyes. My current record for keeping a DVD from NetFlix was The Animatrix at just under one year.

Question for you library folks? Do you see the same trend with your patrons when it comes to longer borrowing limits ?

In practice, it’s different – at least in my experience. Movies that we’ve rented sometimes sit there for two or three months before we watch them, or eventually, reluctantly, decide to send them back without seeing them. To my shame, this happens most often with the interesting, difficult films with sub-titles. I suspect that this is because we’re accustomed to thinking of DVDs as stocks rather than flows. Because we have physical possession of the DVD, we’re disinclined to give it back until we’ve actually watched it. Of course, this means that we face substantial costs – we may very easily end up paying more money to rent the damn movie than we would have to pay to buy it and keep it forever. Meanwhile, Netflix is laughing all the way to the bank. It’s much smarter to think of the rental service as a flow – you’re likely to be happier if you keep the movies coming along in a steady stream, even if you don’t watch them (the latter may be useful information about your actual preferences, as opposed to the preferences that you would like to have). I suspect that virtually any reasonable decision rule along the lines of ‘send the movie back if you haven’t watched it within two weeks’ is likely to produce better results than our current policy of watching the movies whenever we get around to it. Or, more typically, don’t get around to it.
Hacking NetFlix : The Crooked Timber Blog Discusses Netflix


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