Netflix, Books, and Music are all Failing for the Same Reason

Netflix has lost its social object.

For its initial (massive) run Netflix was defined by its “social object” of the Red Envelope. For some period of time, the Red Envelope was a sort of badge; an external manifestation of internal values:

The Red Envelope signified a person’s love (not like) of movies. Not a movie fan, but a movie fanatic.

Having this Red Envelope on your desk / coffee table allowed for the thing that the movie fanatic wanted to happen to happen:

A visitor to the movie fanatic’s home/office would see the Red Envelope, and ask about it. This allows the movie fanatic to do what he (not “wants to do”) must do: Talk about his passion.

The Red Envelope was the conversation starter, and the tool that enabled the movie fanatic to become an evangelist for Netflix. It was the tool that allowed the burden of promotion to shift from Netflix to the movie fanatic.

It was the tool that accelerated Netflix’s growth.

    The Red Envelope is largely gone. It’s been replaced by a stream.

    The stream can not and does not act as a social object.

    Markets are conversations.

    The conversation starter — the Red Envelope — is gone.

    The conversation has died down considerably.

Music has lost similar social objects.

Vinyl’s resurgence is only partly explained by its sound quality.

The main reason people crave vinyl is that it acts as a social object — an external representation of internal values — and, when seen sitting on someone’s coffee table/hanging on their wall, provides the conversation ignition for the music fanatic to become an evangelist for the band who they love.

It was the tool that accelerated music’s growth.

    The vinyl record (and its less-effective counterpart, the CD) is largely gone. It’s been replaced by a stream.

    The stream can not and does not act as a social object.

    Markets are conversations.

    The conversation starter — the Vinyl Record (and, its less-effective counterpart, the CD) — is gone.

    The conversation has died down considerably.

Writing has lost similar social objects.

Books have long been the classic example of social objects (an external manifestation of internal values). We have — museum like — portions of our house that act as a display case for these values (they’re called book cases). We have tables specifically designed to display these — coffee table — books.

These books provided the conversational ignition between the fan of the author of the book, and their friend, and allowed the fan of the author to become an evangelist for the author, and thus shift the burden of promotion from the author herself (or her less-effective counterpart, the publisher) to the fan. (“Books are the new vinyl” will become a meme, just watch).

    The book, while not gone, is rapidly being replaced by a stream (download).

    The stream can not and does not act as a social object.

    Markets are conversations.

    The conversation starter — the book — is gone.

    The conversation has died down considerably.

What are our new social objects? The iPad. People use it as an external expression of their internal values. It’s why the market for iPad covers is so high.

Apps may fill this role to a degree. You are, to a point, defined by your apps.

It’s not the same, however, and we all know it.

Savvy companies will recognize that they must create social objects even as their products largely move to the intangible.

Failure to do so deprives customers of the tools they need to make the switch from fan to evangelist, and therefore decreases the chance of the burden of promotion from the creator (or label, publisher, producer) to the constituent, and thereby puts a ceiling on growth.

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  1. Ryan Tanaka’s avatar

    Hmm interesting — and it does make a lot of sense.  The latest album I released was a digital release only, mostly because I wanted to experiment with various streaming and “cloud-based” services so releasing a physical copy of something wasn’t really on my radar until now.

    But I guess it’s probably wiser to check for traction first before making an investment into another product line, I’m assuming?

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  2. Kris Kemp’s avatar

    Excellent article.  I’m reminded of what my friend and therapist Terri Gamble said about how people leave objects in their room that can act as identity signatures, as a way for others to find out who they are and they value.  

    That’s what people do with records.  I was at my friend Nicole’s second-floor apartment with my other friend David, and we were listening to records.  And it was a fun experience looking a the artwork, and watching her handle the actual record.

    Similar to books and what you mentioned about the NetFlix red envelope.

    I wrote a musical (http://www.DumpsterDiverMusical.com) and maybe I’ll search for a way to put it on vinyl.  One thing is for sure, I hope to market it with hand-drawn posters and old-fashioned fliers, the kind you used to see in the late 80s and early 90’s, the kind that I used to make.

    Thanks for the article.

    Kris Kemp
    writer, musician, website developer
    http://www.kriskemp.com
    http://www.dumpsterdivermusical.com
    http://www.facebook.com/kris.kemp1

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