Adam Fields (weblog)

This blog is largely deprecated, but is being preserved here for historical interest. Check out my index page at for more up to date info. My main trade is technology strategy, process/project management, and performance optimization consulting, with a focus on enterprise and open source CMS and related technologies. More information. I write periodic long pieces here, shorter stuff goes on twitter or


Something interesting about scarcity

We used to have a 6-at-a-time Netflix plan. We’d get 6 movies, but then sometimes we’d go months before watching them, or even just deciding that enough was enough and sending them back. And frequently, even among those 6 movies, there would be nothing we wanted to watch on any given night. And then an interesting thing happened. As part of a general cost trimming in our house, we dropped down to a 3-at-a-time plan. And suddenly we started watching a lot more Netflix movies. With 6 movies to choose from, there was always “something else” to watch, and we didn’t have to worry about clearing out all of the cruft to make room for something we really wanted to watch. As a result, we didn’t think as carefully about whether we’d really want to watch a new movie, because just renting something wouldn’t really block something else that we wanted to see more if it came along. But when we introduced a little artificial scarcity into the mix, a slot became something worth protecting from something we didn’t really want to see, and we started thinking more about which movies to put to the top of the queue, and then actually being more aggressive about watching them and sending them back.

This seems like a strange effect to me – we’re paying less, we’re technically using less (3 out instead of 6 out), but we’re turning over more, so the net effect is probably that we’re heavier users now than at 6-out. Because the pricing is only on the number out instead of the turnover, we’re unarguably paying less and using more, even though we’re technically on a “lower usage” plan. At this point, even if we wanted to spend the extra money, I have no desire to go back to a 6-out plan, because I like the extra sense of urgency that comes from having the out slots be a scarce resource, and it makes me want to use the service more.

I don’t know if this makes me a better Netflix customer or not, from their perspective. Obviously I’m paying less money to them per month and using more in mailing fees, but I’m also holding onto premium movies for a lot less time than I used to, freeing them up to be sent to other customers.

Anyone notice the same thing?

Powered by WordPress