Pissing On Customers

It seems these days more companies are making a deliberate, calculated, and focused effort to piss off their customers. Or piss on their customers. I haven’t decided which it is, but neither one is particularly desirable when you’re on the receiving end. Somewhere along the line, someone gave companies the idea that providing less service for the same price would be acceptable to customers – allow me to correct their misconceptions.

Your average Hollywood movie studio executive appears to be operating under the mistaken belief that when I bother to pry open my wallet to buy a DVD, I’m actually overjoyed to be forced to sit through additional “free” content. Like the overly verbose FBI warning. In English and French. And an ad for a soft drink. And the coming attractions – despite the fact that the DVD I’m watching is over a year old, the movies being advertised have already been released, I already know they suck, and this is the fourth time I’ve been forced to watch the ads. In situations like this, I start to feel like Alexander in Clockwork Orange – strapped into place, restricted by technology from averting my gaze.

The term is captive market – and I wish cosmic rays would fry the synapses out of every corporate droid brain that thinks it’s a good idea.

Nobody’s limiting themselves to restricting outside food so they can overcharge for popcorn anymore. Nope, they’re working hard to make sure we watch what they want us to watch, when they want us to watch it. Forget listening to your favorite XM radio program any time you want. Forget taking your camera-phone to concerts. Forget moving files freely to and from your USB keychain drive or your iPod. Forget recording and storing programs indefinitely on your TiVo. Forget about not being berated for actually paying to go to the movie theatre.

In short: forget about having uninterrupted control over any of the cultural products and experiences that form the basis of just about every memory you have. The movie from your first date. The songs that form the soundtrack of your life’s most important moments. The concert you went to with your best friends. All of the color surrounding your memories – memories so important to you that they’re engraved in the brainflesh somewhere between your ears – those colors are probably patented by some jackass at Pantone and they’re drafting a cease-and-desist letter as I type this.

I know I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: I will not pay for content only to be told when and where I may watch or listen to it. I will not feed your ill-conceived plans to cram my every waking moment with mentally deficient cross-marketing plans. I will not allow myself to be extorted for access to my culture, and my memories. In case the industry hasn’t noticed, there is a lifetime’s worth of unrestricted content out there, free for the taking. There are tools that make it easier to route around your dain bramage should I decide to access restricted content.

Beware! For I am the consumer. I am King. And you will be first against the wall.

Clicking For Dollars

A couple weeks back, I mentioned to one of my co-workers that he should check out the special features on the “Wag the Dog” DVD. About five minutes later, he passed by my cube and mentioned that he had looked at the information on my blog and added the film to his Netflix queue. The importance of this moment didn’t strike me until Apple’s more recent announcement of an affiliate program for the iTunes Music Store.

It occurred to me that my friend had been forced to go through a circuitous route to add the movie to his Netflix queue. Rather than simply clicking a link within the review on my web page, he had to log into his Netflix account, find the movie and then add it to his queue of movies. What a pain.

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of the Amazon Affiliates program – it seems almost obvious that Netflix should incorporate a similar affiliation system to allow web sites to provide users with an easy way to use the Netflix system. Such a system would enable Netflix to embed itself into the web – and all it would cost is a little web plumbing and whatever credit they give to referring web sites. Netflix gets a way to leverage the blogosphere, the blogosphere gets a way to further build useful content and value for its readership, and the bloggers get a way to get mildly compensated for their effort to create value.

But the prospect of multiple affiliation systems raises an interesting user interface obstacle (oh, where art thou OK/Cancel?): what happens when affiliation systems collide?

Picture the scenario: a user comes to your web site to read your review of a kick-ass new independent film about an underground band you’re interested in checking out. Does the link to the movie go to Amazon (and hence, contains your Amazon Associates ID) to allow the user to buy the DVD, or does it go to Netflix to allow the user to add the film to their Netflix queue? Does the link to the album go to Amazon to allow the user to buy the CD, or does it go to iTunes to allow the user to buy individual tracks in a digital form? What if they prefer to buy digital music from Real? Or movies from Barnes and Noble?

Although Amazon is the only real player with enough momentum to draw significant link-love from the bloggers, they can’t be all things to all people. Inevitably, as demonstrated by Apple’s affiliate program announcement, there will be new entrants, each striving to carve out their particular niche by leveraging blogs to enable customers to be “self-selected”, for lack of a better word. But it’ll have to get easier – blogging tools fail abysmally to simplify the process of leveraging other web services, like Google’s Adsense (assuming they don’t smack you down in the process). Making it easier will require a standard mechanism to interface with affiliation systems. Hmm, makes me wonder – would Marc Canter consider affiliation relationships another form of micro-content?