Netflix’s queue changed the way I watch movies. After a friend tells me about a great film, I whip out my phone and add a movie to my queue and forget about it. Then I’m delighted when it arrives a week or two later in the mail or a few moments later on demand through the XBox and I remember that I asked for it.
For books, it’s more cumbersome. After hearing about a great book, I’d add it to my Amazon shopping cart. I wouldn’t buy the book immediately, but wait until the basket reached about $100 to execute the order. But by that time, I would have lost interest in some books and inevitably removed some from the basket. Great for my wallet, but bad for Amazon: the gears needed some grease.
But with the Kindle, I buy books and magazines like I rent Netflix movies. I add them to a download queue with 1 click purchasing. When I pick up my Kindle, everything I asked for is there in a list list for me to read. Needless to say, I spend much more on books than I used to.
With the iPhone and iPod touch wirelessly enabled, the same idea holds: buy some music and find it on your iPod’s workout mix when you hit the gym later that day.
The brilliance behind the queue is it decouples purchase intent and fulfillment. I tell Netflix I’d like to see a film. They get it to me without me having to go out of my way. Since at the beginning of the business, they were distributing physical DVDs, it also built in some flexibility into fulfillment schedules.
Digital distribution precludes the need for flexbility into those fulfillment schedules. But to the user, the benefit of being able to express a desire for a good and receive it passively, the original essence of the queue, remains enormously valuable.
At some point in the future, retailers like Amazon will be able to offer this across many product categories and many product devices. Imagine buying music, movies, books, and magazine all synced to the respective wireless devices. No wonder the USPS is having difficulties maintaing shipping sales.