Solving a Problem No One Has

Everything is moving online. Magazines, newspapers, books – there is a scramble to be first, be innovative, and be profitable. To be sure, there is great opportunity online, and publishers are finding declining growth in their print formats, and see digital media as their salvation.

As companies create new solutions, a key question to keep in mind is “will this solve anyones problem?” Are you creating a new digital product because you can, because you are clever, because it solves a problem for you, – or – because it serves a distinct need of your customers, or potential customers.

Seth Godin has a clever rant about this, where he discusses companies trying to sell him solutions to problems he doesn’t have.

For instance, last week Amazon launched a movie download store on their website. This week, Apple will be launching a similar service, along with rebranding their “itunes” store, and upgraded iPods. As I read about these services, and the hype around companies being the first to capture this market, I am quickly realizing that this solves a problem no one has.

Is it so difficult for me to obtain movies? Do I have an urgent need to spend an hour downloading a video that is half the quality of a DVD, at the same price, and none of the extra features that most DVDs offer. Not to mention the fact that most people watch movies on TV’s, have little knowledge about burning these to disc, and it has yet to be proven that people enjoy watching feature length films while on the go.

Last year I was on the subway, and the guy next to me was watching the movie Crash on his portable DVD player. It was 8am on a Tuesday morning, he is crowded around strangers, speeding through a tunnel, and he is watching the scene from the movie that is extremely uncomfortable to watch in any circumstance. It was baffling.

On the flip side of this argument, I have discovered a great solution to my movie problem. No, its not Netflix. There is this strange red kiosk in my local food store called Redbox. For $1 per night, you can rent a movie through the machine, with a decent selection of about 50 new releases.

Why did this solve my movie problem?

  • I was already at the food store, no separate drive to Blockbuster
  • It was easy to scan the very newest releases, instead of the 200 foot wall of movies that Blockbuster presents as “new” releases
  • No lines
  • I can’t make a left out of Blockbuster, which I need to do to get home, so I have to make a weird u-turn in a condo complex
  • It is cheap! $1 per night, instead of $4 and change. I am astounded at the price

This solves my problem of overpaying, wasting time sorting through thousands of movies, and having to make a separate trip to the video store.

In the future, perhaps the Redbox kiosk could contain a hard drive with thousands of movies, and it simply burns the one you want to rent.

So as print media moves online, and publishers harness new technologies, it would be great to ensure that they are expanding the goals of journalism and creating a richer experience for customers, instead of creating crude web products that offer something unique, but that no one really needs.