Tuesday, 6 September 2011

09:30 – I need to decide what to do with our Netflix subscription. Right now, we’re paying $10/month for unlimited streaming and one disc at a time. As of our anniversary date on 26 September, that jumps to $16/month if I do nothing. I’ll probably bump it to $20/month for unlimited streaming and two discs at a time.

Netflix really miscalculated when they introduced the $10/month plan, which was $8/month for streaming and $2/month for the one disc at a time. I think they assumed that most people on that plan would watch nearly all streaming, and get an occasional disc to fill in gaps. What we did, and what I suspect most people on that plan did, was the opposite: watch DVDs as much as possible and fill in with streaming. As a result, Netflix was sending us about eight discs a month for that $2, or $0.25 per disc. Given that Netflix had to pay postage both ways, and considering DVD acquisition costs and handling expenses, Netflix was probably losing at least $10/month on us, and probably a similar amount on many of their $10/month customers. That obviously couldn’t go on, so Netflix put a stop to it.

Netflix has been pushing streaming heavily for obvious reasons. Delivering an hour of streaming costs them maybe $0.05, including content and transmission costs, while delivering an hour of content on disc costs them an order of magnitude more. If I were Netflix, I’d continue to increase prices, both for streaming and discs. Streaming, so they can afford to buy more streaming content. Discs, because they want to discourage people from renting discs. Additional revenue will allow Netflix to expand their streaming options dramatically. And price increases won’t lose them many customers. What, after all, are the alternatives?

While they’re at it, I think Netflix should introduce a separately-priced streaming channel or channels for live sports. Netsportz? Assuming that only 20% of their members sign up at, say, $20/month, that’s still more than $100 million/month in revenue. They could buy a lot of live sports for $100 million a month. And, of course, a lot more than 20% of their membership would probably sign up for an all-sports Netflix channel, and they’d probably be willing to pay more than $20/month.

Work on the biology lab book and kits continues. We have quite a few chemistry kits in stock now and components to build a bunch more, so we can forget about chemistry kits until stock gets low. I’m prototyping a biology kit now. There are lots of decisions to make. Some of them seem minor, but have implications. For example, do I include a sleeve of plastic Petri dishes, which are inexpensive but cannot be reused, or do I include two (or three or four) glass Petri dishes, which are fragile, much more expensive, and require autoclaving, but can be reused indefinitely? The problem is, which is the better choice depends on the person who’s buying the kit. For many homeschoolers, the plastic Petri dishes would be better. They’re cheaper, more convenient, and pre-sterilized. For others, who might do a lot of culturing, the glass Petri dishes are the better choice. I’m inclined to think that the latter group are in a small minority, so right now I’m leaning toward the plastic dishes. What I may do is offer an optional separate culturing kit with glass Petri dishes, several types of agar, and so on.

11:07 – In case you’re wondering what happened to the title in today’s entry, WordPress screwed me again. I’d entered a title and most of the text, at which point Colin started bugging me to go out. So I clicked the Save Draft icon. WordPress, instead of saving, blew me all the way out to the login screen. I logged in, and found my entry was truncated in the middle of the second paragraph. So I used Firefox’s back button to return to what I’d entered. I finished the entry and posted it. I *know* that entry had the title, because I looked before I clicked the Publish button. But for some reason WordPress kept the entry but lost the title.

Unfortunately, that’s nothing unusual for WordPress, which is extremely unstable, at least on my hosting service. I frequently get error messages when I try to save a post, and even more frequently when I’m using the Tools section of the dashboard to backup my site from the server to my local machine. I use WordPress only because my new hosting service offered a one-click install, but I’m beginning to wonder if there’s a better system available.

My decision on the Petri dishes was made for me. I have two or three vendors from whom I can buy them. All of them ship in packs of 10. Presumably, those factory packs are well protected against breakage, but I have no desire to try to package individual Petri dishes. I sure don’t want to allocate the cost of 10 Petri dishes to each kit. Even if they were free, that’d be too many Petri dishes and too much room in the package. So I’ll go with a sleeve of plastic Petri dishes. I may or may not create a separate dedicated culturing kit. If I do, it’ll include a factory pack of 10 glass Petri dishes. I will probably list the kit contents as six Petri dishes, with a note that we actually include 10, but allow for 40% breakage. That way, if someone does get all 10 unbroken, they get more than they expected.

12:39 – Hmmm. I may have screwed Dr. Koonin big time. I noticed his free book on a list from irreaderreview.com. Chances are, not a lot of people who are interested in evolutionary/molecular biology read that list. But I had to go and tell Jerry Coyne, who has a large international readership, nearly all of whom are interested in evolutionary/molecular biology. Then PZ Myers, who has a gigantic international readership–he probably gets more visits in an hour than I get in a week–sees the announcement on Jerry’s site and posts a link on his own site to Dr. Koonin’s free book. Meanwhile, Richard Dawkins, who makes PZ look like small potatoes, also sees the announcement on Jerry’s site. I don’t know if he’s posted about it, but if he has, between Coyne, Myers and Dawkins, it’s unlikely that anyone on the planet who has much interest in evolutionary/molecular biology is unaware that Koonin’s book is available for free.

I just checked Amazon, and Koonin’s book is now in the Top Ten. Not the Top Ten biology books or even the Top Ten science books. The Top Ten among all books on Amazon. That means Koonin’s book is probably “selling” thousands of copies per day. And everyone on the planet who has any interest in the subject probably has a free copy by now, leaving Koonin’s remaining market as only people who are not interested in his book.