The Streisand Effect: Back for an Encore Performance!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Remember how in Customer Segmentation Gone Wrong, we looked at an airline that was suing startup Skiplagged? For those of you who don't remember, the small startup was showing customers how they could take advantage of the airlines' own pricing strategies to receive highly discounted prices.

At the time I argued that litigation was the wrong approach. Thanks to the Streisand effect, legal threats would only highlight the value that Skiplagged offers and encourage curious bystanders to learn more about the startup's offerings.

Barbara Streisand
Image courtesy of Allan Warren

Color me unsuprised when I saw an article in The Wall Street Journal entitled Lawsuit Threat Helps Textbook Price-Comparison Tool Go Viral. Who could have predicted that the threat of a lawsuit could have had such unexpected effects? Well, I could have - and so could all of my regular blog readers.

In this case, a tiny startup created software to help college students find the best deals on their textbooks. A mere gnat in the world of e-commerce, the startup was destined to wither in obscurity. At least, it was destined until its owners received a letter from a product manager at a large book vendor who threatened the involvement of its legal team. The content of the letter soon went viral and downloads of the price-checking tool quickly rose from 200 to 15,000. Oops!

Many companies would do well to consult with my company more often. We can keep the egg off your face and help you put money into your pocket.

Perhaps sales of my book on software pricing would increase if I could convince a large organization to threaten to take my company to court. Hmm... I can neither confirm nor deny the rumors that Martians are investigating possible legal action against my firm for publishing economic secrets in this book. Buy it at your own peril.