Maximizing Your Utility

I love microeconomics. While its usefulness as a model for describing the complexity of our real world is pretty limited, it can be quite accurate in certain situations. One of my favorite concepts is that of diminishing returns. It states that up to a certain point, every "unit" of labor you put into an activity will produce a correspondingly significant "unit" of output. But at a certain point, the returns for every "unit" of labor begin to diminish, and the output slows down.

My whole life has been about finding this balance - to put the appropriate amount of effort into something, such that I will receive the maximum return possible. To avoid reaching the point of diminishing returns. It's been a challenge.

Take the /Filmcast. For years and years, we used to record an extra segment of the podcast called The /Filmcast: After Dark. I loved a lot of these segments, which essentially were just me and my co-hosts talking about random topics after we'd recorded the official show. Many of our fans loved these too, with some writing in that they actually enjoyed these segments more than the official show itself.

In fall of 2012, we decided to eliminate these segments as a regular part of our feed, although they still do pop up from time to time. There were some logistical reasons for this decision, one of them being that it was already difficult enough to schedule guests for the regular show, let alone asking for a 3-hour commitment to do the after-show as well. But for me, it was really all about the fact that I was stretched too thin already doing the show while moving to a new city and starting a new job, and I wasn't getting that much out of the After Dark episodes. They took up hours of extra time and they frequently didn't result in a product that I was particularly proud of (although sometimes they did - it was a crapshoot, and I guess that was part of the fun).

Over time, all of my other endeavors (podcasts, video work, photography) have presented dilemmas for how I should spend my time. Whether it's an interview with a director, a fan commentary on a film, a review of a specific movie, a discussion on a specific topic, or whether or not to do a podcast at all: for each of these activities, I've started asking myself the following questions:

1) How much enjoyment/benefit do I derive from this activity? - Is the benefit I get (psychically, monetarily, physically, emotionally, intellectually, etc.) significant enough to be worth the opportunity cost of not doing something else? Is spending X hours doing this activity the most benefit I could get from that X hours? Is there something that doing this activity specifically provides me that doing another activity for the same amount of time cannot?

2) How much will fans enjoy this activity? How much will it contribute to the public discourse about a particular topic? - Is this something that a significant amount of people will enjoy? Will it significantly enhance people's enjoyment/appreciation of a specific topic or product? Will it add value in a way that other people or other works cannot?

3) Is this activity something that will attract new listeners/fans? - Will doing this activity attract more fans in a way that corresponds to the amount of effort/time/money it requires?


It was a difficult truth to accept, but listenership for most of my podcasts has basically plateaued. While the /Filmcast still gets dozens, perhaps even hundreds of new listeners every month, the days of exponential growth are long past. Movie podcasts that are strictly movie podcasts just don't have that large of a potential audience (that statement excludes movie podcasts with "crossover" potential, such as The Flop House, which is theoretically also a comedy podcast, and can be categorized as such). From a growth perspective, you're much better off in other podcast categories like comedy, culture, or even TV.

As a result, it's been challenging to answer some of these questions on occasion. For instance, a /Filmcast interview with a director may take many hours to set up, and may be a very enjoyable and fulfilling experience for me, but is likely to bring us less than a dozen new listeners. This is also true of my interviews with film score composers, which consistently receive positive feedback but also get fewer downloads than some of our more popular episodes. Could I use this time to do something equally fulfilling but that would be far more likely to reach a mass audience (like say, creating a Youtube video)? Sometimes!

Ultimately, I keep on doing the things I do because I love them and because I get a lot out of them. But finding a balance for each of the above factors is something that will continue to challenge me and continue to evolve as time goes on. For anyone that creates content, I think these are all factors that are worth evaluating.

2 comments :: Maximizing Your Utility

  1. What do the initials and colored lines stand for? What would the line be for TTF?

  2. Nice analogy there. The Law of Returns as I learned the term, isn't "sometimes" useful in describing the real world though. It's a logically true fact of action. So really, economics is necessary to properly describe anything about the real world, and therefore ALWAYS useful. Theory has to come before history (empirical facts). Otherwise, randomly organized facts can't be interpreted at all. To describe some historical event, for example your podcast issue, you chose RELEVANT facts based on a theory you had beforehand. That theory should be proper economics, which it seems you have some grasp on. Hope you study more!

    If you really want to go deep into it, check out the Praxgirl series on youtube, she goes step by step through the entire edefice of economics. Although, she calls it Praxeology, which I actually think is a better word. Cheers

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