Why Netflix should not drop DVD rentals

I wrote my first post on the Netflix fiasco (Netflix has made a big mistake and it’s not only in pricing) the morning I got Reed Hastings’ poorly written email about their upcoming changes. Since then I’ve calmed down and thought more about it.

I’ve also read dozens of posts about it, many of them very well thought out and written. No one seems to be defending DVD rentals for the reasons I’m going to list here.

1. DVDs have better image quality than streaming video. If you’ve invested in a decent HD TV, that’s meaningful.

2. DVDs have extras on them not available to streaming customers. I love the behind the scenes, making of, and other goodies on “loaded” DVDs and when I can, I always buy DVDs that have them. Many Netflix rentals have them as well. Streaming offers none of this.

3. The Netflix DVD library is extensive and Netflix may not be able to rip enough of it to make streaming have the long tail of content their DVD library has.

4. If Netflix could and did rip their entire DVD library and their entire 24 million person subscriber base moved to streaming, do you think the current internet could handle it? I don’t. Not at this point. While streaming is no doubt the future this Netflix move is premature given the current limitations of streaming to such a large user base.

My plan is to stick with the new Netflix and whatever the other company will be called for a while to see how it goes but if it doesn’t go well and gets even more expensive I’ll go back to buying DVDs for my collection and reselling them if I watch and don’t like them. I did this for years before joining Netflix and given that if I like a movie I’ll watch it multiple times, I’ll just do it again.

But I’d rather use Netflix, just the way it was.

An opportunity for public libraries

Some may be thinking that this Netflix misstep might be an incredible opportunity for local DVD rental businesses but I doubt that. Brick and mortar costs serious money. What it is however, is an incredible opportunity for public libraries.

Our little library in Warren, Connecticut (population 1000) has a growing collection of both video cassettes and DVDs. I’ve donated dozens of DVDs to them (nice tax write-off) and will continue to do this over time.

Public libraries are free and while their DVD checkout policies aren’t like Netflix’ they’re long enough so one has plenty of time to watch the movies checked out.

If I were running a public library I’d be buying up DVD collections like mad right now and hoping Netflix put their DVDs for sale at some point in bulk so I could buy those too.

No doubt libraries are hurt by Kindles and iPads and other e-readers but those who bet that the end of the physical book is on the horizon may be the same people who are betting that the end of the DVD is on the horizon.

That horizon isn’t in sight yet and physical media has a future. It may not be as commercially viable as it once was but public libraries aren’t money making institutions, they’re pubic services.

Given the economy, as services like Netflix/Qwikster become more expensive free public services like libraries become more attractive.

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