January 09, 2020

Netflix switch

When the DVD rent-by-mail business took off twenty years ago, I signed on with Greencine (since defunct) to feed my anime and Japanese movie habit. But Netflix caught up fast. A new processing center in Salt Lake City shortening the turnaround time convinced me to switch. We've been together almost fifteen years.

Netflix has since closed the Salt Lake City center. The single-day turnarounds now take three or four. To give credit where it's due, Netflix uses the "Informed Delivery" service, which (if everything works) notifies Netflix when the envelope is scanned into the USPS system so Netflix can send out the next one.

With my grandfathered one-out, two-a-month plan ($4.99/month or $2.50 a disc), Netflix's DVD service was so cheap the money almost didn't matter. Still, my "Active" queue kept shrinking while my "Saved" queue kept growing (until Netflix zapped most of the "Saved" titles from the catalog).

I'm mostly talking about the more obscure GKids anime releases and old classics. My theory is that Netflix tracks how many times a title appears in the "Saved" queues of its customers and only acquires it when it hits a certain threshold.

Netflix has abandoned the DVD "long tail" for new titles and isn't acquiring anything but bestsellers anymore. Mirai was popular enough but most anime movies obviously aren't. Although Netflix is actively acquiring anime series and feature films on the streaming side, its DVD business doesn't know they exist.

So I looked more closely at Amazon Prime Video and was surprised at how many of the titles in my "Saved" queue were in its catalog. Granted, prices for older titles range from $2.99 to $3.99 but that's a small price to pay for instant gratification and zero commitment.

There are movies on the Criterion Channel I'd like to see too, but not enough of them to justify $10.99/month, even using the subscribe–binge–quit approach. It'd be nice if the Criterion Channel did one-time rentals too. In other words, the original Blockbuster Video model. What's old is new again.

Indeed, I'm a bit puzzled that Netflix, responsible for putting Blockbuster out of business, doesn't offer the option, say, a kind of interlibrary loan arrangement with providers like Criterion and MHz. That's what Amazon is doing with Prime Video (and, no, you don't have to join Amazon Prime to use Prime Video).

Though once rental costs approach the four dollar mark, I'll think seriously about buying the DVD or simply won't bother. Back when Netflix first jumped on the streaming bandwagon, I was a regular Luddite about the whole thing. But Netflix has since acquired enough Japanese content to pique my interest.

So after shipping more than 800 Netflix DVDs back and forth through the good old-fashioned mail, the time has finally come to bid physical media (mostly) goodbye.

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