Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Challenge to the Netflix Challenge

Last week, Netflix raised their prices and Twitter exploded. People are PISSED. And I'm just sort of…not. I tweeted as much and got shot down from a few sides, so I thought I'd explore it here with a few more characters. Sure, I'm a little annoyed by having to pay more, but it's still a pretty damn good deal. Watch as many movies as I want, many of them instantly, for $16 a month? That's amazing! A movie ticket in NYC is up to $13. An iTunes movie rental is $4.99. I have no idea what Blockbuster costs these days (um, does it even still exist?) but back in the day I recall it being around $5 for one movie. So let's put it in perspective.

As one Twitter friend pointed out, it's really amazing that they've kept the price so low for as long as they have. I suspect that people like me who let DVDs sit for months were subsidizing the power users, but with the shift to streaming that model doesn't work anymore. I grant that the percentage of the price increase is distressingly large, and I wonder why they didn't just do a small raise every year. My gym does that, $1 or $2 at a time, and I barely notice. I mean, most things do that. Which I guess is why I can't get too worked up about Netflix.

I wonder if the streaming thing - which is really added value over DVDs, what with the instantness - is what's causing the PR problem here. There's a sense that anything on the Internet is free. Strangely, instant gratification doesn't look like it costs money. We don't see paper and printing and postage and the elves that scan the DVD barcodes when it's zapped to the Wii. But bandwidth is expensive, and so are storage space and licensing fees and Netflix uses a hell of a lot of all three.

This general sense in our society lately that nobody wants to pay for anything - be it music or taxes - has been really bugging me for several years now. That's a whole separate post that I may or may not ever write, but I think it's why all the reactionary complaining struck a nerve. And I am a champion complainer! I get that the economy is bad. I get that I'm very lucky to have a job that I love and that pays me reasonably well and I can afford luxuries like unlimited DVDs. But that's just it - it's a luxury. And it's one that I value. We all make value judgments all the time. I appreciate not just the selection and the service but the ease of use. Look at how much money Apple and Amazon have made by basically hiding the transaction for iTunes and Kindle. It's dangerous and a little scary, but it's also supremely simple in a way that I consider worth paying for. That single click to have something in 30 seconds is well worth 99¢ over the time I'd have to spend searching for something on bit torrent and hoping the file's not corrupted when it gets to me.

I'm not saying I've never downloaded anything illegally (I'm not saying I have either, FCC and RIAA!), just that our expectations of what we "should" be able to get instantly and cheaply are a little out of hand. I think $16 for my insanely long Netflix queue is still a pretty amazing deal, and it's one I can afford. So why get all crazy about it? I'd much rather save that energy for idiots on the subway or the lack of seating or air conditioning in Penn Station.


Beth Hicks said...

Thank you. I was blown away by people shouting at Netflix because they made a business decision. An understandable business decision at that.

I tweeted at the time that there were probably a lot of people complaining about the increase who paid for cable every month. Cable is a racket.

Sam said...

I wasn't particularly bothered by the rise in prices, but I did note on twitter that it would probably cause me to go streaming-only. Not because I'm pissed about the pricing, but because all the hullabaloo surrounding the increase caused me to realize that I've had the same two DVDs sitting on top of my player for months, and that I'm using streaming 99% of the time anyway. I can take the $9 or so that my 2-dvd at a time plan would cost me and just add it to my "other" entertainment budget, meaning that when I finally get around to wanting to watch a new release, I can rent it on itunes or somewhere.

Adam807 said...

I didn't address that in the post, but I actually think that exact example makes the splitting of the plans a good idea too. My queue has A LOT that's not available instantly, so I considered doing it the other way. I'll probably keep both, at least for now, since getting one DVD at a time I like having the option to watch other stuff in between or when I'm on the road.

I mean, Boy and I have lived together since 2004 and still maintain separate Netflix accounts, so our household is not exactly the model of Netflix efficiency.

Sam said...

Yeah, my obsessive love of mid-90s bbc procedurals is definitely skewing the stream vs. dvd aspect of my netflix watching.

naginata said...

I'm with Beth, I didn't get the uproar either. I also agree with that cable is a fucking racket.