Netflix Saga: Fight for Your Right to Cheap Video Rentals
Our narcissism, always present, reveals itself most starkly during hard times. In the days leading up to the attacks in Norway, with unemployment rising back up past 9 percent, and as our leaders were amorally using our basic economic well-being as a political bargaining chip, many Americans decided that one of the most horrible things going on in the world was Netflix's decision to change its pricing structure. Not to raise prices, exactly, though some customers will be paying more.
As the video rental business moves from DVDs to online streaming, Netflix decided that customers would have to choose between the two, or pay for access to both. Previously, it had offered its DVD-renting customers (who were paying peanuts) access to unlimited free streaming as a sort of bonus. That bonus is now ending. Prices are still ridiculously low (though probably not for long): $7.99 a month if you want streaming only, and $7.99 for unlimited DVDs by mail (though that's only one disc at a time). Those customers who want to continue to have access to both streaming and DVDs will have to pay for each separately, and will see their monthly fees climb from $10 to $16.
This is somewhat annoying, since there are still many movies available only on DVD. But Netflix is adding streamable movies at a rapid clip, so it's quickly becoming a nonissue. For many of those customers, though, the change is simply too much to bear. Of course, that's fine -- it's how business works. If you don't like an offer, you don't have to accept it.
Netflix assumed that many customers would be unhappy, but because its costs for obtaining video content are about to soar, and because it's facing increased competition from the likes of Amazon and Google, it pretty much had to make this move. To read many of the thousands and thousands of online reactions, though, you'd think Netflix had imposed a one-baby rule on American families, ended suffrage for nonmillionaires, or outlawed beer. Presumably, most of these people were around just a few years ago when, to rent movies, you had to travel to the video store, browse its often-weak selection, pay $4 or $5 for each video, then travel back to the store to return the discs in time to avoid late fees. Now they're complaining because they have to pay $16 to sit on their asses and enjoy access to any of thousands of movies per month -- as many as they want to watch.
It's impossible to know how many of them also have cable packages with hundreds of channels and access to on-demand movies. But all of them have access to free online video from Hulu, YouTube, and elsewhere. And they have other options: reading books, having sex, conversing with friends, taking walks, staring into space. It's hard to sympathize with people who become enraged over a relatively modest increase in their video-rental fees. But it's easy to be entertained by them.
Let's enjoy just a few of the complaints, from Netflix's Facebook page
-- one of many outlets for rental-fee hysteria -- where its
announcement has drawn more than 80,000 responses, presented here
without further comment:
Roy Warren Lucier: "Sorry Netflix, your price increases at a time like this in our country is too much. Cancelled yesterday, and only returning if you cancel the price raising. Thank you for your service, but a 60 percent increase is ridiculous. Let my job raise my salary 60 percent, that's not happening, and neither is me paying your 60 percent increase."
Genora Trotter: "I only liked this page to join in the conversation about Netflix' self-inflicted death stroke, oh foolish arrogant company; dirty is dirty and just because your analyst calculated from within their bungholes a profit forecast, the death stroke will come as gangrene and putrefaction will spread. One of the last comments about this price hijacking showed that Netflix' customer service can care less. I don't know who your PR person is, but you'd better ride'em out on a rail! The people made you and the people can destroy your asses! If you don't have competition now biting at your heels 'all powerful and invincible' Netflix, you will soon.
Genora Trotter (seconds later): "By the way Netflix your service really sucks right now and I'm going shopping!!!"
Ruby Valeton: "The capitalism-loving American right expects business to think about how they treat people as they score their profits, while the 'people, not the powerful' left has become rife with sniffing elitists who wonder why these agitated morons don't just plunk down their hard-earned quarters for their goods and services, and go back to their mean little hovels to fry something. Long-standing stereotypes are being flipped before our eyes, in the 'remaking' of America."
Hank Moody (sarcastically, one presumes): "This news is worse than slavery."
Dan Mitchell has written for Fortune, The New York Times, Slate, Wired, National Public Radio, The Chicago Tribune, and many others.