Saturday, October 23, 2004

DVDs via Mail. I enjoy movies. For many years, our family has rented movies from "Roman's", a small video shop about a mile down the road. There have been several ownership changes and its no longer called Roman's. But it will always be "Roman's" at our house.

For the last couple of years, I have noticed that many of the rentals seem to be pirated versions of the movie, especially the movies in the VHS format. Friends of mine who use another neighborhood video store in Virginia Gardens, a little town next to Miami Springs, say that pirated films are rented there too, and the owner told them he would go out of business if he were completely legit. I am not sure I want to rent pirated videos.

The other problem with Romans are the late fees. Actually, its not a Romans problem, its a Paul problem. I rent a video and then don't have the time to take it back. So what I had rented for 3 or 4 dollars often becomes a 7 or 8 dollar rental. Sometimes I am so busy that I don't even have time to watch the video in the first place. So I have to take it back and then rent it again later.

Enter DVDs by mail, with the ordering via the internet. I recently started with the Wal-Mart version of this approach: $15.54 a month for 2 DVDs at a time. When you join, Wal-Mart asks you to list at least six movies in a queue. (The titles are selected from a database of a zillion.) Initially, you are sent the first two. When you send one back (you don't have to send two at once), you are sent the next title on your queue, and so on. You can go on-line to your account and change the order in your queue if you like. If there is a great demand for the title, then you may have to wait; I guess they send you the next available title on your queue. When you receive the title, you can keep it as long as you want, but you keep paying the monthly fee, for which your credit card is debited. The monthly charge includes the postage. There is nothing extra.

I really like this. Not only are the late fees avoided, but you don't have to watch the movie right away, you don't have to take the time to go to the video store, there are a lot of titles, there is no pirating. Not only will the neighborhood video stores be unable to survive, but Blockbuster must really be worried.

I thought that maybe people would abuse this service by passing around the video - several people might use the service for one price. But we are all so busy and autonomous. Who wants to wait on his friend before sending back the video that he has watched? The point is that I have a title-on-demand process. Sharing erodes that process. So back in the mail goes the disk as soon as I watch it.

Other technology may make this approach obsolete soon. Even now I understand that one can have his title-on-demand if he has Direct TV or has cable with that feature. I guess there are DSL services out there. But isn't that more expensive? I don't want all the rest of the dreck that comes with cable/Direct/internet. I just want to see a movie when I want to see it. Wal-Mart may have made this cheap and convenient enough that it will stick for us semi-Luddites who don't want to be so completely connected.

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