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Libraries: Target Whining Cheapskates!

It’s a pity I can’t just start writing a political blog here, because all the exciting drama is happening in Congress about raising the US debt limit. I’m predicting a lot of partisan ideological ranting, with a last minute deal that’s not really a deal. It’s the kind of drama politicians love!

Instead, I’ll write about crisis that has gripped the rest of the country that lies outside the beltway, the biggest tragedy that has befallen America since Dallas went off the air, the saddest news most of us have heard since Sonny Bono died. That’s right. I’m talking about the Netflix price increase.

At least you’d think it was a tragedy by how outraged some fools have become.

There are so many news articles about this I wouldn’t even begin to link to one, so here are a thousand. If you’re one of the benighted folk who don’t use Netflix, you should know now that instead of charging $9.99 a month for one DVD at a time and unlimited streaming video, Netflix is separating the streaming and DVD service, and charging $7.99/ month for each.

Usually, I’m pretty jaded, but I have to say even I was surprised by the amount of entitled whining pervading the Internet about this small price increase. “Oh, Netflix, I loved you so much, and now you want to charge me more money for providing more service than you used to! Wahhh! Boycott!!” Oh, please.

More intelligent and less whiny customers might reason this way. Netflix used to charge $9.99/month for providing one DVD at a time to customers. Then, a few years ago, they added unlimited streaming video for FREE to all customers, even the ones with the cheapskate one DVD/month plan. Did I mention that it has been FREE? Oh, and that Netflix prices haven’t risen for years?

Now, the people who want to rely on streaming and don’t watch many DVDs can actually lower their monthly bill by $2. Everyone else on the basic plan will have to pay $6 more a month. Six bucks. Boo hoo.

Most Netflix customers won’t even notice the tiny additional blip in their monthly bills. If the truly poor get Netflix, then skip a McDonald’s meal or a pack of cigarettes or a couple of lottery tickets a month and the increase is covered.

However, I see an opportunity here for public libraries. They should make an all out effort to attract the whining cheapskates to their DVD collections. After all, whining cheapskates looking for free video entertainment are a core market for public libraries, and if libraries didn’t cater to them, democracy might die or something.

Libraries need more people checking out videos and then haggling over late fees when they don’t return the videos on time. “What? I owe $15? But I only had one DVD checked out at a time!”

I make the suggestion because Netflix has become the largest competitor to a core activity of public libraries: providing cheap  Hollywood movies and TV shows to the American people. Without such cheap access, people might actually have to pay for their entertainment instead of insisting that someone else pays for their entertainment through their taxes. And that’s just not right!

At $9.99 a month, Netflix was so cheap that millions of people didn’t think twice about subscribing, then skipping that weekly trip to the library to get their video fix. But now, at a whopping $16 a month for the same service, you can bet they’ll be cancelling that Netflix subscription immediately.

By now, though, Netflix has been giving such quality service at such cheap prices, people have forgotten why they used to need libraries.

To solve this problem, libraries need to advertise.

“So the Netflix streaming service is mostly a wasteland of old TV shows and movies you’ve never heard of? So is your local public library video section! And it’s FREE!”

Something like that would bring in the whining cheapskates. Libraries could start painting their windows like some stores do. “Screw Netflix! Free Videos Here!”

To truly emulate store window paintings, the libraries could also add some extraneous punctuation. Free “Videos” Here, that sort of thing.

Or libraries could mount speakers atop their bookmobiles and drive through neighborhoods shouting the good news.

If your library doesn’t have a bookmobile, buy one just for this purpose.

I really think this is the lucky break libraries needed to start making themselves relevant again. Librarians everywhere should thank Netflix for starting to charge sensible prices and maybe making people realize that rather than pay an extra $6/month it’s better to drive to your library, sift through physical DVDs, wait in line to check them out, then have to drive back to do it again soon to avoid fines.

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Comments

  1. annoyedlibraryworker says:

    In all seriousness, I’ve been advocating this point for a while now, and received many the withering glance in return. Most of the dissent seems to come from the fact that it takes a little bit of planning, patience and time management. People complain to me that they signed up with Netflix because when they go to the library there are never any “good” movies in stock, and if they place a movie on request it comes in when they don’t have “time” to watch it. Then I tell them my system where I look through books of film criticism or certain bookmarked blogs, create a list, check it against the catalog, request the item and set aside a specific time each week to watch the movie. I spend between 2-8 bucks a month and have had a much more enjoyable experience then I did going in blind or searching through stacks of titles. I don’t limit myself to artsy films or current releases, but choosing a theme has made watching these movies an event instead of a way to kill time. One week it might be Kubricks “Paths of Glory”, the next “Troll 2″. If there is a title I’m interested in and the library doesn’t carry it, I send a brief email to admin requesting it be considered, and half of the time they’ll order it. I think it works great and shows that the system can work and be of much benefit. Naturally their eyes glaze over pretty quick and they complain that it seems like “too much work”. But I keep trying.

  2. Spencer says:

    My experience is people use library media for what they want to watch/listen to that day- or that weekend. They don’t want to request the movie because it could take a few days and they only really wanted to watch it today. This is more the case in low income areas and with kids. Middle class adults order what they want and wait- because they don’t HAVE to have something to fill their time tonight. Kids and lower income families just use it differently- on the whole, in my experience.

  3. For it to work, libraries actually have to have a good selection in stock. And I don’t mean “the good movie I want is not there when I want it.” I mean they need to have more than reruns of Hee Haw, some black and white documentaries on how to knit and make your own jams, and some old Time-Life Nazi docs (which is exactly what our local library here in Backwater Rural County has; they don’t even have the old time TV shows and movies no one has heard of that you refer to. I kid you not).

    Now, the low income folks’ issues, that can be a separate issue. But we all know this mostly applies to the leisure upper middle class who can afford Netflix in the first place.

  4. Walt Lessun says:

    “skip…a pack of cigarettes…”
    Sorry, that is NOT an option

  5. Laura says:

    “If the truly poor get Netflix, then skip a McDonald’s meal or a pack of cigarettes or a couple of lottery tickets a month and the increase is covered.”

    Not cool, AL.

  6. Diane Briel says:

    Have you SEEN the condition of DVDs at public libraries? I’ll stick with Netflix.

  7. Aj says:

    If every person who complained would donate a new DVD to their local library, we would quickly build up a nice collection. And it would probably cost less than a month’s Netflix subscription.

    • Jawja says:

      This doesn’t work in the public libraries I’ve worked for– donated DVDs don’t come along with permission to distribute them in the manner that libraries do, so circulating donated DVDs is not a legal option.

  8. Jaded_MLIS says:

    While I agree that libraries should engage in an opportunistic offensive made possible by the Netflix price hike, I also think this is an excellent opportunity to remind users that libraries, librarians, and their collections are NOT FREE. DVD collections are a major enticement for our library users, but let’s not get carried away in letting them think we provide five copies of “BRIDESMAIDS,” SOURCE CODE,” or any other Hollywood dribble out of the goodness of our hearts. It costs money, honey, and we (the public libraries, anyway) get that with taxpayer support, donations, FRIENDS groups, and begging. Let’s make those DVD collections work for us.

  9. I expect the rotten tomatoes will fly at this one, but …

    Libraries make a big mistake when they offer products and services other organizations will always do a better job with. Popular DVDs are an example; Freegal is another. All the library funding in the world wouldn’t enable libraries to keep pace with the media giants who offer these forms of content efficiently and inexpensively. And, it’s really hard to make a sustainable argument to taxpayers that they should continue to fund sub-par services that are widely available elsewhere — even if the ‘poor’ do use them.

    It makes more sense for libraries to target areas where they can be the #1 or #2 provider (and there are lots of ‘em). This is one of the reasons libraries flourished in the earlier 1900′s and have (arguably) been in decline since the later 1900s. Let Google, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, etc battle it out for the common books, video and music. Let libraries own the space for high-value content curation, cultivation and access. Society needs this and libraries are well-positioned to provide it.

  10. will manley says:

    @Jean…your comment is the most insightful analysis of the public library that I have read in a long, long time.

  11. Jaded_MLIS says:

    I have seen libraries keep pace with popular collections. Using vendors such as Baker & Taylor is one of the ways I have seen this done. Leasing items allows our library to offer many copies of high demand items for the period of time that they are actually in high demand and then allows us to return a number of them when they are less desired. It keeps patrons happy and allows us to have a robust collection that expands and shrinks as a reflection of user needs. We need those common books, movies, and music just as much as we need “high valued cultural content.” We don’t just cater to the elite, the intellectuals, or those people with interest in “high-value content” because if we did we’d have maybe half a dozen patrons at any given time.

    Furthermore I resent librarians who believe that because libraries do not have a tradition in excelling in one area that they abandon such efforts altogether. Adapt to your user community’s needs and wants or give up and die. Those are your options.

  12. Mark Ueber says:

    Can we just target the nonwhining cheapskates?

  13. @Jaded – I agree entirely about local library autonomy and authenticity and maintaining the ability to service community needs. It’s what makes our existing library system (IMO) one of our national treasures.

    The high value I spoke about in my earlier comment was in “content curation, cultivation and access”. It has nothing to do with servicing only elites and intellectuals but rather in selecting the most high quality content — be it a mystery, a history, a comic book, whatever. I’d trust someone like Nancy Pearl to make those assessments on my behalf any day rather than some marketing specialist at a large publishing house or entertainment studio.

    I can rely on Amazon & RedBox to tell me what content is new or popular. I’d like to be able to rely on my libraries to help me know what’s good.

  14. Techserving You says:

    “If the truly poor get Netflix, then skip a McDonald’s meal or a pack of cigarettes or a couple of lottery tickets a month and the increase is covered.”

    Tee hee hee.

    Anyway, I don’t usually complain about these things, but if you’re someone (like me) who has only set up a Netflix account in the past year, you don’t think of the current set up as “one DVD at a time and FREE unlimited streaming” – you think of it as $9.99 for the service which has always been in place since you’ve been a Netflix member – one DVD at a time, and unlimited streaming. Not “free”. I didn’t go from getting a DVD at a time for $9.99 a month to getting that AND unlimited streaming – the deal I chose was, from the beginning, $9.99 for both services. I’m one of those people who don’t watch many DVDs, hence the one DVD at a time plan – I really tend to think of it as $9.99 for streaming with the option for an occasional DVD. Some months, I don’t get any DVDs at all. But I do want the OPTION of getting a DVD now and then (and don’t want to deal with Redbox and finding a time to return a movie on time). That was why this current plan worked well. I don’t really want to pay $7.99 for each service. It’s not that $16 / month is that much – $6.00 extra is nothing. It’s that it’s a 60% price increase all of a sudden and I feel like there is now less flexibility. And if you’re a new member, the fact that Netflix hasn’t raised their prices in ages is meaningless.

    My husband is so outraged he wants to have TWO accounts – one for Netflix for streaming and one for Blockbuster, which apparently plans to undercut the Netflix DVD price by a buck or two. Now HE is being ridiculous. I’ll suck it up and pay the extra amount, it’s just annoying. I certainly have no interest in dealing with two separate accounts to save $1.00 a month or something.

    I also don’t see this price increase as paying more for more services. I will continue to use Netflix in the same way as I always did.

  15. elena says:

    We reduced our plan from the two DVDs and streaming to one DVD and streaming. That will only jack our rates up a few bucks and truthfully, we use the streaming more so than the DVDs.

    It is cheaper than cable, less of a hassle than the Redbox/video rental store, and more comfy than the movie theatre.

    The only real issue I have is that the separate plans are not equal in their movie offerings: some are only in DVD format, so a lot of us cheapos are subscribing to both.

  16. Bethany says:

    “If the truly poor get Netflix, then skip a McDonald’s meal or a pack of cigarettes or a couple of lottery tickets a month and the increase is covered.”
    So in your opinion poor people = fat smokers who gamble. Seriously?

  17. Spencer says:

    @Bethany,

    Have you seen the stats on people who smoke, are fat, and gamble? They are overwhelmingly NOT the socioeconomic elite.

    Also, I have to say again that it’s GREAT to see other people in the profession post things that I’ve been thinking since I got in the game, but can’t find anyone else around me to act on!

  18. Randal Powell says:

    I agree with Jean Costello that libraries should focus on their core competency, “content curation, cultivation and access”. I think that there is plenty of latent demand for high quality research materials, literature, and art. Even if there is not much demand, someone should at least be providing this service for society’s leaders and innovators.

    Part of the problem is that school libraries, and to some extent academic libraries, have done a poor job of providing the average person with a broad and clear understanding of how to find authoritative information using libraries, government databases, and other tools.
    Despite a lot of money being spent on information literacy, most people are confused about how to find good information, so they try Google and take what it gives them, or they give up.

    Another part of the problem is that libraries have not marketed their services with the sophistication of private enterprise. A person’s conscious awareness can only juggle so many competing impulses at one time, and a low key service is not likely to occupy a strong position. This is kind of the problem with garden food: no one has an incentive to convince the public to plant their own organic gardens, even though people would be better off eating fresh organic vegetables out of their own gardens. There are plenty of advertisements, though, for soda, burgers, and cereal made of sugar.

    If ALA wanted to regain some relevance, one way to do that would be a really good national advertising campaign for libraries. I’m not talking about putting more READ posters in libraries. I’m talking about Internet, magazine, and television advertisements that are quirky, fun, and polished.

  19. joneser says:

    Good luck with getting taxpayer support for “content curation, cultivation, and access”. Seriously.

    Libraries ARE the #1 provider of FREE content. For EVERYONE, and not just “society’s leaders and innovators”.

  20. Rod says:

    The problem is now even more of our DVD’s will be stolen!