Letters

Misplaced blame? Understandable frustration? Netflicking readers -- lots and lots of them -- respond to "Mail-order Divorce," by Dan Kois.


Salon Staff
June 11, 2004 12:00AM (UTC)

[Read the story.]

So let's review. Dan Kois liberally employs the relationship paradigm when discussing his travails with DVD mail-order giant Netflix. Three times to the altar and now he's done, he says. But as in most relationships, he left out all the bits that suggest he too is at fault. The first time round, there was a little trouble and he immediately bailed; the second time, there was even less trouble and he bailed even faster; and now that all the trouble has been worked out by the other party in the relationship, he has soured because there's too much goodness, so now he feels burdened by the obligation to live up to his end of the deal.

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Boo hoo. I've been a steady, uninterrupted Netflix subscriber for just as long as Dan (since July 2000), and sure, there were trouble spots early on, and the lack of available titles was a bit frustrating from time to time, and occasionally I thought about dumping the whole sorry enterprise; sometimes I just went to Blockbuster and got the Big New Release of the Week, gleefully deleting it from my Netflix queue. But now, on my 120-item list there is only one film with a "Short Wait" message, and it's 90 down on the list so I'm not worried. And sure, sometimes I have a little trouble working up the energy to watch certain films -- but "Gerry" and "Widow of St. Pierre" turned out to be pretty interesting after all, and I probably wouldn't have seen them any other way.

In short: I really like this relationship, and I'm glad I stuck with it. And if Dan can find bliss with Wal-Mart, well, more power to him.

-- Robert Toombs

At our house, we like Netflix a lot more than Dan Kois does. But he's right that it's hard to quit!

Like Mr. Kois, we joined Netflix while it was in its infancy. Our first child was born right about the same time Netflix was, so it was a pretty good substitute for the frequent moviegoing that my wife and I had enjoyed in our carefree pre-parental youth.

Yes, there have been occasional snafus -- "The Fast and the Furious" arrived with a crack in it, and they claimed that they never received "Me Myself I" after I mailed it back to them. But problems like these cropped up in only a few of our hundreds of Netflix rentals, and the company always made good on them promptly and cordially.

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We also have had less trouble than Mr. Kois with the selection on Netflix. True, when we look for something that is extremely obscure, we usually don't find it in the Netflix library (as is to be expected from a company that must appeal primarily to mainstream tastes). But we've been pleasantly surprised more than once to find titles on Netflix that are semi-esoteric.

Two years ago, we tried to quit Netflix. It wasn't because our ardor had cooled, but rather because our family were going through a financial crisis and had no choice but to cut most of the nonessential indulgences from our budget. When we were separating our necessities from our luxuries, 20 bucks a month for movie rentals just didn't make the cut.

Within 60 seconds after I canceled my Netflix membership, an e-mail arrived in my inbox. It was obviously software generated, since no human could have responded so fast. Would I be willing to stay with Netflix if the price were cut in half? My wife and I discussed it, and we decided that even within the confines of our new austerity budget we could afford Netflix at that price. We clicked Yes and have been happily paying the lower price ever since.

When the Netflix price hike hits next week, that will probably be the end of our good deal. But I intend to stick with them. We're back on our feet now, money-wise, and I still think that Netflix offers fair value for the price -- even the new price.

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And if you think Netflix is too expensive, just threaten to quit. Apparently you'll get an automatic price reduction!

-- Aaron Emke

As a subscriber to Netflix since 2000, I have to say, although we've had our ups and downs (including about 10 discs that I sent back that they claimed they never received), I'm truly happy with them. The lost discs were credited once I reported the losses to the USPS and got case numbers, and I have always gotten discs in a two-day turnaround. Like Mr. Kois, I've had discs sit on top of our cable box for weeks at a time. Unlike Mr. Kois, however, I don't blame Netflix for that!

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-- Susan Marleau

While it made me laugh, Dan Kois' article also made me grateful for local video stores; the ones where the employees steer you toward movies that you might like, where you can find art films and anime alongside the local blockbusters, and where your 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter can yell happily at the fishes. (Well, OK, maybe that's just my video store.)

While Netflix's selection may be unparalleled, there's something to be said for a friendly face, good service, and the good feeling you get by supporting the business around the corner.

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-- Bridgett Taylor

I have "Pitch Black," "A Mighty Wind" and "MST3K: Eegah!" sitting next to my DVD player. I haven't the heart to return "Eegah!" since I've already watched half of it; I just haven't been in the mood to watch any of these movies. My mediocre digital cable has had better luck, capturing my attention with "Strictly Ballroom" (which I've seen at least twice before) and "Red Dragon" (which would probably have been added to my Netflix queue because "I've been meaning to see it" for a while now).

-- Joseph Prisco

I enjoy a nice whine once in a while. Just last week I whined in a public forum about a local low-cost dental chain that took six months to replace my grandmum's dentures. In the car yesterday a friend whined about the construction they are doing on the main road through town. My boss whined when he was ticketed for running a red light. A good whine can be a healthy expression of anger, distress or even annoyance.

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Then you have a public spectacle such as "Mail-order Divorce," which is in my humble opinion a complete and utter waste of 26 letters. Dan Kois' whine was nothing more than the plaintive cry of someone too lazy to drive to a video store who expects the online rental service to pat him on the head and make everything all better. Oh grow up, Dan.

I've been a Netflix member for one year exactly. I've gone through a rash of discs that don't play correctly (usually cleaning the CD fixes the problem) and on occasion receive a disc that sits on top of the mail pile for a few weeks before either being viewed or returned. And guess what: I don't blame anybody but myself for not watching them. Shocking, isn't it?

While Mr. Kois was so quick to point out the appeal Netflix has for those disadvantaged enough to live blocks away from a video store, let me clue you in to some other nifty features of the service. I live in north-central North Carolina. You think upper Manhattan has a shortage of video stores? Try living in a county where you can't even buy beer. However, with the help of Netflix's extensive library, in the past week I was able to watch a German romantic drama, a 20-year-old Miyazaki anime, and the complete third season of "Red Dwarf." We have an Action Video in town. They have 20 copies of "The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" proudly displayed, but "The Young and the Dead," "Alegria" and "The Incredible Adventures of Wallace & Gromit" are nowhere to be seen. So for anybody living in a town lacking cultural or cinematic outlets, Netflix is a lifesaver.

I admit, when I got e-mail notification several weeks ago that the price would be increasing, I considered canceling my service, or at least scaling it back to three DVDs out at a time (I am currently on the five-DVD plan, which is $33.99 a month). Then I thought about the rising costs associated with mailing discs back and forth and the fact that a hub was recently constructed 45 miles away, so now I get my DVDs with a two-day turnaround rather than a week. All of that takes money. Weighing the pros and cons, considering the convenience versus the occasional scratched disc or delay in shipment, sticking with the service was an obvious choice.

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I respect the writer's opinion on the service. I just can't help thinking that maybe he should get off the sofa once in a while and take some of the responsibility he so readily heaps on the DVD provider's head. Accountability, my friends. When you request something you don't really want to watch, you can't blame Netflix for sending it. Is it recommended for the occasional viewer who prefers mainstream cinema to lesser-known films? No. Is it recommended for people who are not mature enough to take responsibility for their own viewing choices? Apparently not.

Let the reader make the call.

-- Becka Lucas

You know, I have no sympathy for Dan Kois. He tried Netflix, quit, and went back. Twice. It's like a drug addict who's unwilling to kick the habit. At some point, you just give up the ghost. Either you keep the service and only use it to rent oldies or blockbuster-type movies, or you get one of those other mail-order services that purport to give you all the indie films your twisted little bohemian head desires.

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Me? I love my Netflix. I've got "Fidel," the documentary about the crazy dictator to our south, and "Chocolat," that dreamy film with Juliette Binoche, Johnny Depp and Lena Olin, sitting on top of my player. And look -- here's "In the Name of the Father"! Newly arrived. Looks like I have my weekend planned already...

-- Christopher Cole

If Dan Kois chooses to rent uninspiring movies, it is not the fault of Netflix. He can return these acclaimed snoozers in the handy return envelopes without even watching them!

Compared to the alternative, Netflix is an extremely reasonable choice, despite its flaws. Finally, an eccentric cinephile can rent "Switchblade Sisters," "Ali: Fear Eats the Soul" and "Lawrence of Arabia" and watch them at her leisure.

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It doesn't matter if she lives in San Francisco, Des Moines or Juneau; no longer must she hope that Blockbuster has something decent stuck between its 30 copies (each) of "Cheaper by the Dozen," "Maid in Manhattan" and "Gothika."

Not only that, she no longer has to be embarrassed by the pimple-faced geek working the counter if she looks too old for renting "Harry Potter"" or worry that she'll look like an idiot for renting "Pootie Tang."

-- Michael Meyer

I could have written Dan Kois' article about his Netflix relationship; his stories are so like my stories. Thanks for reminding me why I keep resisting the siren call of free delivery and unlimited rentals. After paying $40 not to watch a movie, it's hard to believe I might be tempted to go back to Netflix. But some nights, on the drive back to return a video to the video store, rushing to beat the 10 P.M. deadline with no desire to be out at all, I long for what we had.

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Maybe once Netflix can actually use the Net to send me the flix I want right now, things will be better. But then again, you can't change people. Maybe I'll just wait for someone different to come along. I'm not sure Netflix is my type.

-- David Mankin

I'm in a similar situation with Netflix -- three movies and trouble getting motivated to watch them -- but if the other option is Wal-Mart, I'd rather go without rentals altogether. No way that company ever gets another dime out of me, even if Reagan's face winds up on it.

-- Brian Spears

I truly hope that Dan Kois' experience with Netflix is not as analogous with his love life as he claims. If it is, I certainly feel sorry for his past significant others. He angrily cancels his "membership" after one snafu? Then he abruptly storms out again in two weeks after not getting exactly what he wants, when he wants it, only to later flip-flop and be so unsatisfied with what he claims to want that he can't even send the postage-paid envelopes back after a month? I understand that Netflix might not be for the more fickle personalities, but this four-year subscriber has no complaints whatsoever.

-- Aaron Reynolds

Dan Kois shouldn't beat himself up. Everyone I know with a Netflix subscription (including myself) goes through long periods of time when they just don't want to watch the movies they have. But those droughts of interest come to an end, and we return to a flurry of activity when we can't wait to get the next "Freaks & Geeks" DVD in the mail. The answer to the drought, too, is simple: Take the movies and send them back. Once I realized that the little red envelope on top of my DVD player wasn't going to feel hurt or miffed that I hadn't watched it, my heart felt lighter, and my queue started to move more quickly. Seriously, we all put movies on our queue and say "What was I thinking?" when they arrive in the mail. Your present self doesn't have to suffer for your past self's whimsy. Just send the movies back, and see what else comes. You'll feel better about it.

-- Chris Lepley

For me, it's "The Pianist" that's gathering dust on top of my DVD player. But Dan Kois didn't address the most seductive quality of Netflix -- artificial intelligence. Netflix knew I would like "Sexy Beast," a film I've never heard of and would never have picked up at my (excellent, local) video store. Another benefit: Netflix prevents my 6-year-old from running to the Power Rangers section!

-- Lisa Domby

A suggestion from a librarian: Try your local public library. You can reserve the new releases, they have lots of little-known independent films and -- best of all -- the movies are free.

-- Kelly Pickett

Divorcing Netflix? You'll be back soon enough...

Sure, sometimes there are weeks (or months) when the urge to watch movies fades, and you're paying for nothing. But then the new season of "The Sopranos" is released on DVD, and you can gorge yourself on the whole box set in one week flat (good luck getting it at the video store for at least two months). Or you hear about an indie or foreign movie you'd have to spend $20 to buy, because your local video store's collection is limited to 100 copies of the latest lame blockbuster and a bunch of Disney movies.

So cancel the divorce and send back those movies you have no desire to watch. You can always add them back to the queue later. That's the beauty of Netflix.

-- Eva Kaniasty


Salon Staff

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