I stopped into the UPS Store the other day to ship a return to a retailer. It’s always an easy process, never taking longer than a minute.
Since I know they have a mail drop in the store, I also handed the clerk two red envelopes and asked, “Can you also mail these back to Netflix for me?” He paused and looked at me as if I were suddenly speaking Armenian, then asked, “Wait, are these just regular mail?” As he took them with a quizzical look on his face, I explained that yes, they were first-class, postage-paid returns, just like the package I’d given him. He muttered a “Hmph!” and added, “OK, I’ll put them in our outgoing mailbox.”
I thanked him, and as I headed back to my car, I realized why he was so confused: he may have never seen a Netflix DVD envelope, despite the company still having two million customers getting discs by mail. To him, I guess, Netflix is only a streaming video service, with content that lives in the cloud, not on something that travels by mail.
We still subscribe to both the streaming and disc-sending services from Netflix because I made a deal with the company more than 15 years ago, when all of its customers were getting those red envelopes in the mail and there was no such thing as a streaming video service. At the time, I had a regular weekly segment on my radio show with James Rocchi, a Netflix employee who called himself Mr. DVD (until someone else who had trademarked that name made him stop). James would review new movies that had just been made available to Netflix subscribers, and we would chat at length about all things cinematic. In return for giving the company exposure on the air each week, they gave me a free lifetime Netflix account, which they continue to honor, even as the company has downplayed the DVD side.
It’s a good backup to have because, of late, Netflix has been putting much more of its revenue into creating original programming, rather than acquiring streaming rights to every movie that comes out. In many cases, I’ve only been able to watch some titles on disc, particularly those older than a year or two. However, I’ve noticed recently that collection isn’t as vast as it was — Netflix isn’t buying up rental copies of as many movies as it once used to. Some of them end up on Amazon Prime Video or Hulu instead, but many smaller movies still aren’t carried by any of these outlets, nor do they show up on disc in a Redbox vending machine.
That’s where the St. Louis Public Library system comes in. It carries many more titles than all of those services combined, especially movies from the mid- to late-twentieth century. I can’t count the number of times I have borrowed DVDs from the SLPL and its inter-library loan partners. And I discovered recently that, along with many other public libraries, it offers the Kanopy streaming video service, which has movies from every genre, including lots of documentaries and classics all the way back to the Chaplin era.
It’s a great resource I’ve only begun to use, which I thought you’d like to know about. All you need is a library card.