Some Diehard Fans Still Get Netflix DVDs by Mail

There could still be 1.5M subscribers, but don't assume they're all technophobes
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 4, 2022 4:50 PM CST
Updated Dec 4, 2022 9:01 PM CST
Some Diehard Fans Still Get Netflix DVDs by Mail
A Netflix DVD envelope is shown on Nov. 17, 2022 in San Francisco. Subscribers to Netflix’s DVD-by-mail service still look forward to opening up their mailbox and finding one of the discs delivered in the familiar red-and-white envelopes.   (AP Photo/Michael Liedtke)

Netflix's trailblazing DVD-by-mail rental service has been relegated as a relic in the age of video streaming, but there is still a steady—albeit shrinking—audience of diehards like Amanda Konkle who are happily paying to receive those discs in the iconic red-and-white envelopes. "When you open your mailbox, it's still something you actually want instead of just bills," said Konkle, a resident of Savannah, Georgia, who the AP reports has been subscribing to Netflix's DVD-by-mail service since 2005.

It's a small pleasure that Konkle and other still-dedicated DVD subscribers enjoy but it's not clear for how much longer. Netflix declined to comment for this story but during a 2018 media event, co-founder and co-CEO Reed Hastings suggested the DVD-by-mail service might close around 2023. When—not if—it happens, Netflix will shut down a service that has shipped more than 5 billion discs across the US since its inception nearly a quarter-century ago. And it will echo the downfall of the thousands of Blockbuster video rental stores that closed because they couldn't counter the threat posed by Netflix's DVD-by-mail alternative.

The eventual demise of its DVD-by-mail service has been inevitable since Hastings decided to spin it off from a then-nascent video streaming service in 2011. Back then, Hastings floated the idea of renaming the service as Qwikster, a bungled idea that was so widely ridiculed that it was satirized on Saturday Night Live. It finally settled on its current, more prosaic handle, DVD.com. The operation is now based in a non-descript office in Fremont, California, located about 20 miles from Netflix's sleek campus in Los Gatos.

Shortly before the breakup from video streaming, the DVD-by-mail service boasted more than 16 million subscribers, a number that has now dwindled to an estimated 1.5 million subscribers, all in the US, based on calculations drawn from Netflix's limited disclosures of the service in its quarterly reports. Netflix's video streaming service now boasts 223 million worldwide subscribers. It might be easy to assume that anyone still paying to receive DVDs through the mail is a technophobe or someone living in a remote part of the US without reliable internet access. But subscribers say they stick with the service so they can rent movies that are otherwise difficult to find on streaming services. (Read the full story, which talks about the "signs of deterioration" customers are starting to notice.)

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