Angry at Netflix? DVDs easy to find

Allison Koch, 22, has been a patron of the Charleston County Public Library's free DVD and VHS movies at its Calhoun Street branch for some time. More than 90,000 DVDs were checked out of the county library in August, according to library officials.

Wade Spees

DVDs are at the supermarket, the drug store, the gas station, stacked in the library.

You can order them or stream them on the Internet. You can watch on demand on your TV, personal computer or phone.

Consumers have all the choices. Groundbreaking bargain alternatives like Netflix are finding themselves undermined by bargain alternatives.

Netflix has faced a backlash from customers after announcing in July it is separating its mail-order and Internet streaming services into two separate plans. The change means customers who want both services will pay as much as 60 percent more.

Offended Netflix customers received a contrite email today from Reed Hastings, the Netflix chief executive officer.

"I messed up. I owe you an explanation," he wrote, after at least 600,000 subscribers fled.

He didn't back off the rate hike. So for the company, Hastings' apology might be a day late and at least a dollar short.

Customers have been fleeing to cheaper movie alternatives over the past two to three years. Movie kiosks have become so cheap, plentiful and current that even Blockbuster -- one of originators of the whole "bargain movie" concept -- is also selling from kiosks outside other stores.

The kiosk leader might well be redbox, the $1 movie guys in the distinctive red displays.

When Julie Hairfield found out in July that her Netflix bill would go from $11 to $17 in September, she bolted.

"I thought it was ridiculous to pay that for one movie a month and streaming," she said. " I know a lot of people who have left because the price is astronomical at this point."

Hairfield, 33, of Charleston, isn't doing without. She just rented a new release, "Thor," from redbox at a West Ashley pharmacy. Even at the library, it takes only a month or two for new releases to turn up, she said.

Elliott Bowman, 26, of Charleston, used to be a Netflix customer. He and his roommate subscribed back when he was in college. Then he went to the Blockbuster version of the mailed service because he could return it to the store. Now he just rents at the store, redbox or Blockbuster Express kiosks.

"Convenience," he said. "They have them all over the place. Almost every other street corner you can find one. It's easier to find one, rent the movie and return it the next day for $1."

Allison Koch knows a way to borrow movies even cheaper.

The 22-year-old popped into the Charleston County Public Library on Calhoun Street while doing errands Monday. She came out with a handful of movies. She was on Calhoun anyway, had parked underneath the library, she said. "And, they're free!"

Koch, a recent College of Charleston graduate, doesn't even have cable right now. But she won't be without movies.

"I went to redbox once, and they didn't have the movie I was looking for. So I went to the Blockbuster (near her) until it went out of business," she said.

On Monday, she held "The Magic Flute," "Roxanne," "The Emperor's Club" and "Gods and Monsters." And she wasn't done. "I hopefully can get another Steve Martin (comedy)," she said.

More than 90,000 DVDs were checked out of Charleston County Public Library in August, up about 3,000 from August 2010, and steadily increasing since 2008, library officials said.

"Since the economic downturn, more and more residents turned to libraries to find ways to save money, and that includes checking out DVDs. The Charleston County library is no different. County residents realize that we have the latest releases, and they can visit their local branch to check them out for free," said Jamie Thomas, public relations and marketing manager.

Or, as another library customer said over his shoulder as he walked out with movies, he likes redbox because he doesn't like commitment. Signing up for a service like Netflix, he said, "is like you subscribe to National Geographic and six months later you regret it."

That's what Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, is up against.

"I want to acknowledge and thank you for sticking with us, and to apologize again to those members, both current and former, who felt we treated them thoughtlessly," he wrote.

Pick your price

Mail-to-you, store-kiosk, pay-per-view or streamed online, movies come in a wide range of prices or subscriptions. Here's a sampling:

Redbox store kiosk: $1 or more per rental.

Hulu Plus: $8 per month.

Netflix, by mail and streaming combined: $17 per month

Comcast or TimeWarner monthly package including video on demand: $60.

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744 or follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bopete.