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RIP: Netflix’s DVD Rental Service Breathes Its Last

Like the dodo, Blockbuster, and the telephone booth (almost), Netflix’s DVD rental service is headed for the ash heap of history.

Two days ago, Netflix shipped out its last red-enveloped disc, ending its quarter-century run as a DVD lender. The news came as no surprise, since the company had notified its customers and the general public back in April that the end was near. Netflix had its origins as a DVD-rental company back in 1998.

On Friday September 29, the company pronounced the service dead, declaring: “For 25 years, we redefined how people watched films and series at home, and shared the excitement as they opened their mailboxes to our iconic red envelopes. It’s the end of an era, but the DVD business built our foundation for the years to come – giving members unprecedented choice and control, a wide variety of titles to choose from and the freedom to watch as much as they want.”

The DVD delivery service did its part in spelling the demise of the corner video store, which had been an important distribution channel since the popularization of the VCR in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

According to Neflix, the very first DVD it shipped was Beetlejuice, which was mailed out on March 10, 1988. The company claims that over the next 25 years, it shipped to some 239,000 different mailboxes. By 2003, Netflix had a cool million rental subscribers, which grew to some 20 million by 2011. According to Netflix, the service shipped five billion DVD’s by 2019, representing 20 main genres and 530 subgenres.

News of the service’s demise has already elicited obituaries in social media as well as conventional press outlets. In a feature for Vanity Fair, Joe Reid mourned “the end of Netflix’s rental service as the end of a significant avenue of access to movies, one that cannot possibly be replaced by what we have now.”

Just days before that September 29 deadline,” continued Reid, “I mailed back my final Netflix DVD, a semi-obscure documentary from 2006 called Small Town Gay Bar. A mid-aughts queer indie, it would never have been available at my local brick-and-mortar video store, which makes it exactly the kind of thing that drew me to Netflix in the first place. … Looking back at that Netflix rental history of mine, it is remarkable how many titles I was able to rent on DVD that are currently unavailable to stream or rent or watch digitally in the US.”

Check out more of Edward’s articles. 

Edward Moran
Edward Moran
Edward Moran began his journalistic career many decades ago as a theater and cinema reviewer for Show Business and the New York Theater Review. More recently he contributed film reviews to and Movie Sleuth. His writings have appeared in publications as diverse as the Times Literary Supplement, Publishers Weekly, the Paris Review, and the Massachusetts Review. Moran also edited a memoir by Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Christine Choy. He served as literary advisor to her film Hyam Plutzik: American Poet, which was the keynote film in the American Perspectives series at the 2007 Zebra Poetry Film Festival in Berlin.


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