Netflix Guilt Revisited

A few months ago, in response to a WSJ Online article, I mentioned the fact that my DVD watching habits had been radically altered by my Netflix subscription. Because of the paper I’m currently writing, I have been burning through lots of DVDs lately, but that remains the exception. I still let the DVDs I get from Netflix gather dust on my shelves, often for weeks or months at a time.

In the article I’m writing, I’m currently working through what Siva Vaidhyanathan calls the “paradox of abundance” made possible by TiVo, Netflix, and other similar services and happened to come across Brad Stone’s concept of “Netflix guilt” and didn’t want to lose track of it. Not sure I have much to add right now, but I still find these concepts useful for describing my own encounters with TV and DVDs.

Update: Not really related, but just thought I’d point to Bill Gates’s comments about what he sees as the convergence of TV and the Internet. Not sure there’s anything new here: broadcast TV will soon be abandoned because the internet is so much more flexible–you know the drill.


  1. Scott Said,

    January 21, 2007 @ 12:21 am

    What’s that concept? The tyranny of choice…the idea that having too many choices is worse than having none?

    We kept netflix for about a year and then let it go for the reasons you’ve cited. We’d rent some stuff and then it would languish on top of the TV waiting for us to watch it. Eventually we’d return some things unwatched just to advance the queue.

    My real problem was that I missed walking the aisles in the movie store. I used to find tons of weird little flicks that way.

  2. Heidi Said,

    January 21, 2007 @ 1:34 am

    I am at least glad it’s not just me. I am guilty of letting Netflix DVDs sit for ….months. I really must watch them and cancel the darn thing.

  3. JM Said,

    January 21, 2007 @ 9:04 am

    My netflix habits are so bad that the WSJ contacted me for an interview for that article. I was so embarrassed, I refused.

  4. Chuck Said,

    January 21, 2007 @ 11:09 am

    Sounds like Netflix guilt is pretty common around here. My movie renting habits have certainly been affected by having cable, but *most* months, I actually do manage to make my Netflix subscription cost effective.

    Scott, I’d give my Netflix subscription up in a heartbeat if I had a good independent video store here in town, in part because I relish those serendipitous movie discoveries, but Hollywood Video is as good as it gets around here.

  5. thivai Said,

    January 21, 2007 @ 3:26 pm

    Burn them as they come it and send them back immediately–then if you cancel you have a stock of ready to watch films.

  6. Chris Said,

    January 21, 2007 @ 5:26 pm

    I keep NetFlix for the same reason you do, Chuck — there aren’t any other good options around here for smaller/indie films. I do end up keeping my titles for too long, mostly because I rarely have time to watch stuff, but not because I don’t want to. I have three right now, two of which I’m dying to see, but there’s just no time to watch them at the moment.

  7. Chuck Said,

    January 21, 2007 @ 5:59 pm

    thivai, good point. Now if only I had a DVD burner.

    Chris, I’ll occasionally “give up” on films, especially if I really want to see something waiting in my queue. But I really do miss the video store cultures of Atlanta, Champaign-Urbana, Lafayette, and to a lesser extent, DC.

  8. Chris Said,

    January 21, 2007 @ 6:45 pm

    i’ve only “given up” on a title once or twice, and then it was only because i needed something else for a reason (needed it to use in a class in a hurry, or because i was planning on watching something else on a weekend when i knew i’d have plenty of movie-watching time). now that i’ve done it, i feel less guilty about doing it. someone gave me a tip recently — if you have to give up on a title, just put it right back in your queue when you return it. then you won’t feel guilty about it.

  9. michael Said,

    January 21, 2007 @ 6:54 pm

    Yes, I too had Netflix guilt before quitting Netflix. And it was as you described in your earlier post. I would add items to my queue that I thought I *ought* to watch; then they would sit on top of the TV for weeks while I opted for something I really wanted to see.

  10. Andy Horbal Said,

    January 22, 2007 @ 10:25 am

    I’m on the 3 per month plan, and I’ve assigned a category to each of these “slots.” One is reserved for DVDs I just want screengrabs from, which means I get the DVD, get my screengrabs, and send it back out almost immediately to be replaced by another screengrab resource. One “slot” is intended for a movie that I expect will sit on my shelf for a rainy day. This is typically a classic that I should have seen long ago but haven’t, or for a film that I want to do substantial and time-consuming work with. This slot is presently occupied by Wings of Desire, which I want to write about at length whenever I can find the time. The third slot is in between: it’s a film that I want to watch, so I typically only have it for a few days before I do find the time.
    Organization = the foe of Netflix guilt.

  11. Chuck Said,

    January 22, 2007 @ 10:40 am

    That’s actually not a bad strategy. I have the four movie package, and often I’ll use one slot for movies related to teaching and another related to artciles I’m currently writing with the others less strictly defined. While my subscription doesn’t always pay for itself, this month I’m getting well more than my money’s worth.

    I like Wings of Desire quite a bit and look forward to reading what you write about it.

  12. Chuck Said,

    January 22, 2007 @ 1:45 pm

    Scott: yep, just figured it out. “Tyranny of choice” is the name of the concept. Here’s Barry Schwartz’s Scientific American article (PDF) on the topic.

  13. Chuck Said,

    January 22, 2007 @ 1:48 pm

    He eventually published a book under the title The Paradox of Choice, which is what I was thinking about initially.

  14. Agnes Varnum Said,

    January 28, 2007 @ 12:07 pm

    I decided long ago that there is no shame in sending back titles I’m not in the mood to watch. I either force myself into watching it (An Inconvenient Truth) after about a week or week and a half, or I send it back. It’s kind of funny to me how we would asses guilt upon ourselves for not taking advantage of all of the choices, or for not wanting to tackle a tough subject, especially when no one is around to judge. I’m going to pick up that book – I think it will be interesting along with Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail.

  15. Chuck Said,

    January 28, 2007 @ 12:58 pm

    That’s becoming my strategy, too (which means I need to put 2-3 DVDs back in the mail). After all, you can always put something back in your queue.

    I’ve been meaning to read Paradox for a while now but never got around to picking it up. Of course, my leisure reading time is pretty much nil right now. The two books sound like they might pair up nicely.

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