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Netflix will finally stop mailing DVDs. These people will miss them.

The red envelopes that got Netflix its start are ending and leaving long-term subscribers in a lurch

Netflix employee Hector Comancho moves boxes of ready-to-be-shipped DVDs in 2002 in San Jose. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
4 min

Netflix’s signature red envelopes have finally reached their end.

After 25 years of sending discs of movies and TV shows to people through the mail, Netflix is discontinuing the DVD subscription business that started it all, the company announced in its Tuesday earnings report.

“Our goal has always been to provide the best service for our members but as the DVD business continues to shrink that’s going to become increasingly hard,” the company said in its earnings release, adding that it has shipped more than 5 billion discs since its start.

People who still pay for the service have until Sept. 29 to check out titles. Most recently, a subscription to get the DVDs by mail cost $9.99 a month for one disc at a time, up to $19.99 for three at time.

While most Netflix users have long since migrated to the online streaming service, the DVD option had a small but loyal fan base of those who prefer watching physical DVDs, have spotty internet connections or were looking for some content not available on the usual streaming players.

“There are titles you can’t find elsewhere. Their library was just huge compared to any sort of streaming option,” said Ann Silverthorn, who first started getting DVDs in the mail in 2009. “I really enjoyed being able see the trailers at the beginning of each disc. I would get so many ideas of new old movies that I might like to see and I’d write them down and sure enough, they’d be in their catalogue.”

The retired technology writer, who lives in Erie, Pa., was an influencer for the DVD-by-mail service for a few years before the pandemic started, and she blogged about titles she watched. She also likes to stream and pays for most of the big names — Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, Amazon Prime, BritBox — but says you typically can’t find older niche titles included in those options.

If those titles are online, they usually need to be rented piecemeal from Amazon, she added. (The Washington Post is owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.)

While many weren’t even aware Netflix still offered the DVD-by-mail subscription, it was well known in cinephile circles for being a comprehensive source for older titles that hadn’t been updated or licensed for streaming. New movies also are often available first on DVD before they are included on streaming services.

Financially, the move makes sense for Netflix, thanks to the downturn in customers using the older technology. DVD rentals brought in $145.7 million in revenue in 2022, down from $182.3 million in 2021. In an attempt to increase revenue, the company also has been rolling out restrictions on password sharing, hoping to turn people borrowing a friend or family member’s log-in information into paying subscribers on their own.

For Jeanine Wainscott, a stay-at-home mother, the price to rent physical DVDs was worth it to watch a movie all the way through without issues. Wainscott lives in a rural area of Washington state with inconsistent internet access. Sometimes she will rent a DVD at a Redbox kiosk, but for the most part, she says, she can find what she wants in the Netflix catalogue. She is especially fond of old movies from the ’50s and is currently watching one of her favorites, 1955′s “Land of the Pharaohs” starring Joan Collins.

“I signed up for it on my own as soon as I moved out of my parents’ house. I barely remember when there wasn’t Netflix,” said Wainscott, 38, who isn’t sure what she’ll do now. “Just getting better internet is not an option, and that’s a reality for a lot of people. People who live in big cities don’t always realize that.”

Some people will also miss the rush they feel getting a red envelope in the mail.

“It’s kind of a romantic feeling, especially these days because we don’t often get mail that we sought out,” said Eric Harper, a freelance writer in Ohio who previously watched “Northern Exposure” and “Fraggle Rock” on DVD before they were streaming. “Most of what we get are ads and solicitations.”

Harper has been a Netflix DVD subscriber since 2005 and uses the service to binge-watch things such as British TV shows that aren’t available to stream. At the moment, he has a DVD of the last season of Henning Mankell’s “Wallander,” a Swedish crime series, sitting on his table at home.

With just months left before he has to return the final DVD, Harper plans on making the most of the access.

“I’m going to have to scale down my list to things I absolutely won’t be able to find anywhere else,” he added.

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