or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk



Redbox Rights and Wrongs

   February 23rd, 2010

redbox dvd rentalsI like to think I'm the kind of person open to the opinions of others, and I certainly don't expect myself to be right all the time. However, it's still rare for me to advertise when I think I am wrong, yet today is one of those days.

Last week my director received the following email from a patron and forwarded it to all the department heads to see what we thought about it:

Ms. Herrmann,

I just heard about Red Box doing a trial with Libraries across the country. This is a fantastic idea, there currently is no Red Box in Chelmsford Center. Attached is a link for you to look at.

http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2010/jan/27/henderson-libraries-become-redbox-locations/

In case you've never heard of Red Box, they are dvd vending machines which rent new movies at $1 per night. The machines are located outdoors and are available to the consumer 24/7. Red Box pays the library and also allows the library to free up cash from having to purchase current films.

It would be great if Chelmsford could get in on this trial!!

I had heard of libraries using both Redbox and Netflix, but never really gave it too much though. So I was kind of surprised at my response to my director:

Maybe this is just a reaction based on the kind of day this has been, but I have mostly negative feelings about this. Based on http://tametheweb.com/2009/07/01/red-box-rentals-at-princeton-public-library/ is seems any money we get is minimal, and I'm always reluctant to give
businesses a green light to target library patrons.

If we did put one of these in, I sincerely hope it wouldn't mean we'd be buying fewer DVDs and rely on this as a crutch, because just like Rosetta Stone, they can pull out at any time and we'd be left
scrambling to fill the holes in our collection.

Its biggest benefit would be providing patrons access to DVDs 24 hours a day, but it also means patrons have a reason to be at the front door 24 hours a day, doing who knows what - the police department might not like that idea. Then there's also the patrons who return the RedBox
DVDs in our dropbox, those who put ours into the RedBox, patrons demanding refunds and tech support from the circ desk, blah blah blah.

More reading on this:

I know Conway makes money off our printers and the FaxVend people do too, but RedBox feels way more commercial - like letting a dealership put used cars in our parking lot to make it easier for patrons to shop for cars. Or letting a bookstore set up a table of bestsellers in the lobby and sell books so patrons don't have to wait on a long reserve list.

I don't know exactly why I don't like it, but right now I'm leaning against it - but again, it might just my mood. Blah.

So my question is this: why I am wrong?

I don't feel like I'm right, because I can see positive aspects to a Redbox being in front of the library (especially for libraries that already charge $1/DVD), and it's unusual for me to be this negative. I don't think that every new idea or technology has a place in every library, but still, my answer on this surprised me.

So I thought I'd ask the wider library world for your opinions on Redboxes and libraries. Lots of good comments were posted on Tame the Web when Michael talked about this last year, but I'm still not entirely convinced. What do you think?




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18 Responses to “Redbox Rights and Wrongs”

  1. Jeff Scott Says:

    There is a bit of resistance from librarians for this reason, nobody wants a private business making direct money off of library property. Now, of course, libraries have coffee shops where the property is leased and there are other arrangements. It really depends on the community, the librarians, and legal. If they all agree, you can make it work and it isn’t that different from other services like you said.

    Of course, one thing to add, Redbox and Netflix are starting to delay their new release movies by 28 days. Issues with the company doing things that you have no control over and may anger your patrons will fall in your lap. That might be one more thing the director doesn’t want to deal with.

  2. Kathy Lussier Says:

    I don’t think you are wrong, but I certainly can understand the arguments for using Redbox. Let’s be honest: libraries have trouble keeping up with the demand for new movie releases. For many years, I got all of my DVD’s from the local public library, and had to wait for months for some popular titles. My library recently moved to one-week circ for DVD’s, and I finally decided to jump on board with Netflix so that I could get new releases more quickly, stream them on my computer in some cases, and keep them for as long as I needed them. Many library users are doing the same, and if we stick with the same old model, we’ll continue losing patrons to these more convenient services.

    Nevertheless, I just don’t like the idea of offering an alternative requiring library users to pay for their DVD use. I don’t know that I have a logical reason for this feeling, it just doesn’t sit well with me. I much prefer the Netflix model where the library is expanding the DVD collection without extracting payment from their users.

  3. Kate the Librarian Says:

    It feels wrong to invite the competition into our space. Unlike printing or faxing, lending media is a core part of our “business.” But, unlike Redbox, we offer a free service, and we offer a broader range of content. For this and many other reasons, we want everyone to perceive us as superior to the competition. It would be surprising if our initial thought was to roll out the red carpet for Redbox.

    Like yours, my initial gut reaction was negative. But the more I think about it, the more I think I’m just having a visceral reaction to somebody selling what we give away, and maybe a little bit of fear that people will prefer their service to ours. But these are emotional responses. Decisions like these should probably always come down to: What option provides the best service to our patrons?

  4. Richard Says:

    I’d be happy if Redbox completely took over our “most popular schlock dvd” collection to free up our resources for other stuff.

    It’s all about the scarce resources, mon. Do we really want to blow a big chunk of our materials budget on stuff like Poison Ivy III when we could make those vids readily available for a buck?

  5. Brad Czerniak Says:

    If we did put one of these in, I sincerely hope it wouldn’t mean we’d be buying fewer DVDs and rely on this as a crutch, because just like Rosetta Stone, they can pull out at any time and we’d be left scrambling to fill the holes in our collection.

    You would buy fewer DVDs because you could buy fewer copies of the same high-demand title. Those copies are already a loss if you weed them shortly down the line. Your collection would be no weaker for having a RedBox; you’d just eliminate losses.

    Its biggest benefit would be providing patrons access to DVDs 24 hours a day, but it also means patrons have a reason to be at the front door 24 hours a day, doing who knows what – the police department might not like that idea.

    Is there anything stopping patrons from hanging around your front door at night right now? How does additional light and foot traffic make the situation worse?

    Then there’s also the patrons who return the RedBox DVDs in our dropbox, those who put ours into the RedBox, patrons demanding refunds and tech support from the circ desk, blah blah blah.

    In either case there’s a possibility of monetary loss on the part of the patron, but not too much hassle on either end. I’ve never used a RedBox, but figure there’s something in place to regulate such matters.

    …RedBox feels way more commercial – like letting a dealership put used cars in our parking lot to make it easier for patrons to shop for cars. Or letting a bookstore set up a table of bestsellers in the lobby and sell books so patrons don’t have to wait on a long reserve list.

    Both the car dealership and bookstore would take up more space than a simple kiosk. Plus, there’s probably another RedBox just down the road, so why not make that occasional 3 cents? Besides, your print/fax commercial agreement means you’re already headed down the slippery slope. Might as well enjoy the ride.

  6. Mary Jo Says:

    What makes you think you are wrong? You offer some very good reasons. In addition to those reasons, I know that if our library were to add a kiosk, it would put us in competition with Blockbuster and other area companies in a way that our DVD collection does not, given that we only buy one copy of a new film, and patrons usually have to be on a waiting list to see anything current. (We also never buy more than two copies of bestselling books – though impatient patrons will often go to the bookstore down the street to buy one, which they will then donate to our collection after reading.)

    Area businesses offer services and employ people, and I don’t think it is in a community’s best interest for the library to compete directly. Along this vein, I am also not keen on full-blown cafes in libraries if there are neighboring businesses that will be adversely affected.

  7. Sarah Says:

    Our library is in the process of installing a Red Box type machine. However, because it is not Red Box we do not have to start charging for rentals in order to use it, which was one of the big pieces to going with this particular machine.

    The company we’re going with is called Media Bank. They’re generally a competitor to Red Box, but have also designed their equipment for library use, so we don’t have to charge per rental. We’re using our machines as a way to protect recent popular releases from theft during their brief stays on the shelves (a HUGE problem for us in the past), and they’re making it easier for us to have a different set of procedures for recent popular releases so they can hopefully circulate even faster. Also, because discs will be checked out and returned directly to and from the machine, once most patrons get trained on using the machines, staff time should be minimal.

    We’re not up and running yet, so who knows if everything will be as smooth as we’ve been lead to believe, but just letting you know that there are non-Red Box options out there.

  8. Robert Says:

    I think you’re right to call it a bad idea. There is a difference between leasing space for a service the library doesn’t provide (coffee) and letting private businesses use the library to get at their targeted demographic. Your concerns for confusion between a Redbox (and their policies, services, etc) and your own library’s is completely valid.

  9. Janet Says:

    “Its biggest benefit would be providing patrons access to DVDs 24 hours a day, but it also means patrons have a reason to be at the front door 24 hours a day, doing who knows what – the police department might not like that idea. Then there’s also the patrons who return the RedBox DVDs in our dropbox, those who put ours into the RedBox, patrons demanding refunds and tech support from the circ desk, blah blah blah.”

    This, especially the part about patrons at the front door 24 hours a day.

  10. Thomas Says:

    Netflix and Redbox offer primarily popular new releases, a lot of which you’ll see on the 5 for $20 tables six months from now at Blockbuster. Seems a shame to spend limited funds trying to emulate a commercial model that functions on high volume. Carry a few of the “hot new releases” as feasible, but more classics (cult and otherwise), foreign, indie. I don’t see this as a conflict as much as an option to focus MORE of your collection on the stuff that people will want to view years from. Think of movies people say “Did you ever see this?”

  11. Maureen Says:

    I think this is a great idea, especially in libraries where DVD theft is a major issue. Blockbuster stores are going out of business where I live but library circulation of DVDs is higher than ever. I agree with other commenters who point out that a Redbox or other similar unit would free up collection development money for other uses, and provide an alternative funding stream for the library. Too bad it’s so low – but every penny counts these days.

  12. Jessi Says:

    I have nothing against Redbox in general, but I don’t think libraries are the place for them. McDonalds and Wal-mart already provide them in many cases. Also, I don’t like the argument of using these to lower AV budget – it smacks of elitism. Movies are just as much an information source as books and I am loath to judge my patrons’ use of resources.

  13. Vickie Says:

    Adding RedBox at my library would probably not affect my AV budget (it’s already pretty small) and we can’t meet DVD demand (we rarely buy more than 2 copies of a title.) There aren’t any more DVD rental places around (except grocery stores, and they’re converting to RedBox, too.) We’d probably just gain back some of the folks who use Netflix now instead of the library because we can’t meet their needs. And any patron who returns a RedBox title to the library and pays a penalty will learn pretty quickly not to do it again.

  14. Brian Herzog Says:

    It seems there are 200+ libraries already on Redbox’s waiting list, so us getting one any time soon is a moot point.

    However, I thought of another analogy: every item in our catalog has two buttons, one to “Request Item” and one to “Add to My List.” Should libraries also include a “Buy from Amazon” button? It would be faster for patrons to purchase it instead of waiting on the request list (probably in almost all cases), and the library would get a little kickback through Amazon’s affiliate program. We could then cut back on items we purchase, but still create catalog records for non-purchased items, because it gives patrons a way to find them from other sources.

  15. Oleg K. Says:

    I wonder if Redbox allows libraries to remove items from their selections if, for example, a movie that is marketed as a documentary is full of misinformation (similar to “The Last Train from Hiroshima”) or folks complain about a title that is inappropriate for children, etc.. For both of these a lot depends on library policy, but how much control the library has over the items in the ‘box may be a factor.

  16. Cari Says:

    I don’t like the Redbox idea… for most of the reasons you specified. I just think it would be more of a headache that we would have to deal with (and all the cons you mention resonate with me). I currently buy 10+ copies of popular movies–I’m lucky I’ve been able to do that even with the budget cuts–and it’s not nearly enough to satisfy demand, but once the buzz goes down for a new release, I have plenty of copies (and often I have to get rid of them, which puts me in a unique situation).

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