DVDs Freer than Free--No, Really, Really Free

by Catherine Shaffer on 5 April 2008 31 comments
Photo: jhoweaa

I noticed Paul's interesting article (NEVER Pay for a Redbox DVD Rental Again ) about using Redbox codes to rent movies for free, and in theory, I am all for it. But we don't have Redbox nearby, and I would never manage to return a movie in 24 hours with my crazy life. Fortunately, I have a diabolical method of getting movies for free. Even free-er than Redbox free! Nowadays, I laugh as I drive by Hollywood video. Why did I ever pay $4 to rent a movie? Why, God, why?

Here's the secret. I use the library. I know that's not really a secret. It was even mentioned in the comments to Paul's post, but then quickly dismissed and/or ignored. I think the idea deserves to be revisited. See, most people assumed that you can't get the videos you want at the library, especially new releases. But I've been getting just about any DVD I could ask for from the library using the computerized request system. I combine this with my reading wish list, enter my requests, and a few days later, I get an email saying my DVDs are waiting for me. I even put in electronic requests for materials that are not on loan, because I am too darn lazy to go to the shelf and look them up alphabetically. I just walk up to the hold shelf, grab the materials with my name on it, zap them through the self checkout, and walk out without paying a dime.

The library has a full selection of new releases, and also popular television shows. We do maintain a netflix subscription, because there are some things we haven't found in the library. However, lately I have been experimenting with interlibrary loan for books. If the book is not found in the library catalog, you get the option to "search other libraries" and the system will look for your selection in the interlibrary lending system. I wasn't sure if this option existed for DVD's, so just now I went to my local library web page and searched for a DVD I was pretty sure they didn't have. Sure enough, I found it in a library in a neighboring town, and was offered the opportunity to request it.

Since I've been using the library pretty heavily, I've noticed something interesting. A lot of other people are, too! I have one book on request in which I started out as the 135th request. It may seem like, with a month-long loan period, I would never get the book, but when I looked at the record, my library owned 45 copies, and was in the process of acquiring dozens more. That means that the library is not as much of a free ride as we thought. They are a major purchaser of books, DVDs, CDs, and other media, using taxpayer dollars, and there's no need to feel guilty about using it. They seem to keep enough books in stock so that the hold queue is about three deep. So for a book with 140 holds, they owned 50 copies. That seems completely reasonable to me.

As it turns out, the hot books, movies, and cds are perpetually loaned out, and your only chance of getting them is to use the request system. (I always figured that mostly if I couldn't find it on the shelf, I couldn't get it from the library.) Waiting for things really hasn't been a problem, since new requests are coming up for me every few days. My biggest challenge has been keeping up with all the material I have requested. In fact, my Netflix queue has gone rather stale since we got a big batch of DVDs from the library. There is no limit on the number of items you can take out. You can keep DVDs for a week, and if no one has requested them, you can renew them nearly indefinitely. My library sends me an email a few days before materials are due, and I have made it part of my daily routine to pop in to the library web page and check my list of checked out items (up to 35 items right now!). If something is due that day, I try to renew it, or put it on the shelf next to the door to drop off on my daily errands. Often, at the same time, I swipe my holds from the hold shelf. (You do need a good home organization system for library materials if you are going to have a lot of them. I try to keep the DVDs near the TV, or on a shelf by the door.)

I don't know if I've talked you into using your public library more. I may have talked myself in to canceling my Netflix subscription! We already canceled our cable subscription and are frankly not missing it between DVD rentals and the odd iTunes purchase for very new TV shows. To ease the transition, at first we bought some current TV shows on iTunes for our son, but very quickly we weaned him onto older stuff we could get from the library. He is enjoying Looney Tunes now every bit as much as I did in my childhood, and we get them FREE from the library.

But if you're still with me after all of this, here is an extra bonus for Michigan residents. Libraries in Southeast Michigan are loaning out free tickets to area museums now through October. Tickets are available in twos or fours for a long list of museums both big and small, including the DIA and other major attractions.

Now, I expect the next installment in the Wise Bread DVD rental category will be about how to get someone to pay you to rent them. Anyone?

(Life has been pretty busy lately, but I'll be back soon with more entries in my real estate rental series soon.)

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Guest's picture
Chris

It was called "free movie rentals for life."
Basically, the same article you've just written, about using the library for free movie rentals. FYI.

http://www.wisebread.com/free-movies-rentals-for-life

Catherine Shaffer's picture

Wow! 2007! Way before my time. So why use Redbox at all? That 24 hour deadline would be the death of me!

Catherine Shaffer

Wise Bread Contributor

Guest's picture
Ronni

I do miss the Columbus Public Libraries. Surprisingly, the Chicago libraries are not as advanced as the ones in Columbus (no self-checkout, for one thing), and therefore, my movie rentals and new book reading has come to a standstill for now. :O

Guest's picture
Coral

Growing up we used the libraries a lot. I loved to read and we'd also get movies, audio books, music, etc. When I was a teen, we were within walking distance to the library and I was in heaven! My first job was at a library even. Even as an adult, I used to go to the library a lot for audio books and movies especially (reading time is now limited).

But in Memphis where I currently live you have to PAY to check out movies and any kind of CD or tape (including audio books). I'm a teacher with a decent library at school, so I don't need to go to the library for books often. I miss the free movies and CD's. :(

Has anyone else ever had a library that charged?

Guest's picture
Guest

Yes, my library also charges. Not only do they charge for the DVD loans, but they also charge a hold fee for any material put on hold.

Guest's picture
Jen

Wow - I thought we had it bad! In Queens, NYC our public library doesn't let you request CDs or DVDs AND charges $3/day "extended use" fees for these items. Add that to the fact that they rarely check items in on time and will send your account to a collections agency if you don't pay for their mistakes!

The New York Public library, though, is great. You can put everything on hold, they have a ginormous catalog, and their late fees (as well as their loan period) are quite generous.

Guest's picture
Blaise Pascal

Your library works differently than mine. Whereas you have free holds and no limits on DVD checkouts, I have to contend with $0.50 hold charges and a limit of 5 feature/5 instructional DVDs out (1 week, no renewals). Those fees and limits would seriously cramp my ability to adopt your techniques.

As it is, we have two libraries we visit on a regular basis for DVDs and videos, plus NetFlix.

Guest's picture
Guest

my library charges too, $1 for a one-day rental, and then $1/day late fees (so essentially, a dollar a day). They have the most current movies, but still, free would be better.

Guest's picture
Guest

lol i was wondering where your library was that offered all these great services and then I realized yours was ann arbor which is where I live. Just shows how I under utilize the library. Thanks for the great post.

Guest's picture
minnemom

Our libraries in Minnesota are just as you described (down to the museum passes that are available at Minneapolis metro-area libraries--what a sweet deal!)

The only thing keeping me from dropping my Netflix subscription is the queue builder. Since I don't see movies (and thus, trailers) in the theater, how do I know which ones to add to my library list? If anyone has ideas for (free) "if you liked this, you'll like this" movie sites, I'd enjoy hearing about it.

Guest's picture
Relentless

My wife and I tried the library years ago. But most of the time, the DVD's were so scratched up that we couldn't use them. I for one am proposing Netflix, because 95% of the time we do not have a problem with their DVD's. We also canceled our cable subscription and just have the local channels, because the area we live in is antenna impaired. For those who are really hurting financially or just plain frugal, Netflix has a $5 a month program. Also, if you have high speed internet over 768k you can watch TV programs online at hulu.com for free. CBS also has a similar site as well.

Guest's picture
Naimul

This is very true, I am also using the library for movies. The library here in my new city have the best collection of Criterion's DVD, and all free of charge.
http://www.criterion.com/asp/

Catherine Shaffer's picture

"Where is this wondrous library? Oh, right here in town." LOL!

Yes, it's true not every town has such a nice library system. And if you live in the country it doesn't work so good, either. (There are small town libraries, but they tend to be very tiny.) I also like my Netflix queue. So far we have received one Netflix movie disk that was broken and had to be replaced, and have received one library movie that was scratched to the point it was challenging to watch it. (We had try it in multiple household DVD players before we could get it going.)    

Catherine Shaffer

Wise Bread Contributor

Guest's picture
minnemom

Library service varies so much from area to area, but just because a town is small doesn't mean it doesn't have access to a wide variety of materials. Here in Minnesota, any library that is part of a regional library system (and that is all but five public libraries in the state) has access to all materials in the state. So, even though my local library is in a town of less than 1,000 people, I have access to the same materials as someone in Minneapolis. I just might have to wait a few days to get it on loan.

Might I make a few suggestions? If you check out an item from the library that is damaged, please let staff know of the problem when you return it so that it isn't checked out to others in an unusable state.

And if you're in an area where library service isn't so good, be vocal about the importance of libraries. Tell the library staff what you want to see. Talk to your city council and legislature and let them know that you value libraries and want to have good library service in your area.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I'm a former librarian and current library board member, so this topic is near and dear to my heart.)

Thanks for a good discussion!

Guest's picture
Spencer

Today I was reading an article in the paper about the Library of Congress audio/video preservation project. In the article, they mentioned the 1933 Barbary Stanwyck movie "Baby Face." It was one of the movies that sparked the movie studios to develop the first "production code." The LoC guy mentioned that they had found two versions of this movie in their archive -- one was a pre-release copy that was more "explicit" about Stanwyck's character's background and motivations.

I was curious to see it. So I went to netflix.com and added it to my queue. Then I thought, "let's see if the library has it!" Indeed, they have two copies, one available at a branch that is not convenient to me. So I requested it, and expect I'll be able to pick it up tomorrow or the next day, at the branch a block from my office.

When it's there, I'll get an email, I'll walk over to the library, grab it from the hold shelf, wave it over the self checkout station, and walk out with it in my hand for viewing anytime in the next week. All for "free"!

(Yes, my library is the same as Catherine's and commenter 8 -- Ann Arbor District Library. I paid almost $200 in 2007 property taxes for these services. It's still a bargain.)

Guest's picture
Grey Walker

This librarian cheers! It's so lovely to see people actively using all the things we spend your tax money on.

Guest's picture
Guest

I work in a library in Bucks County, Pa and we have free movie rentals, you can rent 3 dvds and 3 vhs at a time for 1 week with 1 week renewal option. There is no fee unless they are returned late and then it is $1 per day with a cap of $5. We have everything from classics to Gilmore Girls. With the economy we are starting to see a lot more people coming in and they are amazed at the number of videos we have and the fact it is free.

I haven't paid to get a movie or book in 8 years and am amazed at the amount of money people will spend on movies and books.

Guest's picture
sarah

i swear by my library request system! plus it almost feels like shopping sometimes, putting in your request online. :)

Guest's picture
anniegirl100

Nice Site.

A new website just launched that compliments this one called http://www.0daymovies.com.

In addition to movies it has tutorials on how and where to download movies (usenet/torrents/cheats).

great website.

Guest's picture

Another great resource is your public library's downloadable media - no charge & no scratched DVDs. Visit your public library's web site & look for a link. Many public libraries subscribe to either OverDrive or NetLibrary, services that allow you to download movies, audiobooks, eBooks, and music to your computer for free. You can then watch or listen on your computer, load on MP3 or media player, and burn many to CD. Right now, due to Digital Rights Management, you can't load on an iPod - but OverDrive will have unlocked titles to download to iPods in the near future. If you will be listening or watching on your computer, no problem - or buy a cheap $20 or less MP3 player to listen to audiobooks. You'll find the latest audiobooks, classical music, fiction & nonfiction eBooks, and movies. The movies aren't the latest titles, but there are plenty of classics, such as Fellini's 8 1/2, or campy B&W monster flicks that your kids will love.

Guest's picture
Sue Lester

Which cheap MP3 player works with audio books? Last year I bought one for $40 and it would only play the first 20 minutes of a book and then start over at the beginning. The ones with all the recommended features seem to be over $100.

Myscha Theriault's picture

Now that has this extreme rural resident excited. I'm going to check and see if our closest one has that.

 

Guest's picture
Sue Lester

I live in Kent county Michigan---the west side of the state. We have 2 competing library systems in this area; the Grand Rapids Public Library (which serves the city) and the Kent District Library (with 17 branches in outlying areas). Both are part of the Lakeland Library Co-op, which covers much of this side of the state. At one point, we were charged $1 for both DVDs and videos and $.50 for CDs borrowed from GRPL and KDL, but when GRPL hired a new director a few years ago, she eliminated the fees for GRPL patrons, reasoning that they had already paid for the AV items with their tax dollars. Within a few months, KDL dropped their fees.
I can get almost any book, movie or CD I might want, but we do have a limit on the number of items we can check out (120) with a limit of 15 DVDs/videos and 25 CDs. Movies can only be checked out for 1 week with one renewal and a $1 a day over due fine. Everything else can be checked out for 3 weeks with one renewal and a $.15 a day fine if the item is over due.

Guest's picture
Pamela

I grew up in a rural area and we had a program called "Mail a Book". You sent a little postcard to the library requesting the books you wanted and they mailed them to you. When you were done, you put them back in the envelope, attached the postage-paid return label they came with, and shipped 'em back to the library with your next requests. It was great. We also made regular visits to all the area libraries (we were equidistant from a number of them). My sister and I would practically stagger out of the library with our selections. It was great. Inter-library loan is also great - we've gotten books from libraries in New York (I'm from the upper Midwest).

Guest's picture
Guest

Was one smart dude.

Guest's picture
Pam

Libraries are wonderful, but they are not free. Check your pay stub next time in the state tax block and find out how much you paid for those "free" movies. My library does not charge to check out, and they also have online movie downloads, so I do not even have to go there. Taking advantage of these resources frequently will save you lots of money, but there is no free lunch.

Guest's picture
Danielle

You mention purchasing tv shows on iTunes, this has always seemed like a HUGE waste of money to me. I like The Daily Show but its not worth $1.99 per day. Check out Hulu.com for a lot of new content (Arrested Development, The Office, House, etc) and oldies that you've long forgotten (Doogie Howser, Remington Steel, Dragnet). As a bonus they even have a decent movie line up.

No downloads available, so you can't take it with you but if you've got high speed the streaming is fantastic.

Catherine Shaffer's picture

I'm aware of Hulu, but so far it has not had the programs that we have been interested in, but unable to find on DVD. Likewise, right now my computer setup is not that great for streaming. I'm using an older computer, and our family would really rather watch TV on the couch, which is why I appreciate iTunes. We can put it on the iPod and either watch it on the big TV, or take it with us. That said, I take it as a personal challenge to spend as little on iTunes as possible.

Pam--You're right we pay for libraries out of our taxes. However, we would pay the same amount whether we used it or not, so for practical purposes, it is free. Of course, your comment highlights the fact that the field is wide open for some other blogger to find movies even more for free than the library!

Catherine Shaffer

Wise Bread Contributor

Guest's picture

RedBox gives out free codes for a free one-day rental every Monday. All you have to do is sign up with your email or cell number to receive the codes at:

http://www.redbox.com/Help/Signup.aspx

There are also communities that share these codes:
http://www.insideredbox.com/index.php/codes
http://www.redboxcodes.com/

Hope this helps out!

CFB

Guest's picture
Guest

We religiously use our library for movies and tv dvds.
Multnomah County library in Oregon has no fees for these AND they have RSS feeds to notify of new acquisitions so you can get on the cue pretty early.

We also rent from a non-chain, local video store if we just can't wait for the cue!

Guest's picture
Guest

Charleston County SC doesnt charge.

I was able to get every episode of Star Trek on DVD, all series and audiobooks on CD to listen to while driving.