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Last Modified 2009-03-26 1:14 PM EDT

Consumer Note: Netflix Rules, Blockbuster Drools

Readers may have noted my occasional references to Blockbuster as the satisfier of my prodigous appetite for rental DVDs. I've been a customer of their online DVDs-by-mail program since the summer of 2005; at that time I pronounced it "pretty good" on this very blog.

Unfortunately, it's been a slow and bumpy trip downhill since then. The monthly fee was increased, and a number of tweaks to the program were imposed, all in an effort to make it more profitable (for them) and inconvenient (for customers).

The last straw was a slightly-sneaky change imposed last month: Previously, if you returned a mailed DVD to one of their brick-and-mortar locations, you could take a DVD from the store's shelves at no charge, plus they would send you the next available disk in your online queue. You could play this trick up to five times a month.

But now if you exchange a mailed DVD for a store DVD, that store DVD counts against the number of DVDs your plan allows you to have at home simultaneously; they don't send your next online disk unless and until you return the store DVD. (This change has brought some news coverage at the Consumerist and Slashdot.)

In addition, their online operation has grown significantly more sluggish. They used to be pretty good at "next business day" shipping of your online disks. For the past few weeks, it's been more like two business days.

The net effect of these changes is to throttle back DVD throughput to Pun Salad Manor while charging the same amount. Hmph!

So, sorry Blockbuster, but this is capitalism. I'm dumping you at the end of my current billing period.

I signed up for Netflix last Friday, and got my first three disks yesterday. This includes one that had been stuck at the top of my Blockbuster queue for months with a "Very Long Wait" annotation. Although it's mail only, the Netflix plan is a little cheaper than what I had at Blockbuster.

Just so you know: The kids who work at my local Blockbuster store are very friendly and courteous—no complaints there. I'm afraid they're gonna have to start updating their resumes, though.