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Why Netflix Instant’s selection sucks

I wrote a piece for Techdirt about how a shift from the “permisionless”—but paid—DVD rental business to the permissions intensive movie streaming has prevented Netflix Instant from having anything like the selection of old-fashioned Netflix.

It should be astonishing that a company that once had to maintain and transport a staggering inventory of fragile plastic discs is able to offer less when its marginal cost dropped to near zero.

The problem is that, unlike earlier movie-rental options, streaming rights fall fundamentally within a permission culture. Netflix is a great illustration of what’s gone wrong here. It’s gone from having a nearly unrivaled catalog of films available to rent to being the butt of Onion jokes. What happened: It shifted from a system where nobody had a veto power over its operations, to one where it had to get permission and make deals with Hollywood. Sometimes it’s difficult to find the concrete costs of living in a permission culture, but the decline of Netflix’s selection is an important cautionary tale.

I’d been meaning to write this for a long time! I like the way it came together, and I’m glad I got a chance to lay this line of reasoning out.