Recession-hit Americans can now watch hundreds of free movies – by using a new web site to borrow DVDs from their friends.”It’s like Netflix meets Facebook,” said Jackson, founder of LendAround.com. “You list some DVDs you own, invite some friends you like, and start browsing their collections. The web site helps arrange loans, and keeps track of where everyone’s DVDs are. And nobody pays anyone anything.”
Jackson estimates that though there are over two billion DVDs in US homes, 80 per cent are watched just twice a year. “What stops us sharing with friends isn’t meanness,” he said, “it’s embarrassment. Borrowers don’t know how to ask, and lenders fear they’ll forget who they lent a treasured movie to.”
LendAround solves the problem for both sides. Browse and search tools make it easy to find out what movies and TV are in friends’ collections, and a Your DVDs tab shows the location of every lent out DVD. A ‘retrieve’ button allows owners to ask for their movie back without having to call or e-mail the borrower.
With an estimated $7 billion a year spent in the US on movie rentals, consumers are likely to see paid entertainment as an obvious target for savings. But it was experience in Africa, rather than the concern about the economy, that gave birth to LendAround. “This isn’t really about money,” said Jackson.
Jackson, a former journalist who founded a $2 billion online auction company and later worked as a venture capitalist, started visiting Africa regularly in 2005 for his charitable foundation, which gives tiny grants to community organizations.
“Coming back from Rwanda or Lesotho and looking around my home, I was struck by how much stuff we all own and take for granted,” he said. Wouldn’t it be great if instead of leaving things to gather dust on shelves, we could lend them to our friends?”
Although the LendAround service does not compete with video stores or DVD-by-mail services, it can give users a surprising choice. “I and my friends are currently sharing 1,634 movies,” said Jackson. “That’s less than the average Blockbuster store, but the choice is surprisingly wide – from West Wing and The Wire to obscure Kurosawa and Almodovar art-house titles.”
Most users will share DVDs with personal friends and colleagues at work, but Jackson also expects rapid growth in universities and among members of churches and sports clubs, who meet regularly and trust each other. So in most cases, DVDs are lent and returned by hand.
But LendAround also supports borrowing by mail. “When my brother in New York requests a DVD from a friend in Seattle, they can download and print a customized page with his address on it, wrap up the DVD in 30 seconds, and mail it for just 43 cents.”
For Jackson, DVDs are just the beginning. “We’ve started with DVDs because they’re not too expensive, they’re rarely used, only take a couple of hours to enjoy, and have a standard size and weight. But depending on what they ask for, people could use LendAround to share anything and everything.”
More sharing is good for the environment because it means less use of the world’s resources to make products, less packaging and transportation, and less garbage and landfill when they are discarded.
As well as allowing people to show off big collections, the LendAround service also works for people who have only three or four DVDs of their own.
“Netflix don’t publish how many DVDs they stock,” said Jackson. “But working backwards from their financial statements with the SEC, it looks like they own about four DVDs per customer. They manage to provide a great service with surprisingly few DVDs, but not everyone can afford $17 a month to borrow three movies at a time. LendAround is free. It’s by the people, for the people.