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L.A. Library's New Free, Netflix-Like Services, Explained

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Tue, Sep 24, 2013 at 11:20 AM

click to enlarge Wait, the library will let me stream this random Lindsay Lohan movie for free? Shouldn't they be paying me to do that? - YOUTUBE/MOVIECLIPS
  • YouTube/movieclips
  • Wait, the library will let me stream this random Lindsay Lohan movie for free? Shouldn't they be paying me to do that?

Broke L.A. twenty-somethings, rejoice! No longer must you feel a tinge of guilt for praising Emersonian self-reliance in your sock puppet performance art while secretly mooching off of your parents' Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant accounts.

The L.A. Public Library has arrived in the 21st century.

Since July, anyone in L.A. with a library card has been able to stream over 10,000 movies and TV shows and over 250,000 albums onto any computer, smartphone or tablet for free through a new service called Hoopla. Even better: In August, electronic subscriptions to over 230 current magazines became available to stream or download onto any device through an app called Zinio.

As is the case with most technology built for public institutions, the user experience on the library's electronic media databases isn't always great, but Hoopla comes much closer to replicating the ease and design of Hulu than services devoted primarily to eBooks and audiobooks.

When it comes to selection, however, Zinio has a lot more to offer, with current issues of Forbes, Marie Claire, The Economist, Esquire, Rolling Stone, The Nation and US Weekly, to name only a few. The only snag is that even after you log in, Zinio never seems to remember that you're there from the library and keeps trying to charge you. Best to bookmark this page and add your subscriptions from there before reading on other devices. Sadly, this means you can't be out somewhere and satisfy a sudden hankering for Cigar Aficiando, but beggars can't be choosers.

See also: City of Airheads: Villaraigosa Dismantles L.A.'s Vaunted Library System

As for Hoopla, which 10,000 movies and TV shows are we talking about here?

Well, 1984's The Neverending Story is one of the most-watched movies, if that explains anything. But they also have What Maisie Knew, which you know you've been meaning to watch, and Bernie with Jack Black; only the latter is available on Netflix.

Browsing Hoopla feels a bit like being on Netflix in 2007, when you'd think to yourself, "Yeah, I really should watch Fran Drescher in The Beautician and the Beast tonight. No commercials, baby!" Now that the novelty of on-demand viewing has worn off, to a certain extent, viewers are more discerning. Instead of being grateful for one season of The Beverly Hillbillies (available on Hoopla), we're enraged that Netflix doesn't stream Seinfeld.

But maybe having fewer choices is better. These days, I don't like going on Netflix unless I have a very specific idea of what I want to watch (episodes of a show I'm in the middle of bingeing; a Woody Allen film; something with Marilyn Monroe, etc.) Browsing alone feels exhausting -- I add endless titles to my queue but can never quite commit -- and browsing with a friend or a boy feels even worse. Deciding what to watch can take longer than the actual watching.

As Barry Schwartz described in his 2004 book The Paradox of Choice, reducing the number of possible choices makes consumers feel less anxious. So maybe switching over to the limited selection on Hoopla will provide the boost you need to finally get off that Paxil your parents are paying for -- double win! Did you even know there was a TV show called Weird and Wonderful Hotels? Or that Lindsay Lohan starred in a flop called Labor Pains?

Hoopla also includes both critics' and users' ratings from Rotten Tomatoes on each title's page, saving you the effort of opening another tab. Plus, the music selection is more current than the films -- you can stream Jay Z's Magna Carta Holy Grail ("Not as good as his early stuff, man!") and Taylor Swift's Red ("Like, ironically"). Freegal, another streaming media service offered by the library, has over seven million songs; you can download three per week. Don't be confused when the United States isn't listed under available countries on Freegal's login page; just click through without selecting one like the cosmopolitan global citizen that you are.

See also: Best L.A. Novel Ever: The Tournament

And if Hoopla isn't limited enough and you want to go full throwback, you should watch all of your TV and movies on the library's cloud-based lending service Overdrive, which primarily houses eBooks and audiobooks. The catch? You can only download movies onto personal computers that run Windows -- no tablets, no smartphones, no Apple, no Android. Everyone knows John Hodgman is cooler than Justin Long these days, anyway. Plus, the library's Overdrive collection includes fewer than 600 videos.

Just think of all the nostalgic Buzzfeed lists you'll be able to write with your newfound expertise on the Berenstain Bears, Franklin the Turtle and chef Jacques Pepin.


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