We were reminded of Cafe DVD's existence shortly after the long-foreshadowed demise of Blockbuster Video earlier this year. Cafe DVD is more in the original Netflix
(NFLX) DVD-by-mail model that Blockbuster later tried to emulate, but it approaches that shrinking niche in the smartest way possible: by burrowing into a niche of its own. Since 1999 -- basically a Stone Age in the modern streaming context -- Cafe DVD has avoided Blockbuster's suicidal trap by avoiding blockbusters. Its tastes skew artistic, foreign, fringe and classic, while its subcategories including Criterion Collection discs, Dogme95 films, Blaxploitation and neo-noir should look familiar to those who once or still frequented independent video stores. Even staff picks -- such as Invictus in the wake of Nelson Mandela's death -- are a throwback to the now-rarified interpersonal movie rental experience. At $12 a month, its base subscription is more expensive than comparable offerings by Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and other services, but it does let you rent two DVDs at a time. If you have a film buff in mind and are looking to go a bit cheaper, however, individual rentals cost $1.45 per day through standard mail.