Friday, January 13, 2006

Blockbuster Video - a Zombie?

I just read this fascinating article about the demise of Blockbuster Video at Journalist Edward Jay Epstein has written a piece, "Hollywood's New Zombie: The Last Days of Blockbuster." It's an interesting article, and it describes, in detail, how a combination of bad business deals and "new" market options (like Netflix) have made the old videostore obsolete.

Somehow, I can't find it in my heart to cry for Blockbuster, even though it is a cherished part of my college experience. Back at the University of Richmond in 1988-1992 when I was a student there, the Blockbuster Video store on West Broad Street (a shop which isn't there anymore, by the way...) was a staple. My roommate Allan, friend Chris and I were there all the time. And it seemed great to be able to rent episodes of Star Trek: The Animated Series, the original Outer Limits, and more. Didn't hurt, either, that it was stationed next to a Taco Bell, for midnight runs to the border. Today, at 36, my stomach does tumbles at the thought of that...

But, of course, Blockbuster ran a lot of mom & pop video stores out of business on its way to global domination. So turnabout, I suppose, is fair play. I wonder if other so-called "brick and mortar" stores (like Hollywood Video and Family Video) are also facing this business apocalypse.

Must admit, I'm disappointed that one of the nails in Blockbuster's coffin came from that Mart o' Darkness, Walmart. Now there's a company I'd really like to see fail. (Or at least pay its fair share of employee health insurance, so it doesn't burden states...) But anyway, I guess I already know the answer about the future of "brick and mortar stores." Why? Just after Christmas, I read that all the Media Play stores in Charlotte, where I live now, are closing down. I've been purchasing stuff there since 1994, when I moved to the city with my wife, Kathryn. I used to love going to that store...but today, it just feels so...nineties.

Anyway, now I get my movies through Netflix. Or buy 'em straight-up from I can't even remember the last time I shopped at Media Play, or rented from Blockbuster. So I guess their day is over. Another part of American pop culture relegated to the dust-bin of history.

What do you think? Where do you "get" your movie rentals these days? Downloads (naughty, naughty...), mail services (like Netflix) or old school, like Blockbuster?


  1. generally, fuck blockbuster and they deserved it. they had a big part to play through their "no x or nc17" policies in the harassment of independent filmmakers in the 90s.
    more modern models (eg netflix) make a lt more sense to film lovers as to how to satisfy their thirst for the cinema without being gouged.
    the new models of the video rental business just do seem to be better for the consumer.
    as for walmart, they are an evil behemoth that has destroyed more honest small businesses than can be counted. yet i still pick up dvds there, as the aesthetic indifference of the chain lets me pick up gems like flirting with disaster, dragonslayer, and creepshow for less than seven bucks.

  2. I hear you, George. I was disappointed several times in Blockbusters for carrying only the "family friendly" R versions of films that were originally rated NC-17...and being quite upset by this censorship (In the Cut comes to mind as a recent example of their policy). So yeah, The company definitely imposed "family values" at the expense of the cinephile. And they also played weird games based on demographics.

    For instance, the Blockbuster nearest my house determined that there would be no audience in my town for rentals of "What the Bleep do We Know?" that movie about quantum physics. So they wouldn't stock it. That was the day I cut up my Blockbuster card. Bye-bye.

    Wal-Mart is pure evil. But they offer low, low prices, and I have to admit, I've picked up Assault on Precinct 13 (1976 version), Bulworth (1998) Altered States (1980) and other great movies for 5.50. Shame on me for doing it there. I should take my business elsewhere...

  3. Anonymous11:28 AM

    Hey John!
    Dude, do you know about the woman and her group behind "What the Bleep Do We Know?" I saw that movie and figured out that it was purporting to be about quantum physics but was really about this woman "Ramtha" and the beliefs of her cult. But it was cool to see Armin Shimmerman in his scenes!
    I still go to my local mom and pop video store to rent movies. I also go to the Naro, the one Chris Curry took you to see. I never found Netflix to work for me because I just can't turn the movies around fast enough for it to be cost effective. I don't do a lot of renting though. I am still trying to catch up on all of the movies and shows I actually own. LOL

    -Chris Johnson

  4. Hey Chris!

    I finally saw "What the Bleep" and felt it was a "bleeping" rip-off. I agree with you, it was bs and not really quantum physics at all. But I still wish Blockbuster would have carried it, because I liked finding out for myself that the movie was full of crap. And really, it wasn't even that entertaining.

    Now the Naro is one cool video store. If all video stores had that depth, I doubt that they'd be going the way of Blockbuster. That place is impressive.

  5. Home video is great, but it played a big part in killing the art house theater (not to mention the drive-in), a grim reminder that we can't have our cake and eat it too.

    As a former (not entirely disgrunted) Hollywood Video employee, I can tell that the company's latest moves have shown that its gone south. In my opinion, what set Hollywood apart from Blockbust and Video Warehouse was that it stocked its new stores with a very extensive collection of VHS catalog titles, such that whole horror series, cult movies, and OOP vhs titles galore were present. In the last 3 years, in an effort to make more space for DVD without expanding the size of any stores, the company has started to sell-off their old vhs titles. Their DVD purchasing was never near as good as it should have been, so it is not that they are just selling repeat titles. I'd estimate that each store has stopped carrying 1000+ titles. That is unacceptible to me. We've known for years that Blockbuster has been bad, especially once they got rid of many of their categories and ditched tapes and some DVDs that did not consistently rent. My local Blockbuster looks like an impoverished bodega, having very little product to pedal.

    Netflix has been great but i'm suspcious of how impersonal it is. Who knows were completists can go save for estate auctions, pawn shops, and flea markets anymore.

  6. Kevin -

    Interesting background info on Hollywood Video. My experience there echoes yours in the sense that when I was writing Terror Television - and had to see hours upon hours of old TV - Hollywood Video was the place to go. They stocked all 25 episodes of Twin Peaks on VHS. And they carried other "older" shows, like compilation episodes of Tales from the Crypt and Tales from the Darkside. So they did seem to have a pretty extensive in-store selection.

    Netflix is cool, except that I don't like receiving my DVDs in little pouches, instead of the official boxes. I like the boxes cuz they show me cover art, provide some critical "blurbs" and also let me know what the special features are. I hope that somehow, someway, Netflix goes over to sending the DVDs in those official boxes. Also, lately, my mail has been hard on the Netflixers. I've been getting torn and bent envelopes like crazy.