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Blockbusted
September 24, 2010 8:19 AM   Subscribe

The Rise and Fall of Blockbuster. After filing for bankruptcy yesterday, many wonder what the future holds for the fallen video rental chain.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis (109 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
I can try predicting what the future holds: The executives and a few canny senior managers exit with golden parachutes, everybody else is laid off without severance (or, at best, a negotiated severance of marginal value), and a few thousand more storefronts across the country go dark after assets are auctioned off by regional brokers. Remaindered goods stores nationwide enjoy a temporary boon in reselling the DVDs and tapes for $1-$5 apiece, and within five years Blockbuster is the answer to a trivia question.
posted by ardgedee at 8:27 AM on September 24, 2010 [28 favorites]


I know two people who were Blockbuster users after Netflix came on the scene. One was my ex-girlfriend who enjoyed, nostalgically, the idea of just browsing for a random movie to watch. Blockbuster was, unfortunately, the only such store left in the neighborhood and stepping foot in there with the desire to find a specific film not released in the last few weeks was a futile endeavor, so it was perfect for her. She found herself inspired by the horrible disorganization to try new things. I, on the other hand, a veteran of an indie video store, was driven insane by it.

The other was my old roommate, a major film fiend who was on the 8-at-a-time Netflix plan and, when school let out for summer, still desired more movies. So he joined Blockbuster's attempted-Netflix-killing plan of renting as much as you want, as often as you want, for a monthly fee.

So, I guess if your business model relies on not logically organizing your wares and catering to people who desire to use it along with Netflix, you're not going to do well.
posted by griphus at 8:28 AM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh.

/goes back to watching Amazon Video on Demand on the Roku box
posted by Ratio at 8:29 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I Spit On Your Grave.
posted by Mister_A at 8:30 AM on September 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Without any knowledge of his current whereabouts, I promised to always use a Wayne owned company news story to say

"Fuck Wayne Huizenga!"

Greedy commoditizing entertainment killing fuck. Woot. On with the show.
posted by cavalier at 8:31 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sun rises in East.
posted by gerryblog at 8:33 AM on September 24, 2010


i suspect Mike T.V.
posted by clavdivs at 8:35 AM on September 24, 2010


What the future holds ...

One alternate universe scene involves me, flying through the air, eyes aglow, as my normally diminutive lower jaw begins to descend and expand as I punch through the plate glass windows at barely subsonic speeds with a fistful of twenties, my mouth then scooping up, like the blade of a bulldozer, pile upon pile of DVDs for a buck a pop. OM NOM NOM NOM NOM!
posted by adipocere at 8:35 AM on September 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


Poorly-run but highly visible to consumers corporation fails due to mismanagement and technological change. For some unknown reason, nobody can believe it and wonders "what's next?" Film at 11.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:36 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Among the largest creditors that have claims against Blockbuster are the major studios. According to a court filing, the company currently owes $21.6 million to 20th Century Fox, $20 million to Warner Bros., $13.3 million to Sony Pictures, $8.6 million to Walt Disney Studios, $8.3 million to Universal Studios, and $7.9 million to Lions Gate.

Most studios are believed to be supportive of Blockbuster’s efforts, as they want to see it remain in business as a viable competitor to Netflix and Redbox, particularly since Movie Gallery Inc. -- parent company of Hollywood Video, formerly the second-largest DVD rental store -- went out of business in April.


LA Times

posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:36 AM on September 24, 2010


Well, maybe "Sun rises in East" is unfair. But it was obvious when they failed to leverage their brand online before Netflix locked the market they were toast.
posted by gerryblog at 8:37 AM on September 24, 2010


Not to mention Redbox.
posted by gerryblog at 8:39 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I will miss Blockbuster's old "Wild Action" section, which should have been named "Explosions And Tits."
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:39 AM on September 24, 2010 [14 favorites]


Back to the Future!
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:40 AM on September 24, 2010


I was a Blockbuster customer for years (because, let's face it, there were no really good alternatives) and I don't think I ever had a pleasant experience in any of their stores. From the insanely difficult process of getting a card, to the period of "Sorry, this card is only good in the Watertown store" when I moved, to the shitty selection (Oh! Legally Blond 17!), to the useless employees, to the 20+ deep lines of screaming kids, it was all hell. But, hey, we needed a movie, right?

Now I use iTunes for movies, though browsing through the iTunes store is a lot like browsing at Blockbuster, with the same shitty selection and top choices (Oh! Legally Blond 19!) but at least I can do it without moving my fat ass from the couch or interacting with a teenager who "likes movies" but otherwise doesn't want to be there.

I'm sorry that a lot of folks will lose their jobs, but I cannot muster any sympathy for a company that provided such a horrible, horrible experience.
posted by bondcliff at 8:41 AM on September 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


Film at 11.

film? and you accuse blockbuster of not adapting to technological change?
posted by fallacy of the beard at 8:43 AM on September 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


I kinda miss The Event of going out with family, friends or significant others to a Blockbuster/Movie Gallery/Hollywood/etc. and physically browsing movies to watch for the evening. It really was fun (and sometimes frustrating) trying to decide what to rent -- especially when there were 10 or more in the group. And the "Employees' Picks" section almost always held a selection of interesting movies.

I miss it in the way that I miss looking at album art at record stores. (And the smell of a freshly-opened cassette tape package? Ahhh.)
posted by bayani at 8:43 AM on September 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


Not to mention Redbox.

Yeah, the Redbox kiosks always have a line when I got to the grocery store after work. $1/day is a very clever price. Much smarter than Blockbuster's "$5 but no late fees" pricing.
posted by smackfu at 8:43 AM on September 24, 2010


I Spit On Your Grave.

Q: would the 'uncut' version be less violent?
posted by mazola at 8:47 AM on September 24, 2010


I did not see this description of one of Blockbuster's many missteps in the linked article, but I have always thought it was interesting:
Consider, for example, the near-suicidal decision of Blockbuster Entertainment in 1998 to turn down Warner Bros.' offer to entrench a DVD rental window. Warren Lieberfarb, who headed Warner Bros.' home video division, which, along with Sony, then provided the vast majority of DVD titles, offered Blockbuster CEO John Antioco a deal to insulate the rental business from retail competition by delaying putting DVDs on sale for a few weeks after their release. Warner Bros. (and presumably the other studios) would provide rental copies of new titles on DVD to the 10,000 Blockbuster stores and, in return, receive 40 percent of the rental revenues that Blockbuster earned from them.

At the time, Blockbuster was a powerhouse, accounting for nearly 50 percent of the studios' video revenue. Indeed, Sumner Redstone, the CEO of Viacom (which owned Blockbuster), had told Lieberfarb, "The studios can't live without a video rental business—we are your profit." Yet, even though Lieberfarb was only asking that the 40 percent revenue-sharing arrangement that Redstone himself had pioneered for video be extended to DVD, Antioco turned him down. Warner Bros.' response was to offer DVDs as a traffic-builder to Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and other mass retailers. As it turned out, the studios could not only live without a video rental business, they could thrive. By 2004, the studios were raking in $20.7 billion a year from DVDs while Blockbuster Entertainment, its rental business decimated, was hemorrhaging losses. Why did Antioco turn down Lieberfarb's offer? According to an insider privy to the Warner Bros.-Blockbuster negotiations, Antioco's decision proceeded not from any financial analysis of the offer's merits but from his "massive ego," which made it difficult for him to accept Lieberfarb as an equal in the negotiations.
posted by ND¢ at 8:51 AM on September 24, 2010 [17 favorites]


useless employees

Man, why do people always hate on Blockbuster employees? I was a manager at Blockbuster for three years, and while there were some moron slackers, the vast majority of 18-19 year olds who worked for me were hard-working, intelligent kids who liked talking with customers about movies. No one I know still works there, because Blockbuster treats their employees like shit, encourages a high turnover rate, and pretty much seems to purposefully cycle out anyone whose incremental raises eventually make them what the corporate structure deems too expensive, but whenever I hear people complain about the omnipresent Clueless Blockbuster Employee, I think of two guys that I'm still friends with, both of them high schoolers from the south side of Chicago, talking about the sublime subtlety to the ending of No Country for Old Men, and their disappointment when we tried to put together an Employees Recommendation section only to have it shut down by corporate. I remember helping Tony write his college application essay, because he told me he didn't want to grow up like his brother, dropping out of high school and joining the marines, because he wanted to make something of himself. Those are the Blockbuster employees I encountered, and I'm not sure what stores you were going into.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:51 AM on September 24, 2010 [40 favorites]


> It really was fun (and sometimes frustrating) trying to decide what to rent -- especially when there were 10 or more in the group.

10 or more? Ye gods...my high school friends and I - usually it was just two or three of us at a time - would sometimes wander through the aisles of the local Videoflicks (a long-defunct Canadian chain) for so long that I would start to get this panicked feeling that a) the employees and other customers knew how long we'd been there, and b) were secretly laughing at us. Then, after we'd all passed the point where we felt kind of stupid for taking so long, we'd compromise on one of Steven Seagal's lesser works and get the hell out of there. If there had been 10 or more of us they would have had to call security to kick us out when the store closed.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:54 AM on September 24, 2010


Yeah, what ardgedee said. There is no future for the company; it's bankrupt because they offered a service that's been obsolete for seven years. They had just as much time to recognize this.

I have family who work in newspapers--everyone talks about how it's a dying industry but good lord, that industry is trying to save itself. What was Blockbuster thinking for the last few years--that people would suddenly find watching as many movies they want without leaving the house for what it would cost to rent two videos for three days each month unsatisfactory?

Blockbuster failed the way Comcast currently isn't failing--their business model was based on having a monopoly on providing a physical property to consumers. Netflix not only bypassed that, by removed the very need to come to the store. Edison's credo was "find a need and fill it." The minute Netflix was created, what need was Blockbuster filling anymore?

At the rate we're going with home entertainment systems, I feel like we're going to be having this conversation about movie theaters in about, say, ten years.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:55 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Cockblocker Blockbuster have been circling the drain for several years - I'd occasionally drop by my local outlet looking for cheap prices on used video games, and was always blown away by the ever-expanding walls of NEW! RELEASES! of Hollywood hogwash and the very slim back catalog.

I feel bad for the rank and file Ballbuster Blockbuster employee, but my experiences at these stores always mirrored this scene from Ghost World:
Customer: I'm looking for a copy of 8 1/2.
Clerk: Yessir! Is it a new release, sir?
Customer: No, it's the classic Italian film.
Clerk: Let me look that up on the computer for you, sir!
[fiddles with computer]
Clerk: Yes, here it is - 9 1/2 Weeks with Mickey Rourke. It's in our "Erotic Dramas" section.
Customer: No, not "9 1/2", 8 1/2, the Fellini film.
Clerk: I'll check that for you sir. How do you spell the actor's name - F-I-L-E-E-P-E-E...?
posted by porn in the woods at 8:59 AM on September 24, 2010 [8 favorites]


They claim that Blockbuster Canada is not bankrupt yet, but they're closing stores everywhere. We just lost our neighbourhood Blockbuster, and with West Coast Video burning down last year, there are now no longer any video rental stores nearby. I miss having a local video store -- just browsing for something that catches your eye. And I have no interest in buying DVDs -- too much crap in the house already.

The online streaming stuff would be great, if it weren't for the crappy choice and ridiculous download limits in Canada.
posted by fimbulvetr at 9:00 AM on September 24, 2010


Netflix on demand is one of the only actually futuristic things that exists. It's so cool. Oh I think I'll watch the Korean suspense film mother right now. Ok. That was easy how about every episode of Veronica Mars. How about Chris Angel Mindfreak? Oh I wouldn't like that. Well you know best! Netflix on demand is way better than it has any right to be. I can never not find something absolutely fascinating to watch at any moment.

I remember when renting a movie used to be a special treat and it feels sort of cute in the same way as people getting oranges for Christmas.
posted by I Foody at 9:01 AM on September 24, 2010 [10 favorites]


shakespeherian, sorry to hit a nerve. I'm sure there are plenty of hardworking, competent employees at Blockbuster, and it's probably the case that I encountered several of them but because things went smoothly with my transaction those encounters were not memorable.

However, the interactions that were memorable were the ones I had with employees who would not make eye contact, would be rude, would talk on the phone while I was waiting to ask a question, or otherwise acted like every other low wage employee who hated his job. I was one of those people myself for a time (though not at Blockbuster) and I'm sure it's a combination of corporate culture and being in a place when you know you're not going to make a career out of your shitty low wage job.

Still though, I stand by my statement that going to Blockbuster was almost always a horrible experience for me, at least at the suburban Boston stores I frequented back in the VHS days and the early days of DVD. I'm honestly glad to hear my experiences weren't universal.
posted by bondcliff at 9:03 AM on September 24, 2010


I agree with shakespeherian. I generally liked the people that worked in the stores. You could kind of develop a relationship and learn to trust these teenagers. It was always cool when it was your turn in line to have some kid say 'Try again, that movie really sucked'. You don't get that from Redbox.
posted by repoman at 9:04 AM on September 24, 2010


After closing 3-4 stores in my immediate vicinity over the past two years, they just opened a big new store in an old bank building that required extensive renovation. I don't get it.
posted by anazgnos at 9:05 AM on September 24, 2010


I was intrigued by their abortive plan to allow customers to walk in, browse music files, and make their own mixed CDs on the spot. Must sublime line in TFA:

Of course, music studios and record labels didn't react favorably to these ideas.

Well, no, because of course they don't. I sincerely hope the RIAA follows Blockbuster soon.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:05 AM on September 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Bankruptcy does not mean they're dead. From the second article, they have "about 700 to 800 viable locations," and they may limit store closures to half of their 3,000 locations. For now, stores and kiosks will be kept open.

And I'm sorry, adipocere, but you probably won't find DVDs for a buck each, if the closing of Circuit City, Hollywood Video and Wherehouse are any indicators. You might find some deals, but you could do as well trawling eBay or Craigslist for things you want, instead of picking up discounted movies you think you might enjoy at some point. I think there is a price cut-off, at which point it's cheaper to count the merchandise as something other than sold, but that's speculation based on a comment from another thread on the last days of Circuit City.

Let's take a trip way-back, to 1998, when Wherehouse bought Blockbuster Music for a mere $115 million. Visits from ghosts of the past, and all that.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:08 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can watch virtually any movie (or tv show, or documentary, etc) I choose right now on my phone.
My phone.
And it's free with my account.
If (and it's a massive "if") Blockbuster would ever have gotten around to providing me that service, they would have charged me $19.99 a month and called it BB OnTheGo! or some other such wackness. And they certainly would have edited some of the titles in the name of family friendliness.

Good riddance to the greedy cunts.

/still pissed about what they did to John Waters' A Dirty Shame.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 9:09 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


> Much smarter than Blockbuster's "$5 but no late fees" pricing.

They quietly reintroduced late fees earlier this year. We got surprised and paid the three extra bucks (the manager declined to let it slide), and I knew that would be the last time I set foot in a Blockbuster.
posted by ChuqD at 9:10 AM on September 24, 2010


..to sleep, perchance to dream.
posted by doctoryes at 9:11 AM on September 24, 2010


Yeah, what ardgedee said. There is no future for the company; it's bankrupt because they offered a service that's been obsolete for seven years. They had just as much time to recognize this.

I'm not sure that the service is obsolete (or totally so) as much as they were a badly run corporation, vulnerable not just to Netflix and Redbox, but to stores like Walmart and Target, which are very tightly run. I never got the impression that Blockbuster networked their stores together to work even tighter, and from reading wiki history, it looks like they were franchised for a bit.
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:12 AM on September 24, 2010


Once upon a time I really hated BB because they had a Walmart-like effect of running most of the indie stores out of business. Then I moved to a place where there's never been an indie store in the first place, and the BB store there was better than nothing, and the employees mostly seemed actually interested in movies, so I began to thaw. Now, finally, I have a couple of family members still in school who have part-time jobs with this company. So, really I'd like them to succeed.

But they just can't stop shooting themselves. Whatever the challenge, they're a year late and two features short. Want CD's mailed to you out of a queue? They come in after Netflix already dominates the market and bring a smaller selection of films. Want streaming? They come in after Netflix already dominates the market and while Netflix offers a huge catalog of "watch at no extra charge" movies, BB offers none. Want the convenience of a kiosk in your grocery store? They come in after Redbox already dominates the market and they come with a smaller number of movies in the kiosk. They try but they never innovate and they seem half-hearted in their imitations, never "go em one better."

I like being able to just browse for movies, just as I still like browsing in a bookstore. But I'm old and the notion of just browsing in a physical media store is dying. I like picking up used DVD's vs just pure digital content, because you don't own digital content, and it can be taken back as quick as 1984 off a kindle. But that's just a weird personal prejudice. I have nostalgia. Most folks don't. And a company like BB can't stay alive just serving a few quirks of mine.

I'm actually going to miss BB when they finally go under. Once I expected I'd cheer, but I'll be a little sad. And I wish them well in trying to find a place to fit in tomorrow. But I'm glad my daughter also has a waitressing gig.
posted by tyllwin at 9:13 AM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Perhaps its just nostalgia, but I lament the decline of the brick & mortar video rental store, and I hope some innovator can breath new life into the business while maintaining the familiar experience of browsing for what you want.

Not long ago, I went to a Blockbuster in my neighborhood. There are two Blockbusters and not any other places to rent movies from. I heard rumor that it was being shut down, so I asked the manager what was happening.

At first, he vehemently denied that the store was closing, but then later eluded to a not-to-distant future where they intend to clear out all the rows of videos, lay-off most of the staff, and fill the space with DVD vending machines.

It's horrifying because these machines haven't anywhere close to the selection that is currently at Blockbuster, which over the course of years has become pitiful. Not to mention the fact that there's a dozen folks without jobs now.
posted by sswiller at 9:13 AM on September 24, 2010


As someone who got wrapped up in the "We're going to charge you three times the value of the movie in late fees" debacle for a DVD I most decidedly did return, all I can say is good fucking riddance. All of the distribution method advantages aside...Netflix is one of the best companies I have ever dealt with customer service-wise, and that's why I'm a diehard customer.
posted by rollbiz at 9:15 AM on September 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


No one consulted me about this, but had they years ago I would have suggested they
forget the family bullshit and move into porn! Netflix does not do porn. No one does porn, except now two young guys, following Netflix model, send porn via mail and they are prospering. Many women get porn via mail and no longer have to hang out and sneak peeks at stores. Most video stores are gone now, and Blockbuster, with many locations, had they opened up for porn , might have prevented the messthey now are in.
Moral: families suck; porn is where it is at and also a trickle down for business, so to speak.
posted by Postroad at 9:15 AM on September 24, 2010


I haven't set foot in a Blockbuster for at least ten years; I took a stack of movies back one day late and instead of charging me the price of a one-day rental they hit me with a late fee equal to the seven-day rental. I cut up my card and handed it to the clerk and never went back.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 9:20 AM on September 24, 2010


I never worked at Blockbuster, and didn't directly know anybody who did, but I do know that they drug-tested their applicants (which was, obviously, a problem for many people). I can't think of a better, safer job for a totally baked teenager than working at a video store. No vats of hot oil, no heavy machinery, no sky-high stacks of boxes in a storeroom. Just mindless, repetitive shelving and the opportunity to tell everybody about all of your favorite movies.

This, I am convinced, is what killed Blockbuster.

Not really.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:24 AM on September 24, 2010 [10 favorites]


Those are the Blockbuster employees I encountered, and I'm not sure what stores you were going into.

Well, the one who accused me of "reshelving" was kind of a dick. I had no idea what he was going on about. Until, in front of a half dozen other customers he loudly accused me of sneaking a movie back into the store and putting it back on the shelf. Why would I do that? Apparently to avoid (nonexistent) late fees! I suspect that what really happened is one of thier fine employees missed scanning it when I returned it. Then it sat on thier shelf, accumulating mistaken fee$.
posted by R. Mutt at 9:27 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Moral: families suck; porn is where it is at and also a trickle down for business, so to speak.

Except that there are about a million YouTube-like clones streaming porn for free on the internet these days. 99.99% of it is horrible, but I'm sure that's true of physical discs as well. I'm not sure how pornographers are making any money these days.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 9:30 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


When I was growing up there was one video store in the whole town that carried Criterion and Artificial Eye movies, and as our local cinema was a four-screen for which it wasn't profitable to show anything but the more commercial films (I had to travel to Manchester to see Being John Malcovich and American Psycho) it was the only place to get the films I wanted to see. Blockbuster moved in and closed down both that and the local one that rented Garbage Pail Kids and other movies to me for half-price if I could get them back there on the same day. (It now looks a depressing state - I'd link a pictutre if my Flickr was working - half boarded-up and covered in cheap booze posters.)

I went in there in 2002 to rent a copy of Billy Liar! for an essay I was writing, and never went back. Lovefilm (UK version of Netflix) came along soon after, and is so easy that it's hard to believe I actually had to leave the house and walk somewhere to get a video out. A lot of the smaller London-based chains had their going out of business sales a couple of years ago - wonder how many copies of Nukie, Mac and Me and Problem Child 2 were in the sale bins.
posted by mippy at 9:34 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


They killed the local video store and turned everyone's selection of rental videos to pablum. It's too bad it took this long for them to expire. No film lover will mourn this loss.
posted by caddis at 9:34 AM on September 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


I loved prowling the aisles at Blockbuster and Hollywood Video, though the convenience of now being able to do that online means that the store concept is both expensive and outdated. I also appreciated the interest and knowledge I usually ran into from the staff in those stores.

These days, Blockbuster does have a robust online service, and I actually find their website easier to navigate and more informative than Netflix, much as I love Netflix' streaming service.

It is all to the good to have retail competition. I'd prefer not to leave Netflix as the sole provider of mailed DVDs. I'm hoping Blockbuster uses the bankruptcy to close their brick and mortar stores and compete directly with the Netflix model.
posted by bearwife at 9:37 AM on September 24, 2010


I do know that they drug-tested their applicants (which was, obviously, a problem for many people). I can't think of a better, safer job for a totally baked teenager than working at a video store.

I was never drug-tested for employment at Blockbuster.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:40 AM on September 24, 2010


My Google alert for Mac and Me just went off and I was directed to this thread.
posted by item at 9:41 AM on September 24, 2010 [8 favorites]


We just lost our neighbourhood Blockbuster, and with West Coast Video burning down last year, there are now no longer any video rental stores nearby.

There's Glebe Video.
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:41 AM on September 24, 2010


I worked in a great video store for many years, Videosmith (the one on Huntington Ave in Boston, next to the Burger King) and if Blockbuster didn't actually kill us it certainly weakened us to the point where a secondary infection killed us*.

Fuck Blockbuster. I wish there was Blockbuster right here so I could throw a brick through their window.

* Actually it weakened us to the point where we were absorbed by Hollywood Video and might as well have been Blockbuster, only slightly shittier.
posted by dirtdirt at 9:43 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Among the largest creditors that have claims against Blockbuster are the major studios. According to a court filing, the company currently owes $21.6 million to 20th Century Fox, $20 million to Warner Bros., $13.3 million to Sony Pictures, $8.6 million to Walt Disney Studios, $8.3 million to Universal Studios, and $7.9 million to Lions Gate.

Actually, they only owe about $5 to each. The rest is late fees.
posted by mkultra at 9:47 AM on September 24, 2010 [9 favorites]


It's horrifying because these machines haven't anywhere close to the selection that is currently at Blockbuster

Well, the machines don't right now, because they're designed to be about 3 or so feet deep, 4 feet wide, and 6 or so feet tall—about the size of a soda machine, give or take. But there's nothing in those machines that wouldn't scale up much larger. There are optical jukeboxes used for data storage that have thousands of discs and can retrieve in only a few seconds per disc; it seems like the technology ought to be about the same. You just make the machine bigger.

Since you wouldn't be wasting space keeping each disc in a bulky plastic box (just a paper envelope or sleeve with a barcode), you could conceivably have a lot more movies in the same floorspace as a current store.

Alternately, you could do a burn-on-demand system that would be extremely compact; you'd need a bank of hard drives and a DVD burner. It would take a few minutes per disc, but perhaps in combination with a "cache" of pre-burned discs (new releases, popular picks) you could offer both speedy response and a large back catalog. The problem with that plan is that you can't use First Sale to get around copyright issues; you would actually need to get permission from the studios because you'd be creating copies. Redbox has had a lot of problems with the studios, and as a result has been reduced (in some instances anyway) to buying DVDs on the retail market to load into their machines.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:49 AM on September 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


How did you folks get memberships at Blockbuster? I only ever had two credit cards at a time, not the three they required for membership.
posted by Eideteker at 9:50 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was never drug-tested for employment at Blockbuster

Maybe it was just our local? This was 1996 or so. I do remember at least one specific person who applied and was tested.

In any case, my local Blockbuster is in the same shopping center as the supermarket I go to at least once a week. A few weeks ago, mrs ozzy mentioned something about Blockbuster and I said, "They aren't still open, are they? It looks so closed." Turns out they're still open.

I did use Blockbuster up until a few years ago to rent games. Then I decided that $7 or $8 or whatever it had become was just silly.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:51 AM on September 24, 2010


There's Glebe Video. I forgot about that place -- we used to go there all the time when I lived in the Glebe. When we moved it wasn't convenient walking distance anymore and we stopped. Do they still do all their rental records on paper?
posted by fimbulvetr at 9:54 AM on September 24, 2010


I have one truly fond memory of BB. Standing on line to rent a few movies, stoned out of my gourd, and seeing these for the first time ever. Big ass bags of them.

It. Changed. My. Life.
posted by Splunge at 10:02 AM on September 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Who cares? After their "no late fee" promise, they sent me to collections for... a $6.00 late fee. I hope their brick & mortar stores all spontaneously implode after the last disinterested employees slink off to whatever it is they do after schlepping scratched-up DVD's all day.
posted by PuppyCat at 10:06 AM on September 24, 2010


No sympathy from me either.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:18 AM on September 24, 2010


Even though Blockbuster killed off most of the mom-n-pops back in the 1990s, niche video stores still survive and fill in the gap for people who are looking for obscure titles. I worked in a video store while in college in the 1980s, and was amazed to discover that it still exists some 25 years later, largely on the success of making a commitment to obscure/foreign/offbeat titles long after Blockbuster took away its mainstream business.
posted by briank at 10:20 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I got my Blockbuster card way back in 1992, in the Blockbuster on Marine Drive in Dededo, Guam. I have used this card in New York City, St. Augustine, FL, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Orlando, Tallahassee, FL, Las Cruces, NM, Nashville, and probably a few other places I can't think of just now. I always found it kind of charming that it worked everywhere I went. I'll probably keep it in my wallet just for kicks, but I haven't used it now in about three years as Netflix has supplanted my need for brick-and-morter movie rental joints, and my desire to play video games has diminished somewhat.
posted by Pecinpah at 10:24 AM on September 24, 2010


In the eternal struggle between Blockbuster employees and customers, I'll chime in! I was a Blockbuster employee! I hated most of the other employees AND the customers! There was plenty of animosity to go around!

Right before I stopped working there, we had a store meeting where they cheerfully informed us of Blockbuster's goal to capture something like 90 percent of the total video rental market. The thought of that appalled and saddened me, and I thought to myself, "I HOPE THIS FUCKING COMPANY DIES A HORRIBLE FUCKING DEATH", even though, pre-Netflix, I couldn't see how it could happen.

But now it has! Young idealists, let this be a lesson: even if you think it's impossible for a behemoth to die a horrible fucking death, sometimes life will surprise you, and you'll feel all sunny inside as you watch it die a horrible fucking death.
posted by Greg Nog at 10:35 AM on September 24, 2010 [15 favorites]


the hell with Blockbuster. we in Des Moines are lucky enough to have Best Place Ever, a rental shop actually run by people who love movies. imagine that.
posted by TrialByMedia at 11:00 AM on September 24, 2010


Greg Nog: That was truly inspirational! Today I walk with a hopeful bounce in my step, optimistic for the future.
posted by mazola at 11:03 AM on September 24, 2010


We saw comedian Ted Alexandro a few months ago (highly recommended, btw), and he does a great joke in his set about marriage, which I will now butcher for you). He's going on about why he doesn't want to be married, and says, look, when you get married, you're committing to be with one person forever, no matter what else comes along. I used to have a Blockbuster card.... before Netflix. The crowd went wild.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:06 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


VHS was my best friend when I was a teenager. Those few shambolic, slightly shady, badly lit local video rental stores in my town allowed me to experience a world far removed from the stultifying cultural desert that I grew up in. My parents, god bless them, allowed me to rent whatever I wanted, at risk of having a discussion with them about it. This ultimately resulted in a great love of cult, foreign and classic films -- or any cinema that provided atypical, unlikely, thought-provoking experiences. Some individuals were able to get these kinds of experiences through books, but what was present in those rental stores was far more intense, and I'd argue more thought provoking, than the meager and banal selection of books in the local libraries. The staff were some of the most passionate and knowledgeable people I had met.

But Blockbuster. They were the enemy. Cheerful, insanely brightly lit stores -- but with dim employees. They promised unbelievable selection -- if you wanted a new release. And sure enough, they'd play the game where they came in with decent couple-of-bucks rate and then raise them to some sort of ridiculous $5 per rental rate once they had driven the competition out. Good riddance.

But here's the strange thing: I really miss local video rental stores. This doesn't come from some sort of luddite point of view: I've got a Netflix subscription, an Xbox Gold membership, accounts with Amazon and iTunes and Vudu and the Playstation Network. I've had a Greencine membership. And there are often times where I can't find an older title on any of those services.

But there's one video store left here in San Francisco, Le Video, which will have some weird old title. On the shelf, ready for you to rent. On VHS, since it wasn't released on DVD. As part of their huge library of classics and rarities. None of them available at Blockbuster *or* the online services, except for eBay.

Back in the day, it seemed like even small towns had a video store with a huge library like this one. That you could go, browse, and have something interesting in your hand to watch in less than an hour. Certainly, Netflix has a huge library -- but you can't watch it right away, and if they don't have it, you're kind of stuck. Now, only a few cities have something equivalent to Le Video. New York doesn't even have Kim's Video anymore, apparently.

I realize that won't affect the vast majority of people, who may not want to see What Happened Was or even The Magnificent Ambersons. But I do deeply hope that at some point, there will be a service that will make available online a number of these older, curious second-tier library titles that were common on VHS but have never been released on DVD, so there can be a cheap, watchable, complete library of films up until DVD started to take over in the late 90s somewhere online.
posted by eschatfische at 11:11 AM on September 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm lucky in that I have the best independent video rental store in ottawa half a block from me. I haven't gone to blockbuster in years thanks to them.
posted by aclevername at 11:16 AM on September 24, 2010


There's an insanely great independent video store not too far from me. Instead of 127 copies of Horrible Movie Starring 2nd Rate Actors that they had to buy to get 100 copies of the newest Action pic, they have a mix of popular new movies, and a deep and wide variety of new and old, domestic and foreign movies. They have an Incredibly Weird Films section. Three's still a market for quality, thankfully.

Browsing for a movie, music or books is a great experience that I hope my grandchildren get to enjoy.
posted by theora55 at 11:22 AM on September 24, 2010


I spent way too much time working in a couple of different blockbusters before I fell haphazardly into my current career. I hated it, for the most part. It's a wonderful thing the entire company is going bust, and may the owners and board members of that villainous piece of shit company rot in hell.

but let me at least mention what was nice about working there. Since it was the only video place in town anymore (in ANY town, more on that later), pretty much everyone who liked movies came in. I happened to work for one of the few that had a foreign and an indpendent section. And people don't understand that about blockbuster stores. Most of them are cookie cutter look alikes of each other. But managers who cared enough actually had room to create their own sections and order movies in that otherwise might not have been put on shelves. At least, they did when I was there. for every putz that couldn't count to 10, much less tell you where 8 1/2 was on the shelves, there was always somebody like me, if not a couple somebodies like me, who knew movies and could help you out. And what I liked about working there was being able to help people out about movies. If someone wanted to know why they might (or might not) want to pay extra for a Superbit version of a DVD? I was the guy who could explain it to them. If someone wanted to know who was in that thing with the thing, I could figure it out. And that was alright. It was shit work, but it was alright. But the real excellent thing was that we were probably the only place in a small suburban town where the transvestites could come in and receive no weird looks or odd treatment. There was, it turned out, a pretty hefty LGBT community in town. But nobody fucking knew that, except the local blockbuster because we were the only game in town for movies, and our manager liked movies enough to carry the good ones, including the good ones about gay issues and stories. So when someone came in with her girlfriend, working under the assumption we'd have nothing she wanted, and left pleasantly surprised that (though she'd already seen them) we at least HAD Better Than Chocolate and The Adventures of Felix and All Over Me and that we actually knew what they were about and liked them... well, it made a difference. I imagine it was a relief to at least not have some slack jawed know-nothing stutter out something like "well, The Crying Game had that one dude in a dress, I think, right?" just because the 6' 4" amazon in the wig was looking for a movie. so that was nice.

but fuck Blockbuster. Fuck those pieces of shit in their smug fucking faces. The only sad news about them closing like this is that I would rather they went down on counts of monopolistic practices and for the entire upper management of the company to be in jail. Like I said, I've worked at a couple different stores in a couple different places, and the orientation seminar at the regional headquarters (or the regional manager's store) always went the same way.

Reginal Manager: Why is blockbuster so successful?
trainee: because we provide good service?
RM: well, we do. but no. why is blockbuster so successful? anyone else?
trainee: because we have a good selection?
RM: ha! we don't. anyone else?
trainee: because we charge low fees?
RM: So close! Let me explain why we're so successful. Because when we first enter a town, one of our executives or their asistants goes to the local video store and makes them a very generous offer to buy their proper and business and turn it into a blockbuster. And it's a VERY generous offer. It would be generous no matter how little we offered them, but we offer enough. Usually, though, they say no. I guess they want to keep their little store. But they should sell. But they almost never do. So what do we do then? Well, "if you don't want to sell your store to us, ok" we say. And we open up across the street from them. And they see that big Blue and Yellow sign, and they know then that they should have sold. But then it's too late. Because the other big sign goes up too. The big sign that says "99 cents for a 3 day rental!" And that's when they know they're out of business. Because they can't afford to stay open competing with those prices. And neither could we, if we were just a store. But we're not. We're a huge corporation, and we can eat the losses for however long it takes for that other store to go out of business. And when they're gone, we jack the prices right back up to normal, because now... we're the only game in town. And no one will beat us. That's why we're so successful.

fuck them. I hope they rot and go to hell. Whatever legal loophole allows them to prey on private business owners like that should be closed. They're a cancer, and one of the worst things to ever happen to media in this country.
posted by shmegegge at 11:23 AM on September 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


Next on MetaFilter, The Rise and Fall of Hudson Bay Whale Oil Co.
posted by unigolyn at 11:25 AM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


so there seems to be a lot of hate for BB, which I won't argue with. But I worked for a franchised BB in the late 90s, and loved it. Maybe corporate sucked? I guess. All I know is the BB I worked at was full of fun folks who liked all sorts of movies. We had a foreign section. I don't know that we had an independent section, I think they were mostly just mixed in the drama section.

Anyway, my absolutely favorite life skill which is now entirely useless came from my time at BB. I learned to fix VHS cassettes. After the guy who taught me quit, I was the only guy at the store who could. I'd often get to spend hours at a time in a room in the back opening up, splicing up, and watching movies. It was fantastic. I really wish there was still any need in the world for that skill. oh well.

I'll be sad to see my old BB close down.
posted by jermsplan at 11:47 AM on September 24, 2010


Look at me while I rub my index finger across my thumbnail and mumble something about the world's smallest violin.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 12:08 PM on September 24, 2010


I'm thrilled to hear the love for independent video stores from some people in this thread.

There's an insanely great independent video store not too far from me. Instead of 127 copies of Horrible Movie Starring 2nd Rate Actors that they had to buy to get 100 copies of the newest Action pic, they have a mix of popular new movies, and a deep and wide variety of new and old, domestic and foreign movies. They have an Incredibly Weird Films section. Three's still a market for quality, thankfully.

That insanely great videostore theora55 describes is the very store where I met my now-husband. (The day I realized he was an expert on zombie flicks and Shakespearean drama, I decided I had to ask him out. He still works there and writes their weekly newletter, both paper and online.)

She's right: it is INSANELY GREAT. It's staffed by people who love movies and are eager to help, and the aisles are packed full of films you can't get elsewhere.

I'm a big fan of buying local, and not only because I want to stimulate the local economy. I buy local for my own selfish reasons: I WANT BETTER STUFF. The chain stores offer the same dozen titles wherever you go, whether it's music or movies or books, the most popular items, a massive but narrow selection tailored for mass appeal.

And I WANT BETTER. I want more choice, more variety, more off-beat and eccentric titles. I want input on the selection, I want personalized recommendations, I want BETTER than Blockbuster can give me.

In a smaller local shop, you develop a relationship with the staff and the owners. They learn what you enjoy, which allows them to recommend titles based on your own idiosyncratic tastes, not based on an algorithm of predictability. (You can also learn what they like, which helps you evaluate their individual recommendations even better.)

Smaller businesses are more likely to be directed in part by the offbeat tastes and interests of their owners and employees, which means you get to hear about more obscure titles, things you would never have discovered without their help.

Even more important, a smaller business is more likely to respond to customer requests and preferences than a larger, unwieldy corporation that has to satisfy the mass-appeal market. The local shop has a real investment in keeping you happy, and they know that if they purchase [title X] based on your request, then you'll spread the word to your friends. When they buy a title for you, you may well provide them with a built-in market, albeit a small one.

But there's more to it than that. Unlike a giant chain, a smaller local business may feel a sense of real connection to you: you're a person with a name and a face, not just a consumer. They want to succeed financially, of course, but they may also place real importance on making you happy.
posted by Elsa at 12:16 PM on September 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


I did not see this description of one of Blockbuster's many missteps in the linked article, but I have always thought it was interesting:

That article mentions the success of people buying DVDs instead of renting. I remember there was a great deal of debate among film companies on the pricing of DVDs early on. VHS was priced primarily with the idea they'd be bought for the rental market, so new movies would cost $70+ on VHS, with the some exceptions for blockbusters like Burton's Batman which were priced lower for the consumer market.

I guess Blockbuster's thinking back in 1998 was that even if studios priced DVDs a lot lower than VHS, the majority of consumers would still rent, so there was no reason for Blockbuster to cut any special deals. A few studios were reluctant to get into DVD because they thought the low prices wouldn't be offset enough by the rise in sales, but as the article notes aggressively pricing DVDs lower than VHS led to a huge increase in revenue for studios at the expense of rental outlets.

As for hating on Blockbuster, I disliked their policy of carrying censored films. Now Blockbuster denies censoring films, which is true, but by refusing to carry NC-17 films, studios would make edited R rated versions which nobody would buy except Blockbuster, so I've accidentally ended up renting an edited versions of a movie. I wouldn't have minded their policy if they simply wouldn't carry films they didn't like but carrying censored versions without explicitly stating so I feel is misleading to customers.
posted by bobo123 at 12:32 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Moral: families suck; porn is where it is at...

I'm sure not a few families got their start as a result of porn.


posted by mmrtnt at 12:35 PM on September 24, 2010


I miss going into the video store and renting something. I'm one of those who prefers browsing the titles in store and then deciding what I want and taking it home immediately. I would still be a customer of Blockbuster if they hadn't closed every store within a 2-mile radius. In fact, I used to walk a mile each way to the closest location for years. After an even closer location closed, that is. And after Blockbuster closed, I took up with Hollywood Video, which was crappier, but the people were friendly.

Until one day I went to go rent a movie and found the Hollywood closed too.

Then, I had no options until Redbox came along. So I use that, but still miss the browsing boxes and strolling through the aisles with lots and lots of selection. This was before they added a few older titles.

So as of a week ago, I'm a Netflix customer. I hate their 28-day block on some new releases, but Redbox does this too now. Was it really all that bad to have rental copies on day of release? Say what you will about Blockbuster, but they never pulled that crap on their customers. Someone called it ego upthread, but it can also be seen as customer-protective.

I still would prefer to go out to a video store, but this streaming service is something I appreciate.
posted by cmgonzalez at 12:36 PM on September 24, 2010


My first job was in a Blockbuster. Actually, it was for Erol's Video. Erol's was great. They had pretty much every movie you could think of. The walls were stocked like a library and the staff was knowledgeable. People would come in, rent a movie and then stay to talk about movies. On weekend nights it was packed, but there were so many movies that no one left empty handed. The late fees were so low (either 50 or 75 cents a day) and the staff would waive the fee if it was only an hour or so late, so no one was rushing out in the middle of the night to return a movie. I don't even think we sold food.

Then Blockbuster bought them and the game changed. They sold all the videos. The only videos they stocked were ones that were recently released. And they stocked dozens of them. Instead of having wall-to-wall videos pressed together like books they turned them flat against the shelf. Can't let all the marketing effort put into a box cover go to waste. As they sold more and more, there were eventually spaces between the boxes. Why not put videos there? Furious customers asked for old movies but of course they had been sold off. Thus a whole generation was denied wonderful films like Hell Comes to Frogtown and Surf Nazis Must Die. Just so they could have enough space to make sure you can't walk into the store without missing Beverly Hills Cop III.

At Erol's I was encouraged to watch as many movies as possible: I was allowed to have six movies checked out at a time. Scattered around the store TVs flickered with tasteful movies or wholesome music videos chosen by the staff. After hours they would blast less wholesome music and raucous movies like Repo Man and The Warriors.

But Blockbuster didn't care about any of that. Suddenly I could only take out one movie a night, provided I took it out after closing and brought it back before the store opened. And as long as it wasn't a "new release", which was 75% of the stock. The managers who worked under Erol's became husks of men, hoping to talk to someone who even knows what cinematography is. Instead, the only thing people cared about was if one of the 150 copies of the recent Hollywood ensemble crapfest somehow came in since the last time they asked seven minutes ago. The sad part is Blockbuster flourished because quickly people didn't care about anything but the new movies.

The worst part was those TVs that entertained us when things were slow now showed loops of trailers and five minute long ads for movies. Encouraging those who somehow found themselves in that hellhole to not expand their horizons but to watch whatever they were told too. When Robin Hood with Kevin Costner came out and we got like 500 of those things we also got a trailer that played non-stop for a whole month. After the trailer was the music video to "Everything I Do, I Do It for You." Every 10 minutes for a whole month. And after hours, the TVs were turned off to save power.

I had a crush on a coworker, but even as a hormone riddled teenager that wasn't enough to keep me there. I quit and worked at a Bagel Bakery. Much better perks and chicks dug the bagleman. To this day, hearing Bryan Adams' voice throws me into a rage. So I'm in the "Fuck Blockbuster" camp. They were a blight on the video industry. The fact that they couldn't see this coming with the first appearance of Netflix just tells me they were incompetent as well as harmful.
posted by chemoboy at 12:44 PM on September 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


Mister_A: "I Spit On Your Grave."

Some of the worst marketing ever.
posted by boo_radley at 1:00 PM on September 24, 2010


Farewell BlockBuster, you will not be missed. May your remains be buried on the proposed site of BlockBuster Park, while H. Wayne Huizenga weeps softly into the swamp.
posted by benzenedream at 1:07 PM on September 24, 2010


I took a stack of movies back one day late and instead of charging me the price of a one-day rental they hit me with a late fee equal to the seven-day rental. I cut up my card and handed it to the clerk and never went back.

I did the EXACT same thing 8 years ago and I've been waiting for this day with giddy glee ever since. Today should be a national holiday, our long shared nightmare is finally coming to an end.
posted by T.D. Strange at 1:16 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ok, so it looks like this is the "I once worked for Blockbuster" thread. Seems like it's as good a time as any to whip out my list of ways I stole from Blockbuster:

Wrong Stores: So, back when I worked there, the stores all had computers but they weren’t networked to other stores. That’s why your damn account wasn’t universal – there was no central database to look you up in, since each store was its own island. But I’ll get back to that. A Wrong Store was when a customer brought an item back to a store other than the one they rented it from. This was extremely common, and so a small part of your day was spent calling other stores, and reading off numbers. This allowed the other store to check in their own item, remotely, and thus saving you from a late charge. Exploiting this was easy. All you had to do was check something out, using someone else’s account, and then call in your own Wrong Stores. When the rental never showed up anywhere, no one ever really seemed to notice. Another dick move would be to steal Wrong Stores that we had sitting under the counter. You see, all the ones we had for other stores were waiting to be shipped out, or delivered by hand, to the other stores. Once again, if they never showed up, no one really cared.

Delinquent Accounts: A few times a night you’d get this call: “Hey, I need you to check on this account.” Other stores were told to call each other every time a customer showed up at their store with another store’s card. The purpose was to check and see if that customer was delinquent at your store before they added that customer to their system. The thing is you could almost guarantee this was a bad customer. Otherwise they wouldn’t be shopping at other stores. So, once you checked the account, and saw all the notes, like “DO NOT RENT – EXPIRED CREDIT CARD” or “BAD PHONE NUMBER” you would immediately print a new card, put it in your pocket, and tell the guy on the phone that the account was good. Then, you’d wait a few days, go to the other store and rent something (obviously with cash) on that bad account. This way, when it came up late or missing, the bad customer either didn’t notice or didn’t care, since they were serially late anyway.

New Releases: Often, we wouldn’t even bother putting popular releases out on shelves. We’d just keep a big stack, unlocked, on the counter. When someone asks for it, you’d scan the one on top and then pass it to them past the anti-theft sensor once they paid. Well, all you had to do for this trick was to scan the one underneath the top one, hand them the top one (which was never scanned) and then slip the one you just scanned under your stuff once they walked away. The customer would then come back to the store, return the unrented copy, and make a big fuss when they got the call about an unreturned movie. Since they’d have the receipt, from the same time and same store, they couldn’t argue they never rented it. Doing this to a repeat customer (like a mom who rents all the new kid releases) was actually safer than doing it to a rando, since it was almost a guarantee she’d just argue with the manager, get it taken off her account, and be back a few days later.

Common/Celebrity names: If you’re name was John Smith or Jane Doe, your card was going to get printed and brought to another store. People with really common names are used to getting mixed up in computer systems, and were always really good at arguing their way out of late fees and stuff. We also discovered that if you were a local celebrity, or shared a name with a local celebrity (like a weather man or musician) your account was often “misused.” I felt bad about it, until I met a newscaster at my store once. I didn’t feel too bad after that.

Gift cards: This was by far the worst thing we did, and I believe it got several employees fired once I was long gone. Customers used to come in with older gift cards, the ones with raised numbers. These were no longer valid on the card readers for some reason, but always worked if you punched in the numbers. Well, most of the time if you swipe your gift card and it doesn’t work, you hand it to the clerk. Once they handed it over, we’d say “oh, crap, this is old and expired” (which was half true) and then pocket the card, or throw it away. No one ever complained. Once they left, you’d dig the old card out and punch the numbers manually, leaving a big credit on your account. This could really be done with any gift card. The worst thing someone would say was, “oh here I have this old gift card but don’t know the balance,” because the answer was always a big fat zero. I won’t divulge some of the credit balances I used to carry as an employee, but it was high.

I won't lie, I feel bad about participating in all of this, but I was young and stupid. It is kind of strange to imagine that in some small way, I contributed to the decline of such an awful company.
posted by snapped at 1:20 PM on September 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


This is like reading an obituary for a zombie. Netflix put a bullet in Blockbuster's skull for my household on 7/23/2000 when I placed The Omega Code, Cirque de Soleil: Quidam, and Return to Everest in my queue. Never went into another Blockbuster again. I'm thrilled the one nearby just shuttered itself.

Yep, I can see the history of every movie I've ever rented from Netflix over the last 7 years. All 957 of them. An average of just under 12 movies per month for ~20 bucks. Not one late fee. Not one single charge for dvds lost in the mail, or damaged. Not one.

Over the course of the 7 years they never once raised the price (except for when they were forced to charge tax once they put a depot in my city/state). However they continually added utility (free upgrade to 4 dvds out from 3) and features like the aforementioned Netflix OnDemand and Netflix for iPhone.

So, for a 7 year average of $1.66 per hard dvd rented I also now get movies on laptop, imac, PS3 and iPhone.

RIP Zombie Blockbuster
posted by HyperBlue at 1:23 PM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


.
posted by HyperBlue at 1:27 PM on September 24, 2010


I worked at Blockbuster part time when I was a teacher's aide. I applied there because I loved movies; not only could you talk about them, you got five free movies a week and could see new releases before anyone else! Most of the people I worked with loved movies too. Yeah, we had some idiots, but some of the best conversations I've ever had about movies happened in that store, whether with another employee or a customer.

I'm going to miss the social aspect of "Hey, let's go rent a movie after dinner" spontaneity it provided.
posted by NoraCharles at 1:59 PM on September 24, 2010


That article mentions the success of people buying DVDs instead of renting. I remember there was a great deal of debate among film companies on the pricing of DVDs early on. VHS was priced primarily with the idea they'd be bought for the rental market, so new movies would cost $70+ on VHS, with the some exceptions for blockbusters like Burton's Batman which were priced lower for the consumer market.

I guess Blockbuster's thinking back in 1998 was that even if studios priced DVDs a lot lower than VHS, the majority of consumers would still rent, so there was no reason for Blockbuster to cut any special deals. A few studios were reluctant to get into DVD because they thought the low prices wouldn't be offset enough by the rise in sales, but as the article notes aggressively pricing DVDs lower than VHS led to a huge increase in revenue for studios at the expense of rental outlets.


I think by 1998 that idea of pricing any movie -- no matter what medium it was delivered in --as high as they had been fifteen years earlier was kaput.

The VHS release of Batman in late 1989 was indeed one of the cracks in the dam, but I think you will find that a few months earlier, in the summer of 1989, Disney decided they could make more money by selling Who Framed Roger Rabbit for about $22.99, instead of the $80-100 that was more typical of videos in the eighties.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:12 PM on September 24, 2010


Netflix delivery service: Still not available in Canada
Netflix streaming: Now available with 1/8 of the selection!
posted by Gin and Comics at 2:23 PM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm a Netflix customer. I hate their 28-day block on some new releases, but Redbox does this too now. Was it really all that bad to have rental copies on day of release? Say what you will about Blockbuster, but they never pulled that crap on their customers. Someone called it ego upthread, but it can also be seen as customer-protective.

Yeah, I think Redbox franchisees are actually having to go around to multiple WalMarts and buy new releases at retail prices if they want to stock them before the 28 day window. I'm pretty sure it's the movie studios, and their contracts with DVD retailers that are driving the 28 day delay policy.

That said, I think Redbox was a big part of the final nail in the coffin for Blockbuster, which did it to themselves by un-diversifying their stock to be nothing but new releases.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:55 PM on September 24, 2010


Where am I going to get my Twilight bandaids?

My 3-year-old Hermione-branded microwave popcorn?

MY NEARLY EXPIRED NOVELTY CANDY?


Oh, Blockbuster. Your heartless executives know not what they do.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:56 PM on September 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Gift cards: This was by far the worst thing we did, and I believe it got several employees fired once I was long gone.

Wow Kevin, that's just awful. I can imagine some poor 15 year old taking their Gift Card they got from Grandma at Christmas to Blockbuster only to be scammed by some employee. Yeesh.

I think by 1998 that idea of pricing any movie -- no matter what medium it was delivered in --as high as they had been fifteen years earlier was kaput.

My memory is a little hazy, so I was wrong about most movies on VHS being sold at inflated prices. I was thinking of this from Roger Ebert. According to Ebert's book, back in 1997 VHS movies would sell at $100 initially (he uses the example of Pulp Fiction), but then later get lowered to a $25 sell-through price. Selling DVDs right initially at sell-through prices was controversial among studios but turned out to be the right move.
posted by bobo123 at 2:57 PM on September 24, 2010


I remember renting so many videos one summer in college because I was so damn lonely while interning in Toronto. All that money, wasted.
posted by anniecat at 4:22 PM on September 24, 2010


Oh, and on my way to a video store once, I literally had put my hand on the door to go inside and it flung open with a young man running out with a handful of videotapes or DVDs (I can't remember that far back now) and an employee in his work polo shirt trying in vain to run after him to get the videos back. That was very exciting for me.
posted by anniecat at 4:25 PM on September 24, 2010


Netflix streaming: Now available with 1/8 of the selection!

I know you're talking specifically about Canada, but as a fan of documentaries, and low-budget and older horror movies, Netflix Instant Download in the U.S. has a selection FAR superior to Blockbuster.
posted by coolguymichael at 4:32 PM on September 24, 2010


There's Glebe Video. I forgot about that place -- we used to go there all the time when I lived in the Glebe. When we moved it wasn't convenient walking distance anymore and we stopped. Do they still do all their rental records on paper?

Dunno. I go to the Mayfaire movie theatre instead. Also, I'm an anime-weeabo and Glebe Video doesn't have much.

If you're not interested in treating with our treacherous neighbors to the north, there's always Tundra Moving Pictures on Sunnyside.

"While we are closed we encourage our customers to continue supporting local businesses and to visit our colleagues at Tundra Moving Pictures located at 435 Sunnyside Ave. They will also be accepting West Coast movie returns on our behalf."
-- http://www.wcv.ca/
posted by sebastienbailard at 5:20 PM on September 24, 2010


I worked at a blockbuster for about 9 months, the amount of porn that was accidentally returned in a blockbuster box was staggering.
posted by Mick at 5:33 PM on September 24, 2010


It seems like with WalMart buying CinemaNow and discontinuing their adult streaming offerings, there are no porn+mainstream movie streaming options left.

Which service has the best selection? It seems like Netflix & Vudu each have ~7 or 8 thousand movies, but that's less than you'd think when you actually try to find something halfway decent to watch (most of the Netflix streaming movies rate at 3 stars or below for instance).
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:50 PM on September 24, 2010


My first job was in a Blockbuster. Actually, it was for Erol's Video.

I worked at Erol's, too! In addition to being able to take home movies, we also had a loaner VCR, so if someone were hypothetically to take that home and they had a VCR at home, theoretically they could copy hundreds of movies in probable violation of Title 17 of the United States Code, Sections 501 and 506, which I'm sure has a statute of limitations that's passed by now, not that that's my concern.

So he joined Blockbuster's attempted-Netflix-killing plan of renting as much as you want, as often as you want, for a monthly fee.

A friend of mine worked for a consulting company that helped Blockbuster come up with that plan, and he was pretty cocky about how they were totally going to kill Netflix. He may be getting a coyly smug email.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:39 PM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


One time I was walking by a Blockbuster in my town, and they had a sign in the window that said: "BETTER THAN THE LIBRARY"

So, die, die, die.
posted by Trochanter at 7:55 PM on September 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty sure it's the movie studios, and their contracts with DVD retailers that are driving the 28 day delay policy.

Mostly, yes. Though Redbox has signed some agreements to this effect in order to avoid and/or end litigation. One deal with a studio makes Redbox destroy used DVDs instead of what they used to do -- sell them for $7 apiece.

So much for the customer.
posted by cmgonzalez at 8:09 PM on September 24, 2010


A video store without a cowboy door section is like a walk in the woods without finding an old titty mag.
posted by furtive at 8:25 PM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Some of them have black curtains instead of the cowboy door.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:41 PM on September 24, 2010


I can never not find something absolutely fascinating to watch at any moment.

This is true, but the very fact that streaming movies sometimes disappear from the selection is indicative of why I don't see myself ever fully giving up on buying physical DVDs (or, I should more properly say, why I hope they never stop producing physical DVDs for me to buy). Certain huge films - Star Wars, Godfather, etc - will never "go out of print", but with a lot of arthouse/exploitation/independent films a studio's catalog always seems to be changing hands, soundtrack licenses lapse, etc... basically just a ton of crap that conspires to keep these films going in and out of print, usually with much longer troughs than peaks in terms of availability.

Now, if you're the type who sits down to watch a movie and is just looking for two hours of entertainment, cycling through the Netflix Instant selection is going to be a viable option 100% of the time. But for us collector types - the ones who have obscure tastes and often want to see one movie in particular - I daresay that many of us would prefer to have a physical DVD that, once purchased, can never be taken away from us (someone made a comment upthread about the whole 1984/Kindle fiasco and that's exactly it in a nutshell, except with Netflix you won't have it physically downloaded, it just won't show up as a streaming option any longer). That doesn't mean I need a physical copy of "Avatar", but for the kind of stuff that Criterion and Shriek Show put out? Yes, please.
posted by squeakyfromme at 10:46 PM on September 24, 2010


I cut up my card and handed it to the clerk and never went back.

You actually carry scissors on your person for just such occasions?
posted by squeakyfromme at 11:00 PM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


In a smaller local shop, you develop a relationship with the staff and the owners. They learn what you enjoy, which allows them to recommend titles based on your own idiosyncratic tastes, not based on an algorithm of predictability. (You can also learn what they like, which helps you evaluate their individual recommendations even better.)

Bingo. Saying you're going to miss the recommendations from the Blockbuster clerks is probably the single stupidest argument one can make in lamenting their decline (well, the second dumbest, anyway: the rock bottom most ignorant would have to be the "I hate to see people lose their jobs!", as if purging evil from this world doesn't by necessity strip someone of their livelihood each and every time... you can either maintain the status quo on every possible issue, or little Johnny occasionally has to brush off his resume; can't have it both ways. This is what a foodie or a treehugger would call an "unsustainable" argument).
posted by squeakyfromme at 11:08 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


The other day I got an overdue late fees collection notice from my local (Australian) Blockbuster- for $590. For a dvd that was 2 days late back in January. One of the listed charges was $100- SMS reminder notice. Needless to say, I called them straight away- they apologised and soon wiped the fee- but $590? Where did they even come up with a number like that.

So, die Blockbuster, die! I wonder if the Australian arm will fold, too? Still seems like they're always reasonably busy when I go past.
posted by Philby at 4:49 AM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


But for us collector types - the ones who have obscure tastes and often want to see one movie in particular - I daresay that many of us would prefer to have a physical DVD that, once purchased, can never be taken away from us

Not to mention that the quality of netflix SD streaming is about as good as half-assed .avis from the intarwebs, and even the HD stuff mostly looks almost as good as a well-mastered dvd. But not quite.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:07 AM on September 25, 2010


Whatever legal loophole allows them to prey on private business owners like that should be closed

heh. In the United States we call that loophole "captialism". Work it.

As for the lamentation of the brick and mortar video store death. Fear not. Most libraries have pretty good DVD selections, and decent libraries have some kind of interlibrary loan program. There isn't a movie, oddball, foreign, cult, or otherwise, that I haven't been able to find through my local library, or the dozens upon dozens of suburban Chicago libraries it is affiliated with. The best thing, many, if not most, libraries rent their DVDs for free, you need only a library card.

Also, there is still an awesome video store in Normal, Illinois, right near where I grew up, on the campus of Illinois State University. It's still in business precisely because, as some have mentioned here, there is still a market for quality. I will never forget the place, it introduced me to the distrubing awesomeness that was "Audition".
posted by IvoShandor at 10:44 PM on September 26, 2010


and just because I can't type, apparently - it's Capitalism.
posted by IvoShandor at 10:45 PM on September 26, 2010


They marked their own death when they bumped off all the local stores in town, leaving only Vulcan Video to tell the world its tale of woe.
posted by spamguy at 6:05 PM on September 27, 2010


Card Cheat: my high school friends and I - usually it was just two or three of us at a time - would sometimes wander through the aisles of the local Videoflicks (a long-defunct Canadian chain) for so long that I would start to get this panicked feeling that a) the employees and other customers knew how long we'd been there, and b) were secretly laughing at us.

Were you stoned? this sounds remarkably like the start of many Trip Reports.
posted by Theta States at 10:10 AM on September 29, 2010


To all of the Ottawa people in this thead: INVISIBLE CINEMA
c'mon!!!
posted by Theta States at 10:18 AM on September 29, 2010


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