Alright, woke up to a new day and to a world with 300 less Blockbuster stores. PC Magazine ran a story today that Dish, who purchased Blockbuster two years ago, is set to put 3,000 people out of work at 300 stores scattered around the country. I’ve been watching the once-powerful Blockbuster dwindle down to nothing over the past couple of years, and there have been some mixed emotions.
On the one hand, this seems like just desserts for how Blockbuster acted when it first started expanding. They were ruthless in forcing out Mom-and-Pop video shops from communities, and honestly, were a bit of a fucking monopoly once they executed their competition. Their business practices were kind of antiquated and ridiculous by the mid part of the 2000’s – still charging for late fees and not switching to a Netflix-style membership system earlier was mindblowingly stupid.
But then it hit me: “this is bullshit”. Last night, I was traversing the internet and stumbled across an article on an old movie called “Alligator”, about this monstrous creature that lived in the sewers beneath Chicago. I had watched it as a kid, being drawn to the VHS cover art sitting on the shelf of my locally-owned rental store, Four Star Video, and remembered it fondly. Okay, off to Netflix. Nothing. Fine, Hulu Plus might have it – they have a disproportionate amount of shitty pictures. Nope. Alright, how about renting it from iTunes or Amazon. You have to be kidding me…”Lake Placid” but not this?
I know exactly where the “Alligator” VHS, and eventually DVD, sat at my Blockbuster for over a decade – second row from the top in the first shelving unit labeled “Horror”. If this was 1999, I would have been watching this B-movie within thirty minutes, and I might have also rented another schlockfest purely based on its illustrated cover. This is why I loved brick-and-mortar video stores – the selection was great and the quality was fantastic. If you wanted the mainstream fare, it was there. If you wanted the newest of releases, you could find it. If you wanted weird cult-type titles, they were probably in stock.
So now, despite all the heinous crap Blockbuster pulled in its growth period, I’m left with a bitter taste in my mouth about how we’ve progressed as a movie-watching community. We’ve grown lazy and accepting of third-class products just because it is delivered in a more timely manner. Look at Netflix. I can honestly say that it is about 5% watchable titles and 95% ungodly crap. Same with Hulu Plus. Their whole claim to fame is that they have more titles than a normal video store – sure that makes sense, when your standards are so incredibly low that all you stock are Asylum releases and low-budget teen comedies. I’ve watched more television episodes on Netflix than movies – there is something insanely wrong with that.
Netflix was innovative, and their model operates extremely well. It has been adopted and works at the brick-and-mortar level too: my Mom-and-Pop of choice is Riverwest Video, but it is kind of a trek from my house so I make it there about four times a month (PS – they have “Alligator” in stock), and they have a monthly membership system in place that is smooth and easy. The problem is that we’ve been cut off from our choices and thus have adjusted to tolerate Netflix instead of demanding changes to the system. Netflix has coasted along just putting out television series and losing rights to large movie catalogs because we’ve migrated away from viewing films out of pure sloth. It isn’t what we want, it is what Netflix forces us to kind of want.
Throw in the fact that at its height Blockbuster employed 60,000 people and that Netflix only employes 3,000, and you’ll understand why this loss extends far beyond just movie selection. I love the convenience of online delivery systems – I make my living helping companies find a way to get content to their customers through the internet. But I would never tell a client to sacrifice their product’s quality to deliver it quicker. They would want me to tell them that because it is all about volume, but there is something to be said for being the best in your industry. Apple dominates the phone, computer, and music world because their products are of the highest-grade – and let me tell you, their laptops aren’t cheap.
So here’s to the death of Blockbuster – you came into this world a hungry Capitalist beacon and were choked out by the hands of the free market, leaving your customers to settle for a sub-standard replacement.