Thursday, May 19, 2005

Retail Reviews: Blockbuster is lackluster

It is hard to say why this seems so depressing. Despite the fact the Blockbuster was the premier video rental giant, lately -- no matter what they do -- they just seem sad.

Most of us probably have fond memories from the seminal era of video rental. Personally, I remember the day my father brought a VCR into our house as a real turning point. We used to go to a little shop (next door to a STICKER store) in a strip mall. It was a real outing: sticker store, pizza place, video store. I think it was called ABC video or something. Anyway, I usually wanted to rent
Annie or Benji or Baby(anyone else ever see that one?) or some other movie I'd seen a million times. Then we'd go home and make popcorn and watch. It was a special treat. A favorite of slumber parties, a reward for a making an "A" on our spelling test, a way to spice up an otherwise dull night with a babysitter. Video rental was SO COOL. And when a Blockbuster opened down the street from us sometime in the early nineties, we were really really happy. The little ABC video shop, with its smaller library, higher prices, and lack of a snacks, quietly closed.

In college I discovered the pleasure of renting from a realy cool and artsy local video store, Baltimore's
Video Americain (featured in John Waters' Serial Mom). It had many more titles, of course, and a friendly staff who sympathetically waived late fees. Not to be cheesey here, but it was really a place where discoveries were made. And later, when I was teaching and needed to rent a video to show my students, I was able to use their special educator's discount.

This isn't to say that I never went to Blockbuster. Of course I did! They had snacks! And they were everywhere. Since college, Blockbusters (and sometimes Hollywood Video or some other chain) have always been closer to where I live than any of the "artsy" local video stores.

Fortunately, however, there were also many many
very cool video stores in Austin, where I lived for the past couple of years. But then we moved to Kyle, TX, and though there is a Movie Gallery here, we've never been. Since moving here that whole Netflix thing happened. And we also have HBO and Cinemax on Demand. And for the past few years we've been really into buying series TV (like Buffy, the Sopranos, and the Gilmore Girls) on DVD. I haven't been to a video store in almost a year. And I haven't been to a blockbuster for the past two or three.

Now, just looking at Blockbuster makes me depressed. The same old blue and yellow decor is tired, and the stores are always too bright. The multiple copies of really horrible recent "blockbusters" are simply devastating, and no matter what they say about their stupid late fees, I know they are lying. If I had all the money I've paid in late fees to Blockbuster over the years I could probably buy a Porsche. But even if I put my resentment about late fees aside, I really can't get past the look of those stores and how they make me feel. Purgatory probably looks and feels like the inside of a Blockbuster.

Interestingly, the wave of the future isn't Netflix, but is probably video on demand. I think Netflix is most likely a transitional species. Soon we'll probably just order any video we want with our tv remotes.

And even though retail *as* entertainment will likely remain strong, retail *for* entertainment is increasingly inconsistent. Big chain bookstores (which also sell coffee, cds, and dvds) may be the exception, and a few major music retailers like the Towers and HMVs and Virgin Megastores seem to be doing okay. But the Blockbusters and Sam Goodys really seem like antiques. While major cities will always have at least a few independent retail outlets for movies, music, and books, I'm not sure if the same will always be true for medium sized cities and suburbs.


Andrew said...

I know what you mean. I live two blocks from a Blockbuster and I still never go. It's amazing how much they don't have. They'll have like fifty copies of "Maid in Manhattan," but then they'll be missing, like, The Godfather. Anyway, the thing I like most about Netflix is that they have everything, including all of those cool films from The Criterion Collection. I only wish the turnaround time was faster.

I think you're right that movies on demand will soon take over, but somehow this seems sad to me. Like you, I've always enjoyed the ritual of going to the video store, or now, of going to my mail box and finding a little red envelope from Netflix. I like being able to hold the disk and put it in the DVD player and stop it whenever I like. And of course, as you know, I like owning the disks too, and having all of the cover art, etc. I just wonder if something won't be lost when this movie-on-demand thing happens.

femme feral said...

You know, I think people will continue to buy DVDs; they are so fun!!! Especially the special features.

My hunch is that people will use video on demand services for movies they want to see but are not really interested in owning.