April 5, 2011, - 5:11 pm
It’s weird that it’s now a sign of being old when you say, “I remember when there was a Blockbuster around every corner.” But pretty soon, most kids won’t know what Blockbuster is . . . or, rather, was. This week, all of the Blockbuster stores near me are closing. For the last several weeks, they’ve been holding liquidation sales. Now, it will be too far for me to drive to rent a movie at the nearest Blockbuster. And I don’t believe Blockbuster will exist at all, except online, in a few years. Today, investors, like Carl Icahn, and liquidators are fighting over the remnants of this former market giant. And I have mixed feelings about it as a now former Blockbuster customer.
At first, I was sad to see the Blockbuster close. The people who worked at the particular Blockbuster store I frequented made some really good movie recommendations, and I’m not a Netflix kind of person. I don’t like to have a fixed cost to pay every month for movie rentals, since I go for months not renting a movie, and then rent several in a few days. I don’t like to watch movies online, and I don’t want to wait–even a day–to have them mailed to me, if I feel like watching a movie now. I liked the convenience of deciding I wanted to rent a movie, driving to the store to get it for a fixed one-time fee, and watching it within 20 minutes. But as I thought about it more, I’m not so sad to see Blockbuster go. And here’s why . . .
As I think back on it, there were many movies–especially classic movies–that you could never find at Blockbuster. Even big hit movies from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s were often something you had to buy online or actually join Netflix to see. I found myself calling Blockbuster all the time when I wanted to see something, and they just didn’t have it. Add to that my frustration when my monthly free movie coupon (from the Blockbuster program I paid $20 to join for a year) repeatedly stopped coming because of this glitch or that glitch and I had to go through mind-numbing, frustrating hours on the phone with Sean a/k/a Srinivasan and Patrick a/k/a Pradeep, who didn’t know how to get me the coupon and couldn’t help despite wanting to from the call center in Mumbai, or was it Chueh Hui a/k/a Charlie in the call center in Shanghai? After years of renting a lot of videos, when I disputed a large late charge, the manager of my failing and now closing Blockbuster store wasn’t very eager to accommodate a good customer.
Times change, and you have to adjust to changing technologies and trends that become permanent or semi-perm. While in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Blockbuster was around every corner, it’s more convenient to most Americans to go online to Netflix and never have to worry about a movie being taken out by another customer or being otherwise unavailable because it’s not the current hit or straight-to-video awful Jessica Simpson flick for which wall space has been reserved. That happened all the time. I found myself more and more often taking out movies from my local public library, where there is a pretty good selection. And that’s free, unlike at Blockbuster.
And aside from Netflix and Redbox, some brick and mortar entrepreneurs are filling the void. Near were I live, at least one small business owner, a Chaldean (Iraqi Christian) woman, opened her own video store. It’s far cheaper to rent a movie there, and you have a longer grace period. Or I can buy videos on Ebay and Amazon, if I continue to holdout from Netflix, which as you know, has the best grace period in the world for returning rentals: there is none.
While I’ll be sad to see the people at my Blockbuster lose their jobs, I can’t imagine working at Blockbuster was a decent paying or career experience. It was likely a way station to bigger and better things, unless you were a store or district manager, which probably meant semi-liveable wages. The employee who gave me the best movie recommendations moved on to a better job over a year ago. Clerks at my local Blockbuster said that back in the ’90s and ’00s, the store was making $5,000 a night on weeknights, $10,000 on weekend nights. Now, they say, they were lucky to do $5,000 on a weekend night and barely made that in an entire week. After rent, utilities, and salaries, they say there wasn’t much profit, and the store was just breaking even. The Netflix model has a much better ratio of profit to fixed and unexpected costs. The same goes for the Redbox kiosks, though they have a much more limited selection of movies. Who knows, though? In ten or twenty years, Netflix might be obsolete with the technology available by that time. The same might be the case for Redbox, too.
When I checked out the going out of business sale at one of my local Blockbuster stores, recently, the manager tried to get me to buy “Be Kind Rewind,” (a movie I hated–read my review). He said he liked it because he’s in the video rental business. The movie is about an inner city video store that makes stupid movies to get customers to rent movies to stay in business. (Okay, so most–not all–of his recommendations were good.)
But now, there is no rewinding. And there are almost no video rental stores. And I don’t think it’s such a bad thing. I’m ready to say good-bye to Blockbuster, even if I don’t have the convenience of local businesses from which to rent.
Do you use Netflix? Were you a Blockbuster customer? Are you sad to see the company go, or is it, as I say, a necessary sign of the times as technology evolves? What do you think about the stores closing?
Tags: Blockbuster, Carl Icahn, going out of business, movie rental, Movie Reviews, Netflix, Redbox, saying good-bye to Blockbuster, video rental